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It’s based on one of the first video games ever made, but how far has this new multiplayer shooter evolved in the last 50 years?
There are a number of problems inherent in reviewing indie games, but the one we have most difficulty with is when they’re no good. Perhaps it’s unfair but we always feel worse criticising a game when it’s made by two guys in their bedroom, compared to an 800-man mega project that should have known better. We usually console ourselves with the idea that at least the game is getting some publicity, and that’s certainly all the help we can offer In Space We Brawl.
Although it makes no reference to it that we noticed, In Space We Bawl is essentially a modern update of one of the very first video games ever created. 1962’s Spacewar is arguably the first video game of any kind that wasn’t based on an existing activity, such as draughts or tennis. There’s an emulation of it here if you’re interested, but in short it involved two spaceships shooting at each other – as they also tried to cope with the gravity well of a nearby star. And apart from a few new complications that’s exactly what In Space We Brawl is like too.
The basics are certainly the same, as you manoeuvre around a single-screen, wraparound arena (think Asteroids) taking potshots at your opponents. There are a series of single-player challenges, which start off as simple tutorials, but the heart of the game is its offline four-player action. Whether the lack of online is purposeful or due to budgetary constraints we don’t know, but this is a rare modern game that only really comes alive when four people are sitting around the same TV.
Once you’ve unlocked them all there are 11 different spaceships to choose from, all with different specialities in terms of speed, mass, and health. There are 11 different weapons too, which can be mixed and matched as you please, making for plenty of different combinations. Although getting access to them all means playing through the overly hard challenge missions, which given the rest of the game there’s very little incentive to do.
Every craft has a basic laser cannon which can be aimed in 360 degrees around it, like a twin stick shooter. The special weapons are thing likes rapid fire, wire-guided missiles, and a giant charging laser. Ships also have shields, which deplete faster or slow depending on the particular model and your energy reserves. Power-ups containing extra energy or weapons also occasionally wander into view.
All of this is fine if you have got access to three other people who want to play properly. The art design is amateurish and uninteresting, and none of the power-ups or weapons are particularly inspired, but it all works well enough in the right atmosphere. But even with just two other people the game quickly becomes a chore, and since you can’t supplement them with computer-controlled ships the chances of anyone playing the game in the manner in which it was intended are probably fairly remote in today’s world.
But even if you do have enough people the game has nothing like the longevity it should. There are eight maps, each with its own gimmick – including a black hole as homage to Spacewar and other things like spawning aliens and floating asteroids. But there are only two different game modes: a simple tournament and a championship where you have to get to a pre-set score total. Although you can also play as teams if you want, including 3 vs. 1.
In Space We Brawl is inoffensive and accessible, but its requirements in terms of the number of people needed to play it is a real stumbling block. Actually getting four people sat around the same console is one thing, but the game does not inspire the level of enthusiasm necessary to keep them there.
The most damning criticism is that the game shows remarkably little evolution given the half a century that lies between it and Spacewar. It’s perfectly amiable entertainment for half an hour or so, but we imagine that those early developers working in 1962 were hoping to inspire something rather more exciting than this.
In Short: Offline multiplayer may be increasingly a thing of the past, but In Space We Brawl isn’t anywhere near interesting enough to reverse that trend.
Pros: The basic idea is still perfectly sound, even after all these decades, and with the right people there’s certainly some short-lived fun to be had.
Cons: Everything from the art to the weapons, the maps, and the game modes seems half-hearted and uninspired. Dull, overly difficultly challenges need to be completed to unlock everything.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PlayStation 3
Publisher: Forge Reply
Developer: Forge Reply
Release Date: 15th October 2014
Age Rating: 7