In the huge expanse that is space, you would think that all of its species could find a little room for peace and tranquillity. But as is always the case in any space epic, everyone wants to rule the universe! I guess it would make for a pretty miserable and boring computer game if all of the different lifeforms exchanged polite chatter and sipped tea together.
In Far Gate you take control of the Proximan colony, the human side of the story, pitting your wits against the two other races in the game, the Nue-Guyen and Entrodii. Why science fiction type games always spring up planet or race names with a double 'i' in them, or think that having a 'xz' in the name is cool, I will never know.
You play Jacob Viscero, a cynical young man who has been blackmailed into assisting the Proximan colony to re-establish them as the dominant force in the universe. It's no surprise then that the game is a strategic battle to occupy and defend territory in different quadrants of space. With games like Homeworld already shining the light brightly for the space strategy gaming genre, Far Gate really has a hard job at hand to impress.
Masters of the Universe
In single player you only get to play as the Proximan colony, but thankfully you can play as any of the colonies in multiplayer. All of the missions take place within an entire solar system, complete with gas clouds, asteroid belts, wormholes, planets and of course the huge mass that makes the worlds go round - the Sun.
The mission formula treads familiar ground, with your first task usually to set up a construction base, or "Station Hub" as they are called in the game. Once in place you can build ships, turrets, remote mining stations, planet-side defence systems and lots more besides. To gather the resources you need you will have to mine nearby asteroid belts using the small Utility Pods. You will often find that the enemy targets these pods, and you are well advised to deploy a few Gunships and Interceptors to protect them.
For the most part all of the action is performed via the mouse, and although you will need at least half an hour to acclimatise yourself to the way it all works, once you know what you're doing the interface is a dream to use. From anywhere in the solar system you can zoom in and out from any ship, structure or planet with a simple click of the mouse. Your ships are easily accessed via a neat pop-up menu, and you can divide or merge them into fleets as you please and then assemble these squadrons into various formations.
Setting up patrol routes is simplicity itself, and is useful for detecting incoming enemies that were previously out of radar range. The game can become a frightful yawn though if a mission involves your setting up or protecting an area of the solar system a long way from your initial starting position. There is no time acceleration option, and you quite literally have to wait for your ships to traverse the entire distance before continuing. Space is big, man!
While you are busying yourself with your empire building your enemy will either be doing some construction of their own or trying to destroy yours. The combat system can be awfully confusing, and it is quite difficult to pinpoint just what exactly is going on at any one time, or even whether you are winning!
This can be further compounded when you have more than one battle to contend with, and it becomes a major headache to actually administrate everything with any sense that you are in complete control. Enemies also have an uncanny knack of disappearing altogether, and I don't just mean off the radar - they vamoose completely! It can be extremely infuriating when you have made the effort to send a squadron out to deal with an enemy that is no longer there, especially if those troops are needed elsewhere.
The game AI also appears to be incredibly haphazard about what enemy it is attacking. If I instruct my entire squadron to attack one ship and one ship only, then I don't expect them to do what the heck they please, unless I have the 'auto attack' function enabled of course. Some of the alien species are big guys that take a lot of pounding to take down, so channelling all of your forces into that one vessel is vital. If the game does not play ball it can easily lead to mission failure.
Graphics And Sound
One area where Far Gate does excel though is in the graphics department. The gas clouds, planets and wormholes look absolutely stunning, and the sun itself gives off wonderful flames that dissipate into space beautifully. It is quite easy to get struck on the eye candy rather than playing the game. The immensity of space is convincingly portrayed, and the ability to view all of the action from any angle makes the experience even more enjoyable.
The graphical excellence continues with the ship and structure models looking superb; ships burners blasting blue and white trails behind them, Station Hubs rotating silently as they build new items, and the industrious Utility Pods to-and-froing from the asteroids. The detail level is very good, and becomes even more apparent when you zoom in and witness the intricacies up close.
Audio on the other hand is a little disappointing, with just your typical Star Wars inspired laser sounds and strangely dull explosions. Okay, so in reality you actually would not hear any sound at all in space, but come on, spruce it up a bit! Meanwhile the soundtrack is a strange orchestral mish-mash which sounds more like a concert hall full of musicians tuning their instruments than a game complimenting score, but is still oddly compelling.
Far Gate then is graphically superb but cursed by a rather confusing and flawed combat system. The length of time it takes for your ships to traverse the solar system is unnecessarily long-winded, and it can be particularly annoying if you have gone there specifically to confront an aggressor only to find that they have completely disappeared. Without the ability to play through the single player game as one of the two other species, the sixteen missions do not give you much in the way of value. The game can be taken online, but at the time of writing there was only a closed beta test server to play on.
It's entertaining enough, but the little annoyances will get under your skin eventually, which is a shame as the foundations for something truly splendid were in place.