June 13, 2011

Black Prophecy Quick Thoughts

I play a ton of games and wanted to start writing about them more frequently. Probably won't be a lot of substance in these posts, but I'll try to make sure these amuse-bouches are fantastic. That's bouche, not douche.

Black Prophecy is a space dogfighting MMO. Sounds a bit like EVE Online, no? The key difference is that in EVE, you tell your ship where to go (i.e. orbit this celestial body at 10km at this speed, or approach this station at this speed). In Black Prophecy, you directly control the ship.

Some of the best games of all time have been space sims. Like TIE Fighter. Freespace 2. Even Freelancer did some brilliant things. When Black Prophecy finally released a North America beta client, I dove in.

Initial Setup
Installing this game was a miserable experience straight out of the depths of booting in DOS when I was a kid. There are 5 links on the page I linked above. You must download each of them. One is the client and four are special files. You must place those special files in a folder, then rename them (because for some reason they don't come with the correct name). It really sucks and I've had a few friends who passed on the game because they were stumped. I hope this is a beta thing. Frankly, Steam has spoiled us.

Intro Movie
The game really takes a hint from the highly cinematic space sims of old with a pretty cool narrative intro movie. A character is briefly discussing recent history and the present situation as the camera pans past planets, fleets, and other stellar imagery. It's pretty cool and well done. Unfortunately, the game really, really loves its cinematics.

That's Me!
You get to pick a character in their fairly well-done character creator. They have a lot of aesthetically pleasing pre-set archetypes, which sounds like a given but it is absolutely not typical. I selected a badass with a mohawk and modified him slightly with some simple and responsive sliders. The game gives you advanced options to tweak every crevice, but I assume this game is spent mostly in a cockpit, so I didn't bother. Plus, every time I go deep on character customization I spend an hour creating something hideous (see: Oblivion, Mass Effect). I found something good and moved on.

I was glad to see I didn't have to make some key decisions like character class, stat allocation, or race at this point. I think it's a big mistake when RPGs force you to make really crucial decisions before you play the game. I think it's a really old habit RPGs should move away from.

After a stylish cinematic of a news agency covering the latest colonization effort, you transition to a cinematic from the point of view of the colony convoy. The convoy comes under attack and at the end of the cinematic you find yourself manning a turret.


Aren't turret sequences meant to break up the action, not initiate it? I picked up the game to do some dogfighting and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this desire. Yes, it allowed me to focus on shooting without worrying about movement, which is a nicely paced mechanic tutorial. But a turret is never as cool as being a pilot.

The turret sequence ran a bit long (10 minutes?) and I wasn't quite sure if I had failed or was in the process of failing. I. Just. Kept. Shooting. Enemy. Fighters. At least the shooting was decent and UI helpful. If you hit the "T" key it grabs a target near your reticle. Once you have a target, you see its health and are given a lead reticle so you know where to shoot to hit them.

Eventually, I was told my objective was to shoot the incoming torpedoes. I blew up the 8 torpedoes that came in two waves. Then, a multiple minute cinematic triggered that seemed to tell me I failed. I was very confused. Then, I loaded back into the game in a different turret with a battleship facing me. I was told to target the hit points. I did and he was destroyed.

The game then loaded into a long cinematic about the events that had transpired. Upon game entry I found myself in a different system. This is something that I really enjoy about Black Prophecy so far. In the turret sequence, the system was bright red, as if I were on Mars. This new system was blue, like an ocean. Space games typically suffer from a lack of visual variety.

In this new system I found myself behind the stick of a fighter (finally!). I was told to zip to a nav point, which took about 15 seconds. Then, another cinematic loaded (seriously) to show a large ship crashing into the space station. The cinematics were well done and exciting but kept pulling me out of the experience!

At the end of this cinematic I found myself alone in an icy asteroid field. My ship computer rebooted my ship and I was told to shoot 2 pieces of space debris. The tutorial did a good job of introducing elements incrementally (turret to ship movement to ship shooting), but did so at a painfully slow pace and divided between multiple cinematics. I JUST want to play the game! After I blew up the space debris I made radio contact with my squadron leader who informed me they were under attack. At this point I was shown how to quick travel between zones. Upon load, I watched a thankfully brief, you guessed it, cinematic on the dogfight.

Then, I loaded in to shoot down these ships.

Unfortunately, at this point I was exhausted and turned off the game. I will go back, because I like the premise and it's well done so far. I just shouldn't have to spend an hour crawling through baby steps that anyone who has played an FPS can do.

The game's UI and visual presentation is slick. I had no trouble finding anything. The ship controls were well done. In case you're worried about needing a joystick, the game controls perfectly fine with mouse and WASD controls.

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