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Act: Void War [by Rampant Games]

Game Review:  Void War
Release: September 24, 2004
Genre: Action
Developer: Rampant Games
System Requirements: 600MHz, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, DirectX 8.1+,  16MB+ 3D Card (TNT2 or comparable or better)
Players: 1-8 (Network Play)
Price: $19.95

Space is full of maniacs. People a 20th century government would rather stick in a mental health institute than allow behind the steering wheel. Yet in the far future, those lunatics are out there. And their space ships are cooler than yours!

You are Lance Dawson, a young ex-military pilot seeking his fortune between the so-called void points - areas where ships can pass into a kind of hyperspace... well, “void space”, to be precise. And our significant other happens to be no one else than the famous war heroine Jacqueline Blade. She has gone missing, she often does that. But against better judgment, you decide to go after her - though the void points into the unknown stretches of space.

When you first start up Void War, you'll face a rather decent configuration and launch dialogue that lets you choose between single and multi player games, a really dandy option for free automatic updates, some control mappings, and the obligatory graphics settings.

In the actual game, you then first get to choose from several space ships, each with unique characteristics, such as armor, speed and shield strength, and a number of bonus ships that will be unlocked once you beat certain missions.

After that, you'll find yourself close to the action - actually only the push of a button away from your first encounter with hostiles near a void point. And the action never really stops from there.

A mission pretty much always involves destroying all opposition around a void point, but the areas you get to fight in are full of surprises. Repulsars and gravity wells push and pull your ship off course, large pieces of space debris serve as cover when your engines and shields need to recharge, and sometimes you encounter a particularly tough boss ship.

Embedded in bright blue energy spheres are power-ups that you can collect by simply flying through them – although that can prove to be very difficult when four enemies are firing at your ship and a nearby gravity well violently pulls you towards its centre. Power-ups include shield enhancements, energy boosts, and various kinds of missiles which each have a very special purpose. But to keep things simple, these pick-ups will add two missiles to your cargo and also turn all missiles you have into the designated type. “Warp Web” missiles will slow an enemy down, while “EMP Burst” missiles will make them spin out of control (and hopefully crash into an obstacle, hee hee hee).

Besides its blasters and missiles, your ship has an unique special weapon, which can be used several times during a battle, since it recharges over time. The Firebolt fighter can launch a swarm of devastating homing missiles, while the Nighthawk can teleport out of the danger zone when things get too rough. My personal favorite, the Renown fighter, has a particularly vicious weapon: The vampire cannon, which drains energy from a nearby target’s systems and adds it to your own - if you can get close enough to fire it, that is!

Speaking of the game’s energy system, it has to be said that this is one of Void War’s key features. Similar to the X-Wing series, you get to prioritize your energy usage - using the keys 1, 2 and 3, you can choose between faster shield, blaster or engine recharge rates. Pressing the same key again will toggle which of the remaining two will come second, and which will receive the least amount of the generator output. At the beginning I thought this was going to be just like X-Wing - you go with one setting, and you stick with a certain flight strategy for several minutes before you might or might not switch to another. Wrong! The insane speed of the battles will have you re-prioritizing your energy usage every two or three seconds, and it's often do or die. You'll learn to value your energy as the most precious possession, and you'll also learn to estimate the recharge rate of the opposition’s shields and blasters.

This is where the game excels in fairness - apart from the boss ships, all other enemies you meet in space fly ships that you, too, can fly (if you unlocked them). They even have to pick up power-ups if they want to recharge shields or ammo, just like yourself. This makes knowing the ships and their capabilities quite important, but it's something you can easily figure out in under ten minutes by reading the manual and in-game ship descriptions.

Graphics: 7
A mixed bag of feelings here. The ships have colorful and detailed models that you can instantly recognize even at a distance, with shiny environment maps and nicely lit. Space itself is a little less pretty, with somewhat smudgy textures and huge lens flares that just don't seem quite polished - they look raw and could use some work on their alpha channels, as could most of the particle effect graphics in this game. But then, there are quite a few awesome moments, such as a battle amongst giant, translucent ice asteroids, or the neat hand painted portraits of the ships' pilots in the cut scenes. Compared to competing indie titles of 2004, like Starshatter or Star Wraith IV, however, the graphics have less finesse and the whole game world doesn't look as coherent as it does in other space combat games. The fonts and HUD are somewhat ugly, even.

Sound: 8
Rock on! Void War's soundtrack is loud, really loud. Eight tracks filled to the brim with big, fat beats, wailing guitars and classical instruments literally scream at you while you are tangled up a huge fur ball or speeding through the remains of an asteroid mining colony. There are even bits of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata” and other classical pieces in the soundtrack - heavily punkified, of course. If that wasn't enough, there is a free 13MB high quality music pack available for download via the game's auto update function. On the other hand, there are the slightly dull sound effects - they do their work, but they pale in comparison to the massive soundtrack of this game. The samples are of mediocre quality, but nonetheless every power-up, special weapon, and blaster has its own distinctive sound effect.

Game Play: 8
The game never seems frustrating. You get bonus ships that offer a great variety of capabilities and special weapons, there is a newbie-friendly continue and save function, and you may even switch space ships mid-mission if you die. The game makes you genuinely want to try again and again until you beat a particular mission. In fact, every attempt you take is different, only the general number of threats is the same, but you always face a different mix of enemies. The random power-ups that are scattered around the void points can mean certain victory or brutal defeat, depending on how carelessly you pick them up. There is no point in collecting a ship repair kit if you're at full health, and two stealth fields won't make you any less visible, either. The game also has an excellent skirmish and multiplayer mode with very decent netcode. Hardly any lags were apparent on Rampant’s official server, even with eight ships in the game and me connecting from central Europe all the way to the US. My latency was at an abysmal 200ms, yet all my hits and shots registered correctly, and I wasn’t noticeably handicapped. Quite impressive!

Options: 9
This would have been a ten hadn’t it been for the fact that there are a few pet peeves I have regarding Void War. One being that you can't remap all keys in the options dialog - the cursor keys, for example, are off limits, so you will have to use a W-A-S-D type control scheme, or use the number pad. The other is the barely legible space age font used, texts are difficult to decipher and often gone before you're done reading them during cut scenes. Allowing the player to manually advance these would have been nicer. Apart from these minor nuisances – Void War has a plethora of sensible and useful options.

Value: 7
For your twenty bucks, you get free automatic updates, a sparsely populated, yet functioning multiplayer matchmaking service, and great overall game play both in single and multi player. Void War a must-have for budget space action fans - especially since there's currently not even a decent "non-indie" alternative available that I can think of. It's certainly not as good a deal for people looking for a realistic simulation or a serious scenario with a deep story line. Instead, Void War is for fun, and nothing but.

Concept: 6
Borrowing much from zero-g shooters such as Freelancer or Descent, this game sure isn't very original - but the witty storyline and well-designed ships with their interesting abilities make it special nonetheless. Rampant Games also presents a few fresh ideas, such as the elastic game arena gravity boundaries that skilled pilots can use to fling themselves into combat as if fired from a giant slingshot.

Fun: 9
We get plenty of that in Void War. A tongue-in-cheek storyline with lots of puns and freaky actors, adrenaline-pumping battles, and a great feeling of accomplishment after each level are what hooked me right from the start. The difficulty is high enough to be challenging even in "Easy" mode, but the learning curve is not too steep. Finding out the strengths and weaknesses of the bonus ships significantly raises the replay value, since flying each ship is a challenge of its own. And finally, multiplayer mode is a complete blast and definitely worth trying - it's fast, fun and completely furious!

Overall: 8
Void War is a perfect example where good game play and balance can make up for less-than-perfect graphics and sound effects, and in my eyes also demonstrates how much a decent music score can add to the entire experience. I found myself compelled to yell "Yeah!" after winning some particularly challenging battles more than once. And I'm seriously motivated to hone my skills until I get to unlock that final bonus fighter - the Cyclone. With its skirmish mode that's every bit as fast-paced as the true multiplayer game and a campaign that spans roughly two dozen missions, I can recommend this game both to the casual solitary gamer as well as the free for all deathmatch fan.

Added: November 6th 2004
Reviewer: Moritz Voss
Related Link: Official Website
Hits: 9077
Language: english


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