Hi peeps! It’s me, the one and only jonnydarkfang, showing up with another review for the team! This time round I'll be taking a look at a sci-fi themed turnbased strategy title in the style of the combat sections from XCOM, or something similar. I've been a fan of this genre since forever but it was probably crystallized when I played the original XCOM titles, and by "original XCOM titles" I mean the Mythos Games/Microprose games not the excellent Firaxis/2K reboot.
Yes, I am that old.
I'm also a lifelong lover of all things sci-fi, enjoying anything that features starships, aliens and laser guns, so when a strategy game called Spaceland shows up, it was pretty obvious that I'd want to cover it.
The story begins with two Space Rangers patrolling the frontier of known space in their starship, keeping the peace and checking for anomalies. Jim is the new recruit, fresh to the Ranger life he's full of promise and eager to prove himself. Barret meanwhile is the grizzled veteran and an old hand at Rangering. He has a hard, gruff exterior but a caring heart and takes a paternal role over his risk taking young partner. While patrolling a far out sector, on the edge of known space, the pair receive an emergency distress call from a world that, as far as the galaxy is aware, should be completely unexplored and uninhabited. Part of their job as Rangers is to help people in need and, with that in mind, they head towards the unknown planet to investigate the panicked cry for help.
And it's here that things start to go wrong.
Their craft has to make an emergency landing and, although the ship gets down intact, both Rangers are knocked out cold and the energy reserves are completely drained. Jim awakes to find that Barret has tended his wounds and, after reading a note he left, discovers that while leaving the ship to recharge Barret has decided to head out and make a quick study of the surrounding area.
He almost instantly discovers that this so called undeveloped planet is actually nothing of the sort and the location is being used as a top secret research and mining facility for some nefarious purpose that isn't immediately clear. Now I don't want to give away any of the story, everything I've said so far happens in the opening scenes, but I will say that what you'll get is pretty basic stuff. Not bad by any means, just predictable with a "heard this all before" flow. The story is told through dialogue exchanges between the various characters and happens in text bubbles that appear at the start of missions and on the map screen too. There's an overall "Saturday Morning Cartoon" feel to the whole thing, it relies quite heavily on the usual sci-fi tropes/ideas that you'll have seen in my movies like Aliens. It involves an off the book mining facility that gets hit by an infestation of a strange insect like alien hive species that brutally attacks the location, killing most of the inhabitants. The distress call was from a squad of space marines that were sent to investigate but, they too, were quickly overrun. You'll control Jim and Barret as they try to uncover what has transpired and to rescue any survivors they come across. As you go these survivors will join your squad, expanding the roster, with each new member having their own unique abilities and skills to take advantage of. These include characters like the muscle bound Space Marine Marcus, who with his minigun and short range teleporter is your go-to when an assault type member is needed. Or Terra, a knowledgeable female scientist who's plasma cannon cuts through armour and can heal allies with her medkit. There are a few others too, all with their unique focus and skills. Sometimes the mission you'll take these characters into will involve all the team members you have available, others times you'll be allowed to choose which members to take. Usually though, you'll be controlling a three or four member team with a couple of members being mandatory for that mission, with the remaining slots being chosen by you.
You'll need to choose who you think will be best for the given quest, depending on the objective, and there are a few different mission types you'll come across, giving a wide range of end goals. Sometimes it's the usual "kill every enemy and get to the exit" or "kill the specific enemy and escape" scenario that we're all used too. Other times though you'll be rescuing characters before they're killed, or you'll be sealing off enemy spawn points. Other times you're collecting specific items or searching for certain computers to interact with, so there's plenty of objectives to keep things fresh. Sometimes levels will be built around some sort of puzzle or interactive asset as well, injecting another element for you to keep track of. One early level requires that you use your squad to kick explosive barrels into enemy tunnels then shoot them, sealing the entrance and stopping the constant flow of burrowing bugs that are attacking you. On another level your team is split across two long corridors that are separated by walls. Each team has switches on their side that open the door on the other, and must help each other advance to the exit. There was even a mission that was made up of long interconnected walkways, suspended over pools of molten lava, with powerful enemies pursuing your team. These walkways are narrow but also fragile, if more than one character steps onto them at the same time, they'll collapse sending your team members plunging to their death. These levels are all handcrafted, which a nice change from the random generated ones I’ve grown is used to in other franchises, as this allows them to be more focused and unique.
Whatever the objective or features of the level though, or the characters and skills you've got, each mission controls in a basically similar fashion and will probably feel instantly familiar to veterans of the genre. Like many other games of this type, Spaceland uses a grid system to control movement and distance. The map is made up of many little squares, with how far your team members and enemies can move, as well as how far you can shoot, all measured this way. It's a time tested system, one that been used in almost every strategy game ever, as well as the board games they emulate, and doesn't need much more explanation. Used in conjunction with the grid "board" that makes up the varied level layouts is also an Action Points system that governs how much a character can do in one round. When you begin a round, each team member will have between 5 to 7 points available which will be "spent" with every single thing you do. Basic actions like moving cost relatively little, 1 point per square, while shooting your weapon costs more, taking 3 points every time you fire. The special skills unique to each character also costs action points, whether it's Jim's dash, that lets him cover 5-6 squares in a straight line, Marcus teleporter skill or Terra's first aid healing ability, or any others, they'll all take some amount of Action Points to activate. Managing each person's AP pool, and spending them wisely, is the key to victory and the main thrust of the gameplay. To aid in this, and to help when quickly moving and firing your weapon, the game provides a visual short cut too. Marked on the floor is a transparent outlay that appears around the feet of each trooper as they take their turn. Its similar in style to the Xcom reboots indicators but functions slightly differently. A white outline surrounds the maximum distance you can travel to, and inside this outline is another overlay that's coloured orange. This orange section marks how far you can move but still have the necessary AP to fire when you get there. It's a quick little system that makes knowing how far you can move, while making sure you can still attack, way easier than individually counting AP. What can complicate matters when using it though is that it doesn't take into account anything apart from walking and using simple attacks so, when using this shorthand alone, it's easy to find yourself left with not enough points to activate the more AP intensive powers because you didn't hold enough points back to do so. If you're planning to do anything apart from walking and shooting on your turn, it's better to manually work it out as there's no "undo" button if you screw up. Once you've used all your points, or you've decided to skip the rest of your turn, it's time for the enemies to take their shot.
Their turn plays out much like yours with the AI obviously controlling the enemies. The baddies are, for the most part, not the most interesting bunch however. The most common type is a small bug that, after burrowing out of the floor, simply runs directly towards you and attacks with its claws. These are easy to put down, taking a shot or two only, but will constantly respawn from their emergence holes until sealed. Paired with these are usually a standard shooter enemy type where you must hide behind cover to avoid it's bullets. Fairly standard stuff. Later on, some enemy types are introduced that take a little more thought though. There's a heavily armoured creature, that even Terra's armour ignoring energy weapons can't defeat, that are quite fun to fight. They slowly walk towards you, just a couple of squares at a time, and hitting their undefended backside is the only way to harm them. There's also a boss battle against a wardroid that can only be destroyed by kicking exploding barrels towards it, using the resulting explosion to chip away at its health. The later enemies are a little more entertaining to fight but never particularly challenge or do anything you'll not have seen before.
Which actually sums up Spaceland kinda well. Its all very familiar and standard. Everything in it is well done and working, but it's all stuff we've seen a million times before (and done better) in other games. There are a few things that try to shake it up but they don't really provide much challenge. For instance, each character can only hold a certain amount of ammo and this number can be ridiculously low in some cases. Jims assault rifle can hold 6-7 shoots, which is usually manageable, but someone like Terra only has 3 bullets in total. Obviously these will quickly get used up and you'll either need to fall back on the WAY less effective secondary weapon or refill their ammunition. Scattered around the area are single use ammo crates that will allow one complete refill so managing your ammo is an ongoing concern. How weapons work can be slightly different too. Terra's energy weapon has long range and ignores armour, making her extra effective against certain types of aliens. Barrets shotgun on the other hand is the opposite, it doesn't have much range, but does extra damage the closer he is to his target. Marcus has his minigun that, while heavily damaging, is also weighty and means he can't walk as far as the others can each turn. Again, none of this is particularly revolutionary or unique but when taken together it all adds up into a solid, if functionally basic, turnbased strategy title.
What is slightly different from the norm, although not majorly, is how long missions are and how you're scored for them. Each mission is relatively short in Spaceland, with some of the earliest being completed in around 5 rounds. They do get slightly longer as you progress but never reach the sprawling hour long battles of Xcom 2. There's also no punishment for death, apart from making less money at the end of a level. This makes the game much more forgiving than the more hardcore permadeath games that are popular now and actually makes it a good game for newcomers to the genre or those put off by the hardcore reputation of the Xcom series. It might also be disappointing to those who liked the risk involved in these titles too though, as it'll never gets particularly challenging or threatening to play.
You can also reattempt any level, as long as you've already cleared it, to get a better score and you're actually encouraged to do so if you want to afford all the upgrades. You see each stage has a target time to complete it in and you'll get rewarded with computer chips for coming in under par. There's also a hidden item in each stage that, as well as giving interesting nuggets of lore, will also provide some chips for completion too. As you clear each stage, you'll be rewarded with 2 currency types that are used to upgrade your heroes. These 2 types are gold and computer chips. Gold allows the buying of new weapons and armour for each hero, while computer chips are used to upgrade their unique skills. As you advance through the story you'll discover new weapon plans and unlock skills but these are all simple too. There are no tough choices to make, or different upgrade paths to choose from as each upgrade "tree" is simply a set of linear upgrades that increases stats and effectiveness. Again this might be good for those who felt overwhelmed by other games in the style, or are new to the genre, but veterans might find it a little simple to truly enjoy for long.
Ultimately Spaceland is a reasonably good, if fairly standard, entry to the turnbased strategy genre. The variety of mission objectives, and the different heroes on your team provides some nice variety but the basic story, mostly uninspired enemies and the linear upgrade path for skills and weapons let's it down a little. The more simple style, quick missions and forgiving gameplay will make it a good introduction for those new to the game type, or those intimidated by the more hardcore games, but veterans of those titles looking for something similar will be disappointed. A midrange scoring title, it's worth a look but, with so much more deserving competition, it's one that's hard to recommend. Its lower price point could make it a contender though.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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