A reasonably capable and promising title that scored poorly due to an incredible amount of bugs and a weak story.
I want to get this out first as it's only going to come out sooner or later; Spaceforce is Heroes and Might and Magic in space. That's the most accurate and at the same time unfair description anyone will be able to give you of this game. Accurate, because it lifts most of the gameplay and design wholesale from Might and Magic, and inaccurate because SFC can’t hold a candle to the Heroes series and it feels a little wrong putting them both in the same league.
Let’s rewind a bit though, for those of you who haven't had the opportunity to play either game. Spaceforce is a turn based sci-fi strategy game. Not to be confused with a ‘4x game’ like Masters of Orion 3, the gameplay more closely resembles that of a slowed down RTS. You command units, gather resources, research technology, capture bases and fight enemies with similar objectives.
Gamers have tended to shy away from turn based gaming with only a few high profile titles making any sort of progress, but these offerings have leaned strongly towards the fantasy market, so the opportunity to play one in an altogether more sci-fi setting was alluring, to say the last.. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of reasons why SFC not only fails to move the genre forward but seem intent on moving everything backwards a few years, breaking it in the process.
Everything about SFC feels half finished and amateurish. The opening introduction feels like something more at home in a mid nineties FMV game, the menu is clunky and options limited, and even the tutorial doesn't seem to work properly. It will tell you how to control some parts of the game but it won’t actually tell you exactly what it wants you to do to reach the next section of the tutorial; I played it for nearly fifteen minutes before a box came up telling me how to control my ship.
It turns out however; I didn’t need the tutorial anyway. If you have played any game remotely like SFC in the last five years, you’ll notice there’s nothing new here at all, and it shows. You can change heroes to captains, orcs to battleships and towns to starbases, but really, you’re only changing graphics. Even then, SFCs graphics aren’t anything to get excited about. Generally, they are modern enough and serve the games purpose on an entirely functional level, but the design is so dull they might have well have created the whole game around star trek and star wars fan art. Sound has a similar problem; it does what it was designed to do to the bare minimum, and is instantly forgettable.
Many of these flaws would have been far less noticeable if the game had a decent plot to carry them. Unfortunately what little the action sequences showed of the plot made it clear it was about as generic as a science fiction story can be. I haven’t played the other games set in the same universe, and if I had, I might have understood what was going on in a little more depth, but I doubt it. Combined with a lack of any effort put into the AI or any attempt at variation of game play, SFC doesn’t make the cut on any level.
It’s not even just about the lack of imagination or excitement. Just because the game isn't innovating doesn't instantly make it a poor experience. After all, Might and Magic has survived on the same formula for many years, and if something isn't broke, why fix it? The real reason SFC has achieved such a low score rather than the middle of the road five out of ten it would otherwise have deserved is simply because of the most utterly broken games I've played in a long time. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the long load time, or the fact that your mid range PC will have quite a task simply keeping a frame rate up. Excusable perhaps for the latest DX10 shooters, but not for a mostly 2D budget experience.
Worse than that though, the whole game is bugged nearly to the point of being totally unplayable. The bugs range from the annoying, like your ship suddenly stopping its course for no readily apparent reason, to the completely game crushing. On one of the campaign maps I was playing, I failed a battle and lost my main hero, losing the game. I hadn’t saved in about twenty minutes, so I decided to load from the last autosave and give it another go. When the game loaded, my previous Armada of cruisers and destroyers had been replaced with 80 scout ships I’d never seen before. Further investigation on the player status screen caused the game to stop responding entirely.
This didn't happen once, and even the same save game can cause new and exciting errors each time you load. Sometimes my ships would simply swap captains, and once, my previously unequipped ship was loaded up to maximum with a single artifact that I'd never seen before in the game. Autosave seems entirely unusable. Jowood have gained somewhat a reputation in recent years for publishing games with a lack of proper testing and major bugs, but their flagship ‘problem child’, Gothic 3, at least has the excuse of being a massive non linear adventure that’s got some true depth beyond the bugs.
If the game was patched tomorrow and all the major issues fixed, I’d still only be able to recommend SFC to the most dedicated fans of the genre. In its current state, it would be unfair to recommend it to anyone at all. If you see it in the bargain bin for cheap, hunt around and find an old copy of Might and Magic instead. It might not have spaceships, but at least it’s a deep, enjoyable and infinitely replayable strategy game; everything that SFC is not.