When I see a top-down map of space with little planets or waypoints, I generally get The Fear™. Space strategy games, especially those in the 4x realm, can be so complex and so daunting. Fortunately, SpaceCom is attempting to offer a different style of gameplay for the player who likes the idea of dominating space, but doesn’t want to invest an infinite amount of time into becoming the master of the universe.
Developed by Flow Combine, it’s safe to say that this is a strategy game that’s been stripped down to a few core game mechanics, with all the flashy guff you might expect removed to focus purely on strategy.
To highlight how simple this is, there is only one type of fleet graphic for the three fleet classes. How do you differentiate between the ship types? Each little triangle has a stripe either at the top, middle or bottom to indicate whether they are Battle, Invasion or Siege fleets. Simple.
The object of the game is to become an all-conquering space master by moving across maps consisting of a number of planets with interconnecting travel nodes. To realise your dream of intergalactic domination, systems which provide resources need to be captured. This will ultimately lead to the ability to increase the size of your fleet.
Each planet/star system/round dot on the map starts with a varying amount of defense in place, which have to be overcome by attacking and invading. Not all of these main planet nodes are useful, but they all play a strategic part in keeping the enemy at bay and, specifically, pushing them away from more strategically important planets. Such as those which may contain a ship building facility.
With only three fleet types to play with and move between the interconnecting web of planets, choosing what to build (and when) is essential. Battle fleets can stop other ships, Invasion fleets can take a planet and destroy its ground forces, and Siege fleets can completely eliminate the whole planet. I bet you’re thinking it’ll look amazing when a Siege ship drops into a system and starts laying waste to the planet below, aren’t you? Think again.
When a fleet arrives at its destination, the little triangle ships sit next to the planet. When the attack begins, a red ring appears around the planet to indicate conflict is underway. Clicking the planet will show very basic attack progress with small bars next to each fleet unit ticking down as they take damage. It’s that simple.
Once ships are sent on their way with a single click there’s no way to turn them back until they reach their destination. Should they be attacked on arrival by a defense system or another ship moving in, then it’s tough luck. Planning is key – for example, deploying ground troops following an invasion can help keep control of a planet should your orbiting fleets be completely wiped out.
Stopping attacks on your own planets is handled by deploying orbital defense systems; shield and defense grids can be purchased with the resources collected, and are indicated by – you guessed it – rotating orbs around the planets. Again: no time for flashy visuals, so dots will do.
I’ve mentioned the visuals a few times already but truthfully that’s not really a criticism. This is not a game about polygons or explosions – it’s strategy to the core, and stripped down strategy at that. Stripped down so far that there isn’t really much more to say about the gameplay, in fact; it’s basic, but effective.
While the single player campaign is enjoyable enough (and it does get hard about five or six missions in as the planetary systems become larger) this is a game that should be enjoyed in multiplayer, but that’s beset by its own niggling issues. The main problem is actually finding another player to challenge. Should you be lucky enough to catch a real human in the lobby, then well done! But then there’s the disappointment of playing on static maps rather than randomly generated universes.
It would be a stretch to write more about SpaceCom. It’s incredibly simple to pick up and play, which is huge plus for anyone who loves the idea of games such as this but lacks the time to invest in long campaigns or multiplayer sessions. The fact you can really crank up the game speed indicates that Flow Combine had no intention of creating a deep strategy experience but has instead opted for simplicity.
SpaceCom feels like you’re playing a less complex game of chess with fewer “pieces,” and planets instead of squares. SpaceCom conveys its easy-to-understand gameplay through a minimal but effective interface extremely well, but – despite being a decent enough game – it’s unlikely to satisfy space strategy enthusiasts wanting a deeper experience, and it’s perhaps a little too simplified to attract the large player base which the multiplayer mode desperately needs.