Hmm. Yes, that is all I can say for Starwraith 3D Games’s Evochron Mercenary. After my recent Freespace 2 experience, I find it hard to have a unique thought about this game. It almost makes me want to take back what I said about developers not utilizing the great game mechanics Freespace 2 established because Evochron Mercenary has all of it and more. Not only that, it possesses the same developer endeavor present in many indie games like Dwarf Fortress which appeals to me and gives me hope that not all is lost in the gaming industry.
EM has no set regulations on how to be played. Though every player begins their journey in the same system, where they go and what they do from there is completely their own decision. However, these liberties come at a price: a steep learning curve. Controls can vary from mouse and keyboard to a joystick but I found myself drawn to the keyboard controls I had become familiarized with while playing Freespace 2. Regardless of these similarities, Evochron Mercenary deviates from Freespace 2 and begins to take on a more versatile persona of the game X3. The player primarily engages in many forms of trade with various planets and space stations whose commodity values fluctuate due to many variables such as shortages and surpluses of specific resources. Depending on the player’s choices, these places can thrive or suffer if they do not assist in distress calls that appear occasionally throughout the game. The calls are never scripted but instead a response to events unique to each playthrough. Space travel makes Evochron Mercenary stand out from its influences. Instead of limiting travel to select areas of space connected by jumpgates or in game scripts, it is possible for the player to fly to or into any celestial body they see.
So if you see a distant planet you can either take on the arduous task of manually flying or activate your hyperdrive to pop up in a nearby area you have selected to ascend into the planet’s atmosphere. Other than a few bases here and there, this feature is purely a spectacle. Starwraith 3D Games, who regularly updates Evochron Mercenary with new content, intends to allow ground exploration, but until planets have teemed with several unique biospheres and life, they will remain featureless rocks with an occasional lake or tree. To fully enjoy Evochron Mercenary, you will need time. Lots of time. Having clocked over forty hours, I still feel I need to devote more of myself to it so I can fully experience the game. Just getting out of the initial system takes several hours.
Humbleness is a Virtue
My few combat encounters were in no way as flashy as other space simulators. After outfitting out my ship with a new beam weapon at a nearby space station, I opted to go out and pick a fight. I was expecting an intense dogfight, but instead I stared in confusion as my target fled and flew in strange patterns which appeared to be evasive maneuvers. When I finally destroyed my target with the help of a nearby friendly spacecraft, I felt very underwhelmed. In fact, a little dirty. I never got to experience any major warring however. Maybe that’s when the combat requires more skill and strategy, but I feel Starwraith 3D Games wanted to maintain a consistently mild universe so they didn’t create an array of brightly colored lasers and explosions.
Visually, the game is passable. Nothing brings an eye sore but nothing fills you with awe. Maybe that is part of the appeal. Kind of like Dwarf Fortress’s pseudo-ASCII visuals, Evochron Mercenary places its focus on complex content rather than flashy imagery. Not only that, its meagerness gives the setting a more believable feel. However, the meager sound design hurts the game. Sure the game is low budget but condensed or incongruent sounds can severely dampen a gaming experience. It isn’t that severe in this game however it could definitely be better.
I CAN’T SEE
Various read-outs and commands clutter the interface. When I started up Evochron Mercenary for the very first time and chose the first training section, I noticed this clutter and my view obscured by the massive frame of my ship. There are options to toggle between views and how the HUD appears but none of the choices are ideal since the option that removes this clutter also turns of your in-ship display screens of ship stats which are vital to survival. With all the many different commands visible on the HUD, it is hard to say whether it can be helped or not. Maybe reducing certain options like inventory access and build commands to only a simple hotkey press instead of having them as a huge button on the HUD would open up more viewing area.
Another issue I have, though very specific, when in training I noticed that because I was cruising through the vast expanse of space, I had no nearby references to see the immediate effects if what I was being instructed to do. Again, a very specific complaint but an overlooked design choice that might ease that learning curve I mentioned. It can be lengthy but the training is a welcome asset when considered next to X3 that requires the player to see out the information on how to play the game themselves. Not only that, they are fully voiced so that they remove the exhausting process of reading endless preliminary text.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Evochron Mercenary definitely puts hardly any strain on newer rigs but still offers various customization options in visuals, sound, and gameplay. Though there are minor issues like laser impact visuals not aligning with the point at where they actually hit, the game has no serious bugs. And even if it does, the developer regularly fine tunes the game to guarantee it is an enjoyable experience. Evochron also has an involved community who works to modify it how they see fit. So many things I complain about here can easily be fixed by installing these mods. I would think for its small price tag of $24.95, Evochron Mercenary easily pays for itself.
I suggest that whoever is considering playing approach it with hesitance; it definitely will not appeal to everyone. I appreciate Evochron Mercenary for what it strives to be and is. Rarely do developers now-a-days have the opportunity to invest themselves beyond a games initial release. But if you are an avid space entrepreneur, I guarantee you will have a great experience.
Evochron Mercenary Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 44 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Minor visual problems
- Demo – Yes
- Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse
- DRM – Steamworks
- System Specs – Core 2 Duo, GeForce 9800, 4GB RAM
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam, Developer Site