Sci-fi is such a fun genre to explore. There are norms to follow of course, what with aliens, jumping galaxies, lasers, robots and more. But it is the unexplored that is so fun, when authors, directors, and artists take their imagination and push the envelope into enthralling, space-bound works of art. When you take a strong narrative, deep sci-fi roots, impactful decision making, and tense combat, you get a stellar video game. And that game of course is Mass Effect. For everything Mass Effect did right, Element Space sadly takes two giant steps back for mankind. It is a damn shame too, because the trailer sure did rope me in. Space conflict? Check. Dialogue choices? Check. Simple but strategic turn based strategy. Big ol’ check. But in practice, Element Space is a poorly produced, hollow game that is filled to the brim with bugs and performance issues. Let’s explore what made this game such a poor experience to play shall we?
The game starts with the allusion of a promising title. A cut scene begins, with higher resolution graphics and killer neon lighting present. I get excited. I thought I was in for something special here. Moments later, I release I may just be in for something okay, and I am fine with that too. But the truth slowly unravels. Muddled graphics destroy any hope I had for the neon lit luster that I saw in the opening moments. Graphics are not everything though, but in my situation, gameplay did not do much to salvage my thoughts. In varying sized maps, your lead character Chris Pietham and two of his companion brace the battlefield. Characters typically can take two actions, one attack based and one movement, or you can sacrifice both for a longer distance movement. Actions are relatively simple, with each character having some abilities that can regenerate over time, options of weapons that will need reloaded after so many uses, melee attacks, and more. I truly did not mind the combat for the most part, but that too was ripped at the seams by way of poor integration and equally poor performance.
Combat is guided by using a mouse like pointer to designate where the action should take place, as well as using a tab like system to decide what action should take place. Typically, if just moving, a shield symbol will raise up on the spot you indicate to note that this is where your character will end up. This was not always functionally efficient, as I found myself misplacing my crew pretty regularly. It was pretty clunky, and with no way to cancel movement actions, I found myself stuck. I understand not being able to rewind movements, as there are enemy abilities that trigger within a certain range of movement, but it’d be nice to see a highlight of the path before it officially takes place. Same thing would happen for melee attacks, either resulting in an unintentional melee lock (where the attacker and target get stuck in a fight, doing damage if either party tries to exit the fight) or resulting in a poor placement leaving the pawn out in the open. So this is one of the “poor integration” instances, while I have another handful of bug related issues to discuss. The first, and this is all post patch, is that one character, after using her earth dash move, would not snap to cover. Instead, she did the opposite, and floated off in one direction until a firm set piece. This meant if I attacked first, I was cheated out of my movement token, as she would become unresponsive due to the glitch. It’s just rough around the edges, as is the rest of the game, constantly teetering the line of being an unplayable mess or a barely functioning but working game. When things went as they should, I really did not mind the core gameplay. But things often did not go well, and the poor integration of just about everything superseded the combat.
Whether it was the ever growing list of bugs, the poor writing and even poorer voice acting, or some odd design choices, the game just increasingly grew harder and harder to play. Continuing in the combat sector, I had gripes with several things. Another noticeable bug, one that played to my advantage, was an enemies zoomed in combat scene (a common sight in the TBS genre) would result in them not shooting. It would be about 15 seconds of dead air, and then that enemies turn would end. Bizarre, and at the moment it shown its face towards the time when I threw in the towel, it became laughable. I also could not stand that some turns would drag out due to enemies seeming to constantly retreat backwards. One literally went to the brim of the playfield, to the point where I could almost not even indicate him as a target because the camera would no longer move. Sometimes abilities that required a cone of view to activate seemed almost entirely luck based, with some cover pieces blocking sights and others not. It was a gamble to move in these sections even if you were confident that, logically, your character was not in sight.
When it comes to the narrative and voice acting, I was astounded that as bad as the majority of the cast sounded, your lead in Captain Pietham was by far the worst performed. His voice was flat as can be, and whether it was an intense moment or a comedic moment, Pietham sounded as vanilla as it gets. He might as well have been played by an iPhone Siri option, as there truly may have been more range and emotion if he had been. The dialog mostly sucks too. We are in a colonized Milky Way for crying outloud, yet each planet I visited was hung up on Shogun or eastern European miner revolutions. Can we get back to the sci-fi and not repeat bland Earth conflicts here? It just gets uninteresting quick, with the looming tropes being forced upon you. Outside of Zero, the first AI ever, no character made me care what they had to say. Literally at one point, a Princess tells someone who is trying to kill her (named Blind Assassin) to LOOK HER IN HER EYES. AND IT F***ING WORKS. He doesn’t kill her. How did this tactic work with a blind man?! I am dumbstruck and cackling at this point. Element Space is a bottom of the barrel B-movie, and not the kind that has a cult following.
There are some scenes where you get to make dialog choices, of which I got to see very little effect of with the time I spent with the game. Even some of these scenes had bugs. At one point one of these scenes never transitioned to my character, with the Captain being shown on screen, waiting for something to trigger but nothing ever did. So, I had to hard close the game. This was already the second time I had to do this post patch, and I finally gave up on the game when I was forced to do it once more. After some battles, you will have free reign to move your squad from point A to B. I was on a bridge and advanced to an area where 3 enemies were taking cover and ready to fight. But the battle never clicked on, allowing me to wander around the enemies with no goal and no alternatives to get this fight to trigger. I had enough of working around the games flaws to ultimately get to the same conclusion.
From the muddle graphics, poor frame rates, shoddy zoomed in action scenes, and much more, the game isn’t all that to look at. While I thought some of the set pieces looked solid, there was not a lot here to praise. Still or in motion, the game performs and looks quite poor. The music was solid but nothing out of the ordinary. I have already mentioned that the voice acting was bad, but did I mention that the mix of background music quite often drowns out the spoken words during your choice based talks? No? Well it does, but maybe that is a good thing in hindsight.
I tend to have some positives to shed light on when I wrap up my reviews, but it is hard to gather anything good that came out of this experience. It is a buggy mess that should not have released in its current state. It is possible that there is an okay game in there if you can iron out the bugs and ignore the terrible narrative, but as it stands, the hull is breached and the ship is burning up in the atmosphere. For all its flaws, if space is this riddled with bugs, Earth might be worth staying on.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 4/10
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