Imagine zipping around the galaxy in your spaceship, going from enemy pirate ship to pirate ship, leaving a graveyard of enemies behind you. You race forward across the map, gracefully dodging enemy crossfire as you move towards their outpost. You begin to damage it; slow going due to its strong shields, but you eventually chip away at its defenses. Then, right as you are about to lay the final blow on the outpost and secure victory for your faction…you run out of ammo. Whoops! You are now a sitting duck until you run all the way back to your home base and either wait the 5 minutes for your ammo to be prepared by the refinery or purchasing the ammo outright. Such is a normal half-hour playthrough on the new browser game by Spectacle Games, Pocket Galaxy.
This deep space sci-fi game, currently in a closed Beta and soon to be released on Android and iOS, is kind of the standard fare for a free-to-play browser game. You take the role of an up-and-coming space captain in his tiny spaceship who chooses one of two warring factions, the Shards or the Varians (if there is a backstory to why these two factions are fighting, I haven’t found it yet). Players start out exploring their faction’s quadrant of the galaxy (in a top-down map view), which, in the beta, is only five areas big. They begin in a
pretty straightforward and helpful tutorial, which teaches you the two basic points of the gameplay: either searching these zones for space minerals to mine or killing off rival players (in the allotted PVP sections) or the NPC space pirates. Mining space materials gives you the natural resources you need to build weapons upgrades and new ships to fly around with, while hunting space pirates and destroying their outposts provides you with a way to make the needed moolah to pay for these upgrades. As with most browser games, the idea of currency is the key to this game.
There are two types of currency available in the game: either the money you earn from hunting pirates/rival players, or the “Solar” tokens you earn very slowly by playing the game for an extended period of time or by buying them outright with your real-world cash. While you are able to buy the upgrades you need from the store or from ones you developed yourself with your raw material, you usually have to wait for your upgrades and equipment to be built. This can take anywhere from one to thirty minutes for your basic equipment and ammunition, or even up to four hours to build new ships. Of course, if you want to fast track this, you need to use your “Solar” tokens. You can see where this is going…
The game play is certainly pretty fun, if not a bit repetitive. You head into the hostile areas of your quadrant of space, clearing enemy ships and outposts so that you can begin mining for materials. Once you attack a hostile ship, pretty much every ship in the sector will beam in on your position. This is really the most fun part of the game, as you need to evade a swarm of multiple enemy types: you have kamikaze drones who pursue you relentlessly, large ships with energy fields in front of them that try to box you in and curtail your movement, and the stereotypical fighter drones who just lay down layer upon layer of fire upon you. Once the enemies are cleared, you can then attack their outpost, which is pretty pitiful in that it usually only fires in one direction. Once that is taken out, you can build you own outpost and choose to enable a mode where you defend it against wave upon wave of enemy opposition, even boss ships! If you have an outpost active, rarer materials also become available to mine until your outpost is taken out, so it becomes a balance of racking up precious materials and protecting your base.
To help give you some guidance, the game also gives you a mission structure, at least one that is now most common in browser and iOS games; ie. the “random three missions” that give you extra money and experience (“Kill 10 Kamikaze Pirates”, “Mine 100 Moon Rocks,” etc.). These missions lead to pretty generous boosts in your overall level and weapon experience, though your beginning weapons will only get you so far. This is where mining becomes important. It is inevitable that you will have to spend some time zooming about your quadrant (well, maybe not zooming, because your ship, at least at first, is pretty darn slow) harvesting materials off floating space rocks, then waiting the 35 minutes for them to be refined, and then the extra ten minutes for them to be produced into new weapons for your ship. This area is where the game hits a snag for me. Each harvesting takes about a five full seconds to complete, and the extra wait time for refinement/production is killer. Granted, if you want to pay for the solar tokens to speed up production, then it’s no sweat off your back, but I don’t believe in paying to speed up my video games. The game gives you a boon in letting you use in-game money to pay for ammunition, as you tend to run out of that quite rapidly, but the fact that you have to return to your home quadrant/space station EVERY time you run out of ammo gets really old really quickly. As well, the games interface for customizing your ship is very convoluted. You have to manually install everything on your ship, including weapons and ammo (yup, each and every time), via a series of menus at your home space station. There is no automatic install feature, or a button that allows for automatic optimal equipment; you have to manually figure out everything yourself.
I imagine the PVP segments add a bit of extra flavor, as I notice the designated PVP space zone where both factions can duke it out and the option to join Fight Groups where you can tackle the challenges of the game together with friends; however, I have yet to see another living soul in the game during the several hours I have put into it, so I woefully admit that I can’t attest to the quality of the game’s PVP mode. Finally, I have to note some other minor annoyances, as the game has a tendency to crash (granted, it is still the Beta), and every time you choose to play the game, the loading screen to enter the game not only takes quite a bit of time (about 10 minutes), but also doesn’t have a mute button to stop the music from blasting through your speakers (though I will admit the soundtrack does have a very nice epic feel to it; think Dark Knight in space!). Granted, though, these are just minor annoyances that I am sure will be cleaned up in the Beta.
In the end, Pocket Galaxy in hindered by its attempt to cash in on the player losing its patience with making them wait for pretty much…well, everything! It is a shame, too, as the game has moments where it is really quite fun. Since this is just the Beta, I hope that this is remedied to some degree (I mean, they have to make money somehow), and take the game a bit further. I imagine once the game goes live and the servers are populated with a ton of people, this game could be quite fun. I imagine once you turn your dinky little space-ship into a giant war-cruiser after devoting some serious time to the game, the game also takes on a new life as well. So if you are thinking of looking into Pocket Galaxy, for right now, just be prepared to practice the most sacred of virtues: Patience.
This review is based on a preview code of the Beta version of Pocket Galaxy developed by MMOJoe