Developed by Sixth Vowel and Published by Inca Games, Element Space is a turn-based strategy game with some RPG elements in the mould of X-COM. The story has you playing as Captain Pietham, who must uncover the terrorist activities of the Tempest, who look to disrupt the fragile peace of the galaxy. There are 7 factions to explore, representing different parts of the earth and the galaxy. You need to build and improve your relationship with these factions. You and your crew must take missions to prevent the plans of the Tempest, and can find new weapons and recruits on the way. There is also story impacting choices to make through the game which impacts the ending you receive upon completion.
When playing, I got a strong feeling that rather than playing an Xbox One title I was in fact playing a title from the 360. The characters seem a bit blocky in their design and move awkwardly. Some of the cut-scenes and action scenes look alright, but everything else has a dated feel about it. The audio is what you’d expect from a tactical strategy game with gunshots, explosions, swishing melee weapons, while the background music is not intrusive, but not memorable either. The voice acting feels a tad forced and somewhat dated. People mock Resident Evil one for their comical lines and delivery, but if I was told this game was released in the same year – based on the voice acting – I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a very hard thing to get voice acting right in games and with what seems to be suspicious accents in play here, I wouldn’t say they were too successful.
The gameplay is broken into 3 sections. You have your ship, which acts as your hub where you can prepare your squad by upgrading their skills, talk to your crew to know more about them or what they are thinking and to select the next mission to take on. The next section is just a bizarre inclusion and just seems like poorly executed filler. As you start most missions, you are not thrust straight in battles but instead must point and click to move your squad through the map until you come across the next part of the story, which is usually a battle. This would be fine to include if it served a purpose other than bridging the gap between battles. But you cannot interact with anything else or choose between locations it seems. Also, some of the maps are not clearly designed, so you must move your squad about until you find the correct way to go – it all seems a bit unnecessary.
Then the main section is the battles themselves; these combine some interesting ideas which make the game stand out but are then largely ruined by a lot of poor decisions. As with traditional turn-based strategy games you and your enemy take turns moving all your team . So, with each member of your team, you can perform one movement action and one attack/skill action. The interesting features I think to make it stand out are the melee attacking options and the destructible cover. If you send a squad member to attack an enemy with a melee attack, then they both end up in a melee lock status. This generates an accuracy penalty to anyone who shoots at someone in a melee lock status. This balances the fact that if your member went to melee attack an enemy then most of the time, they would become a sitting duck. The destructible cover prevents camping from either side, as if the shots miss the target and hit the cover, then there is a chance the cover will break, and you will be exposed.
This game does suffer from a few big issues which make it hard to play through, in my opinion. The first being the cursor you move around in battle seems locked to the in-game playing area. This makes no sense and is really clunky to move your guys about. On many occasions when I want to put my guy behind certain cover I have to spin the map and faff about to try and pick the correct location, even then sometimes I hit the wrong location and my guy becomes an easy target, which without an undo feature is a real big problem. Also, on some maps, I have found enemies which are on the edge of the screen and the cursor cannot select them to be attacked – also a big flaw. Another issue I hit early on was that your first recruit is a melee only character who seemed to be a kick-ass martial artist. But on literally the next map, every enemy can shoot anyone that gets close to them which almost makes her useless. She can use one of her 2 skills to bypass their ability, but you need to be in the right position to use them, and they both have a cool down time. The last, and major, gripe I have is the games pacing speed, in that it is sooooo slow. There is a long time to load each mission as it is, but before every action there is a pause and the movement of the characters is sluggish. In fact, when it’s the AI’s turn you must watch each of their actions in real time – sometimes they can have seven units on-screen at a time, making it quite dull to watch. Combine this slow-paced action with the awkward cursor movement then the game can become a chore to play. If you fail the battle or feel it didn’t go so well, you can retry the battle again if you wish, but to me it just felt like prolonging the pain.
This game is also quite difficult, even on the supposedly easy setting I put it on just to absorb as much story I could in my review. I am quite familiar with the X-COM series and turn-based strategy games so it’s not just that I am not very good at it. Some liken this genre to chess and to some extent I agree with that here. It is incredibly slow and one bad move early on means you don’t stand a chance and must concede to having try again. Picture this scenario; you only have three in your squad early on, with one a melee character only. In the battle, you face about seven enemies at once, and some of them have shields which are tough to break down. Every one of the enemies has an ability allowing them will shoot you if you enter their proximity radius. Even if you are lucky using all your characters skills and fluke your way through to bringing them down in some battles, after a certain turn number, more enemies join the battle. Then if you hit the jackpot and take them down, winning the battle, you need to take your team with their missing health to the next battle of the mission. If any of your squad was downed during the first battle, they are then injured in the second battle.
Element Space is a very difficult game with good intentions but poor delivery. So much time was spent crafting out a storyline, using voice acting and putting some innovations into this genre that the main functionality of the game slips down. With clunky controls, high difficulty and such slow pacing, only experts at the turn-based strategy will make it through to enjoy the storyline. But they would need to be a glutton for punishment and have a lot of time on their hands.