It’s not often that a game completely disappoints, but unfortunately for me, Evochron Mercenary is such a game. I fondly remember spending hours upon hours playing Freelancer back in the day, and even though it is now a bit dated, it still looks great and plays even better. The story was great, the open ending was good, it was easy to understand and play and it’s still fun to play even today. When I was first introduced to Evochron I expected the same quality, if not better, but sadly I just didn’t get on with its overcomplicated HUD system or the massive amount hotkeys you need to remember. The controls were generally poor and not particularly intuitive.
To quote the official site:
“Trading commodities while sneaking past hostile forces, racing the best pilots in the area, mining for diamonds, negotiating for survival, spying for a curious energy company, cleaning dirty solar arrays, transporting an impatient passenger… and that’s just on a Monday. The life of an independent mercenary is rarely without excitement. At times, you may choose to work under contract, while at others, you may want to take matters into your own hands in a quest to build your reputation and fortune. Your spacecraft awaits. Your adventure begins in the Sapphire solar system.”
After reading that I was looking forward to the game; killing pirates, mining ore, making loads of money trading items… the usual space fare! The game describes itself as a “Freeform Space Combat / Trader and Exploration simulator”, so I thought I would give it a go and get stuck in.
When I loaded the game for the first time, I noticed it looked a little dated, but I wasn’t expecting the best graphics. After all, the game wasn’t developed by a big international company. I created my account, logged in and started with the tutorial so I could get to grips with the game before doing some mining or killing pirates. The tutorial is spoken out to you in a good, clear voice with concise snippets of information, so it was nice and easy to listen to.
As I started to learn the basics of flight I thought, “This isn’t too bad – I can do this!” The, however, the tutorial started going into all the other things you either need to do or should know without much of a chance to get used to the basics. Some of the things covered in the tutorial are: pitch, thrusters, afterburners, autopilot, inertial dampener system, targeting, shields, weapons, sub systems, map, target information, warp, plotting courses, landing and taking off from surface stations, entering the atmosphere correctly, docking and undocking, inventory, 3 different types of HUD, crew and crew management, jobs, combat exercise… Phew! As you can imagine, I found this all very overwhelming for a first try and immediately forgot a lot of it once the tutorial had finished.
Some things were mentioned but not actually explained in detail, such as crew and crew management. It was mentioned that you need to look after your crew and pay them, but it never actually showed you how, nor what the consequences would be if you don’t. There was also not much of a mention of the professions or the advantages and disadvantages of going down a certain profession route – or even if there are NPCs to talk to about it. I did, however, like the idea of having to enter a planet’s atmosphere at a certain speed and trajectory so as not to blow up your ship on entry.
Graphics and UI:
As mentioned earlier, I was not expecting top notch DirectX 11 graphics, but the graphics are actually nice. I like the feel of them: space looks like space, planets look very much like planets and it all fits in very nicely. What I was not keen on was the cockpit view; it actually limited my view of space. I know this is a simulator and a real pilot would be able to only see what I can see from the cockpit, but some other camera angles would have been nice. There may be some, but I didn’t easily find any apart from the cinematic view. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as blowing anything up, so I’m not sure what the effects for that are like. I did manage to re-enter and exit a planet’s atmosphere and that was definitely visually pleasing, as well as being fun.
As seen from the keyboard layout above, there are a lot of controls to remember in this game. I felt some of the keys could have been truncated or replaced by a better method. The speed, for instance, goes from 10% – 100%, with keys 1-0 increasing the speed by 10% per key. Then you have Speed Down and Speed Up, on the – and = keys, respectively. I would have been quite happy sticking with the Speed Up and Speed Down and replacing the 1-0 keys with more useful hotkeys. Granted, there is a key for almost everything in the game, so if you have a good memory you get shortcuts for almost everything but personally I found it a bit much, especially as it creates a very steep learning curve. It reminded me of years ago when I was first playing games and I would print out the keymap and have it stuck to the wall next to me, or have it pinned in front of my keyboard so I could easily reference it.
I feel that this section will void the whole point of a review, as I didn’t explore much of the actual gameplay, as I simply couldn’t get on with the controls or limited information available to me for long enough to get anything done. I did manage the following:
- Plotting a few courses on the map and playing with the jump drive.
- Entering a planet’s atmosphere and docking with a base on the surface.
- Docking with a station by following a flight pattern and going through the station’s shields.
The docking procedure was enjoyable but once I was in the station I had no idea what to do. Other than those things, I was not sure of what else to do or where to go, and I could not find any sort of global chat system or help channel to find out.
Unfortunately, this is going to be the first game I will give a bad review. Don’t get me wrong, I love these types of games, and sci-fi in general, but I just felt this game was too complicated to pick up and play. It really requires too much long term playing and dedication to get to grips with even the basics. I also felt that the lack of global chat and help channel was a big turn off. Maybe I am just spoiled by all the other online games I have played, but it is normally easy to ask people for help and advice when you first start and more often than not there is always someone in the chat willing to help you out and give you points, so this was really missing in this game.
The price tag on Evochron Mercenary is $29.95 and all major cards are accepted through a 3rd party vendor, or Paypal direct on the site. I personally don’t feel the game is worth $29.95 – I’d have expected a price tag more around the $12.95 mark. I hope improvements are made and things are simplified a little as Evochron does have the potential to be a really good game – it is just not an easy game to pick up and play.
There seems to be a community there; although I barely saw anyone when I logged in and played, their forums have an impressive 32,000 posts in their main forum alone and another 10,000 posts in the General Discussion board. If one was willing to put in the time investment necessary to play Evochron Mercenary, they would surely find some help there, but it wasn’t helpful to me. All in all, the game could be much better and easier to play than it currently is, and only time will tell if it will be worth a second try or not.