Element Space is an interesting little title that finds itself somewhere between the likes of XCOM / Phoenix Point, and Mass Effect. Framed for the terrorist attack on a currently being decommissioned warship that will serve as the symbol of unification of three factions after the end of a recent galactic level war, you are now on the run. With no other options than to build a team and go after those that framed you, you’ll be fighting tough odds with a squad of specialists that may just let you reach that goal.
With all of the great ideas and the nostalgia that Element Space imposes as it really makes me think of the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2, there are a few larger elements that are rather rough around the edges and sometimes just don’t work so well together. Starting off from the beginning, you’ll be viewing the action from a top down isometric view that often gives you a fairly good view of the environments that you’ll be moving and fighting in. In this view characters will chat, you’ll have some dialog options, you’ll move around and finally you’ll have firefights against those trying to kill you.
Moving around on the console is wonky at best and it took a bit of time in order to figure out exactly how far to move the thumb sticks to get the views that I was relatively looking for. It wasn’t as smooth as Phoenix Point was with a controller and it really felt more like I should have been using a keyboard and a mouse in order to get what I wanted. From there, I honestly wondered why I was having to move around the maps at all. You go in, you get dialog, you fight, you get out. Having to move from one of these to the next with no actual exploration but a simple jog down the corridors or alleys felt like a waste of time.
Where there starts to be some redemption is that the dialog isn’t bad, it’s voice acted, and you’ve got options for what kind of person you want to be. That said, there’s an unfortunate feature that makes it so that all dialog while on a mission is on autoplay whether you’re ready or not and there’s not even a way to pause it. The only pausing? Is when there’s a dialog option which is weird because when you’re on your ship, you have to press “X” to move each and every line over to the next. So why was one on auto while the other on manual? I really don’t know but it made for some annoyances if you wanted to double check what someone said because they said it too fast.
Where Element Space won me over was its combat which made the rest of the issues that I had pretty much go away as combat is about eighty percent of what you’ll be doing. Given a small fire team, you’ll have to play smarter than your enemies as more often than not there are either more of them than you, or less of them and they are powerful behemoths deserving of the word “boss”. Combat is a more simplified version of a turned based strategy where you’ll move from cover to cover for protection as you try to eliminate your foes.
Moving through your units in a your turn / their turn fashion, each unit has two major actions that can be taken. One is to use an attack / ability, and the other is to move. Attacking is as easy as targeting your enemy and the reason that this is simplified is because you don’t pick a body part to target, you simply pick the target and the accuracy vs cover algorithms take care of the rest. Cover too is simple enough as you are either 100% in view, 50% covered or 100% covered. Being a little more realistic is that cover can be destroyed if you try hard enough so if your shots are not landing on your enemy, they’ll at least be in full view soon enough.
Upping the interest a little bit are character abilities. Your main character for example has a grappling hook that lets him either pull an enemy into melee or to move around the map at a much faster rate. Bringing a foe into melee will deal less damage than a shot from a firearm, however, they are in the same boat and if they try to move out of melee, attack of opportunity. Still on the grappling hook, it has the other above mentioned strategic advantage of being able to move around quickly to get out of danger or into a better vantage point to put your enemies into a crossfire. Other abilities can disarm shields, prevent units from seeing, or my favorite from one of your first new allies is the ability to knock enemies off of the map. Why take out all of their hit points when you can just knock them out of the ring?
And the combat is fun which is good because like I said earlier, it’s most of what you’ll be doing. Unfortunately, here’s the but, Element Space was very buggy. Frame rates for certain characters had the 50/50 chance of crashing the game which got really bad when in combat because once you reloaded, you start to start back at the previous checkpoint which was often far enough back as combat isn’t the fastest as you plan and evaluate each move. If there’s a bright side to these crashes? It let you know what did and did not work without having to use up one of your tries to either restart the combat or restart from the previous checkpoint.