Space Siege (PC)
You are told much of the backstory through data recordings; you are attacked by artificially enhanced humans; and there is some sort of message about the nature of humanity. But any similarities between the action-RPG Space Siege and last year's BioShock are entirely coincidental. Space Siege has a plot and mechanics that are derivative of a dozen other games -- some better and some worse -- and brings nothing really new to the table. It has lots of action, one or two skin-of-your-teeth boss battles, and little else of note.
You've heard the plot before somewhere else. A space ship is attacked by an alien threat and a few survivors make it to a safe location. Then one of these survivors -- played by you -- sets out to eliminate the menace through the judicious use of guns, grenades and exploding barrels. You are accompanied by a replaceable robot companion for most of the action. As you kill stuff, you collect "upgrade materials" which you can spend on ability boosts, new hardware or robot upgrades.
Even with the hackneyed outline, the writers are up to the job. While none of the plot twists are that surprising, and not all the game's mysteries are answered, the dialogue is pretty good and the data recordings are evocative of a ship that had a nice routine before all hell broke loose. The characters are one-note stock figures, but that's almost to be expected in a game as simple as this. There's not a lot of room for nuance when one character's entire purpose is to tell you what your primary objective is and another is there solely to tell you about the seriousness of the stakes.
The ethical conceit of the game is the option to install cybernetic parts onto your hero. Each new mechanical body part makes you more deadly but also less human. So, every time you find a cybernetic implant, two voices are screaming at you from the safety of Med Lab Delta. One person wants you to stay human; the other wants you to be a killing machine. This is as deep as the choices get; the game is more action than RPG.
And there's a lot of action. It's nonstop, in fact. Every level and every stage is filled with constant combat against alien invaders or cyborgs. Who you are fighting really doesn't matter insofar as the parts you collect -- dead aliens and dead cyborgs both grant the same upgrade materials. The maps start to blend together after a while, and your basic strategy won't change whether you are fighting on the bridge or a cargo hold. Explosive crates and barrels seem to be everywhere, and the only real tactical debate is how to ration your health packs until you get to the next save point.
The combat gets repetitive very quickly and there is little sense of risk. You point and shoot and maybe lob some explosives towards your enemy -- that's it. This isn't Mass Effect, where you choose a character class, or even Dungeon Siege, where you have a mix of characters that can make your life easier or harder. This is a straightforward action game that lets you pump up your offense and defense as you go and that's it. You will always spend whatever materials you find since you never have to hoard them so you can afford something better later. If you die, you usually regenerate at a health center not too far away, and progress you made is saved for your new incarnation.
There is no loot to speak of, at least not in traditional role-playing terms. You will find new weapons, of course, but you never go back to an old one once you find something with a bigger bang. There are lots of upgrades and skills for your mel?e weapon, for example, but considering how rarely you use it, why bother? You're better off putting your skill points into engineering and make tons of cheap grenades or drones to make your job easier. Once you discover a new skill, you will have no trouble taking advantage of it, because learning about stun grenades means you can make stun grenades no matter how puny your investment in engineering.
A couple of tough boss fights aside, the game is pretty easy. There aren't any puzzles to solve, for example, or secret attacking tricks you need to learn. If you want to just run-and-gun, Space Siege isn't a bad choice. The designers and writers seem to have aspired for more, though, and failed to reach their own lofty goals.
This is especially apparent in the human vs. cybernetic debate I mentioned earlier. Every time you install a new part, your humanity level drops, but since your ship is mostly empty, you never get to see what this means. Will people see you differently as a half-human/half-robot monstrosity? Even the Cassandra who warns against this sort of modification seems perfectly content to work with you even as you become more artificial, so I doubt it. The cyborgs you slay don't seem to recognize you as one of them, either, even though the writing and setup assure you that these choices are momentous.
In fact, so much is made of the struggle between cybernetic enhancements and true humanity that I can't help but suspect that part of the game is missing, that someone somewhere ran out of time. This missing center of the game only draws attention to how pedestrian the rest of Space Siege is. You ride a subway to a new location and kill more aliens. You ride an elevator, activate an item and wait for your new orders. The sense of disappointment wouldn't be so acute it Space Siege's developers hadn't spent months talking about the dramatic choices you would have to make in their story. The plot and some items point to this concept being central to the original design, but all we get in the end are corridors of nasties that need to be cleansed.
This basic gameplay seems especially odd coming from Gas Powered Games. They made the majestic Supreme Commander and the experimental Dungeon Siege games, and are now at work on Demigod, a product that seems to be cut from a dozen different genres. Space Siege is a modest little game that seems out of place in this lineup. The setup suggests that they may have started with greater ambition, but the result is another space marine game from a bunch of people who know better.
At least it's short. You can see all there is to see in a couple of days of play. There's just the nagging feeling that there was supposed to be more.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the writer.