Review: Arvoch Alliance (PC)
Arvoch Alliance is the latest first-person space shooter from long-standing indie studio StarWraith 3D Games, also responsible for the Evochron series of space sims. The Arvoch games take place in the same universe as the Evochron games, but are distinct in themselves – so while Arvoch utilizes many of the same mechanics, gameplay and ships, it provides a story-led, mission-based space game as opposed to Evochron’s open-ended, Elite-esque exploration.
Like the Evochron series, Arvoch Alliance has some notable differences to many of the other space sims on the market – differences that lead you to realize that many of them aren’t really space sims. Jump-gates and other mechanics are frequently used to ‘simulate’ the vastness of space, but often leave us Last Starfighter- wannabes longing for the huge empty voids of Elite and its peers. Arvoch Alliance does not do this – in fact, it’s probably fair to say that both the Arvoch and Evochron games are the most ‘realistic’ sims out there, thanks to their utilization of accurate Newtonian physics. Thrust can be switched off mid-flight, leaving inertia to carry you forward and allowing you to turn your ship mid-flight for a strafing shot, while a manually activated warp-drive helps you cover larger distances. Warp drains a lot of power, however, and you’ll find your shields and weapons need some time to recharge after a jump.
Variable thrust and inertia add a tactical depth to the combat that other space sims lack, forcing you to use more and more of the ships capabilities as the game progresses. Careful management of your wingmen and ship’s equipment are equally important, and the game throws the occasional curve-ball your way to spice things up a little, be it by making an atmospheric descent at speed, risking burning up, or dropping out of warp a few hundred metres off your home carrier to make it into the docking bay before the colossal beast leaves the system. During combat, you will need to manage both shield and weapon power simultaneously, readjusting your directional shields with the numerical keypad to plug holes and altering the power balance to emphasize shield or weapon recharge as the situation demands.
Thirty unique missions, ranging from the usual shooting of distant spaceships to planetary strikes, mining and building operations, play out against the backdrop of the conflict provoked by the return of the evil Vonari, while a mission editor and ‘instant action’ generator pad out the offering by allowing the creation of user scenarios and jump-in combat, for those days where you just feel like blowing stuff up.
StarWraith 3D Games is a one-man studio, and as such it’s impossible not to respect and appreciate the hundreds of hours of passion and work that goes into the creation of the Evochron and Arvoch games. But playing in a one-man band can have its disadvantages, and though Arvoch Alliance has a great deal of charm, there are plenty of flaws to get past before you begin to enjoy it.
Equipment and ship management is opaque and (in contrast to the excellent tutorials) never clearly explained; equipping your own ship is simple enough, but the drag-and-drop system of wingman ship-selection doesn’t allow you to upgrade their equipment – just the ship they pilot.
The graphics engine is serviceable but very basic, though the planetary environments are a lovely touch, and the cinematic camera seems intent on pointing at wherever the action isn’t. The cockpit, and consequently the viewpoint, never changes regardless of which ship you fly and is embarrassingly archaic, looking like something out of a bad ’60s sci-fi flick and making some of the display readouts unnecessarily difficult to read. During combat this is exacerbated by the fact that energy weapon hits have an inertial impact, meaning if you take a hit, your ship will shake all over the place and your inertia will be displaced. This makes it very difficult to fight back, and in a game where control of inertia is key, it leads to plenty of frustration as your attack runs are ruined again and again.
Ships are fragile, and your wingmen even more so. The limited selection of command options do their job, but after a while you realize that ‘attack enemies’ simply spreads their fire ineffectively over multiple targets – something the enemy doesn’t do – leading to their swift annihilation and yours, overwhelmed by fire and unable to even control your ship, let alone read your tactical display, shortly after. Difficulty spikes are commonplace, and your wingmen are so inept that you often end up taking forever shuttling between the next waypoint and the carrier while you repair the survivors, or heading towards the later sections of the mission with only half (or worse) an escort, making the game much more difficult.
Arvoch Alliance is, in a way, a gateway game. While playing you will inevitably feel the urge to go off exploring the galaxy, but because you’re tied into the mission, it will be pointless – and so you’ll start thinking about the open-ended Evochron series. This is in no way a bad thing. It may be clunky at times, but this is a game built out of sheer, unshakeable love for the genre, and for that alone it deserves respect. That it happens to be fun and clever makes it all the more compelling.
Flawed yet inspired, Arvoch Alliance is a worthy addition to the series that could, with some more polish and a fresh lick of paint, square up to the best of its contemporaries. Stuart Griffin
Released: November 2011 · Developer: StarWraith 3D Games · Version: 1.108 · Site: starwraith.com/arvochalliance