Space simulation games are one of the oldest gaming sub-genres, and for good reason. Exploring the stars has long been a dream of mankind; from a galaxy far, far away to the final frontier, space has captured the imagination of millions. Evochron Mercenary is the latest in the line of open-ended space sims, one that allows the player to choose their own career, ranging from fighter pilot to trader or racer. You can scour the galaxy for resources to sell, establish trade routes and stations, or simply fight your way across entire sectors. Evochron Mercenary does a good job of putting the galaxy at your fingertips, but suffers from a few of the genre’s common flaws.
The game begins with the player selecting a basic ship prototype (either a miner/trader, racer, mercenary, or combat pilot), a choice that leads the player to focus in a particular aspect of the game. Fighter pilots will begin in an area that allows them to jump into military combat missions, while the miner/traders have a more mercantile focus. It is well worth mentioning that the game is near-impossible to play without going through the tutorial. One feature of most space simulators is a high degree of complexity, and Evochron Mercenary takes this to a new level. In combat alone, the player must manage their power distribution between shields and weapons, the power distribution in the shield array itself, the afterburner, regular thrusters, inertial flight system, and other ship component statuses. An experienced player will find that the bevy of controls add a lot of additional combat capability for a savvy pilot, but the learning curve is very steep. The tutorial, while helpful, is not enough. It does an excellent job of explaining the combat controls, but there’s simply too much for a new player to absorb easily. The non-combat tutorial material feels tacked-on, with very little explanation being given for a number of key features, such as the hiring of additional crew and setting notes on the interstellar map. Many complex games give the players a tutorial in the form of an actual mission, with help dialogue interspersed; Evochron presents a halfhearted effort at this, but with its extreme complexity, it could’ve done a lot more.
Graphically, the game is acceptable. The menu and UI feel ten years out of date, but retain a classic “space sim” feel. It doesn’t hurt the game’s aesthetic, but it doesn’t do much to help it either. Models for other spaceships and stations are minimalistic, and also look somewhat out of date. The graphics are good where it counts though: the star maps are really quite *ahem* stellar. The game’s planets, novas, and asteroid fields all look the part, and are very pretty. Space combat inside a nebula is quite a visual treat, as are near-atmospheric engagements. The audio is rather good; it evokes a Sci-fi vibe while not calling too much attention to itself.
Evochron Mercenary does include multiplayer, wherein players can connect to particular servers and bring their single-player ships into space populated by other pilots. The multiplayer really is what saves this game; the community is excellent and many of the players were genuinely helpful to a newcomer. Having other players to chat and group with definitely makes the universe of Evochron feel less empty.
The core gameplay has a few issues. Travel times within a system are rather long, and players who attempt to circumvent this by using the warp drive (obligatory faster-than-light travel system) can wind up inside of the planet they were trying to visit. Your navigation system doesn’t even try to warn you when you set a jump point too close to a star or planet, which usually ends with an explosion and a respawn. Combat is much more realistic than some space simulations, with more attention paid to Newtonian mechanics than to making a WW2-style dogfighting experience. The player can toggle their flight controls from the standard atmospheric approach were your ship auto-adjusts to travel in the direction the ship is pointing to a more faithful inertial system were your ship continues to travel in the direction it was heading regardless of your craft’s orientation. This approach is awkward at first, but an experienced player can use the laws of physics to pull of some interesting maneuvers. The trading/mining missions are easily doable, but suffer from the tutorial’s lack of focus on explaining their inner workings.
Therein lies the core issue with Evochron Mercenary. The combat is incredibly nuanced and difficult to pick up, the mercantile aspect is glossed over in the tutorial, and the merest act of warp navigation must be done with extreme care. To a beginner, this game is as cold and forbidding as space itself, and it’s such a shame, because once players fight past the steep learning curve there really is a lot to do in Evochron. The combat is a lot of fun, the trading can be extremely rewarding to the cerebral player, and there’s just something satisfying about blazing a trail through outer space. Unfortunately, many beginners will find themselves doing the boring but easy races and stumbling through dogfights for hours before quitting in frustration. To those who’ve played and enjoyed space simulations before, Evochron Mercenary is an excellent addition to the genre that they’ll undoubtedly enjoy. However, its lack of user-friendliness and murderous learning curve make this game iffy at best for newcomers. Those who enjoy nuanced and technical gameplay should try Evochron Mercenary, others should give it a pass.
Interstellar combat is very nuanced and fun | Varied gamplay "paths" | Attractive stellar visuals
Kirk Lundblade is an Electrical Engineering student and recovering World of Warcraft addict who uses a vast panoply of new video games, science fiction novels, and Star Trek reruns to assuage the loss of his Tauren Druid. His first video game was Pokemon Red Version, and he's maintained a love for RPG and strategy games ever since.
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