Posted: September 27, 2014
This game is a rare gem, the type of game that only comes out of a small studio.
No other title I've played in the last several years has offered this kind of tactical depth, but to say it's just a great strategy game would be doing it an injustice. It's also a game that, despite its rather basic 2D graphics and rudimentary sound, truly captures the essence of the universe it portrays.
It's a dark, cold universe where humanity has been flung to the four winds, and is pursued by a ruthless alien AI hive across the galaxy as it fights, vainly, for its survival. It evokes the imagery and sense of encroaching dread of Ender's Game as it puts you in charge of organizing mankind's last stand - a suicidal breakout and attack directly against the AI homeworlds.
To get there, you'll have to cut a swath through AI controlled worlds, each with layered defenses, guard posts, mobile fortresses and a plethora of other tools at it's disposal to remind you that they are the masters of this domain, and make your beachhead a costly failure. And even if your beachhead is successful, you will quickly learn that you have but stumbled into the lion's den.
Each tactical victory comes with a price that is higher than the sum of all the troops that fell in achieving it - the closer you get to the AI homeworlds, the more viciously, effectively, and stubbornly it will fight. Well before you get within stone's throw of their homeworlds, the AI will begin to recognize you as a real and growing threat, and it will respond appropriately.
By appropriately, I mean it will attempt to destroy you using everything in its near-infinite disposal. If you expand zealously, like the scourge it believes humanity to be, it will crush you mercilessly without batting an eye. From star systems and galaxies near and far, it will draw from the hive and send the combined weight of a thousand navies against you. You cannot win this war traditionally. You must wage it like a guerrilla campaign, striking hard and fast deep in enemy territory at specific, high value targets, and hoping to escape with your remaining forces back into the night. You must attrition down dug in positions carefully, lest you give away your true presence and tip your hand. It is a war that demands long-term strategic thinking, tempered aggression, the careful use of ruse and concealment, and a sixth sense of when your foe is strong and when he is weak. It requires you to revise your tactics and force compositions constantly, as the AI will adapt to your strategies quickly. Like using hordes of cheap, fast, throwaway ships to attrition down the enemy? Well, right now the Ai is building a stealth smart bombing fleet that will be able to annihilate your blob before it can even react. Like bunkering up and covering your inlet wormholes with shields and hordes of turrets? The AI just hacked your shield and turrets with the hacker drones right on the other side of the wormhole you havent scouted lately, and not only have they assembled a strike force just on the other side, theyre now making a beachhead into your territory, using your shield and turrets for cover. That system, well behind the front, that's been quiet as a ghost for the last hour? As we speak there are AI stealth drones surveying its defenses, helping to paint a picture of precisely how much force and what tools will be needed to push you out of system and split a gap in your supply lines. Steamrolling the AI with your superfleet, sitting off the enemy's sector, waiting for orders to jump? It knows you're there. It's just waiting for you to commit, to jump into system, so it can spring on the black hole generators so you cannot escape. It will hit you with tractor beams, smart bombs, and long-range standoff fleets that outrange your crippled battleships. And then, as you helplessly watch your fleet picked apart, that massed invasion fleet that has been assembling just outside your territory gets the go order, and before long you are looking at a massed attack all along the front as the AI carries out probing attacks at your industrial centers - just as you are at your weakest. It only wanted you to think it was weak, to draw you into a fight on favorable terms, on ground where the tables were turned. It wanted you to commit the bulk of your forces to suicidal action, as it planned to pin your fleet down, envelop your industrial base, and destroy you.
The AI is THAT good. And that's on one of the more modest difficulty settings. On the higher settings, it goes from being a somewhat difficult campaign into a brutal, oft-unwinnable fight for survival. You have to employ the same cunning tactics as the AI to stand a chance. It amazes me that this was a two-man project; the gentleman who wrote the AI script for this should be working for the NSA skunkworks.
This game has been out for a while, and has six or so expansions now; if it sounds like the kind of title you're interested in, I'd reccommend the bundle. The expansions offer a number of new tools, ships, modifications, and functionalities to the game.
It's not the prettiest game to behold, but the gameplay is awesome, the AI is beyond amazing, and the replayability is tremendous. One of the best PC purchases I've ever made.