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Jumpgate Evolution

Modular Darwinism.

Vibrant colours aren't usually the first things that spring to mind when you visualise a space combat game. Our science-fiction heritage has left us with an image of space that is grim and murky, and full of people screaming but not being heard. Jumpgate isn't like that. Visually, Jumpgate is almost the interstellar equivalent of World Of Warcraft's cartoon fantasy: colourful worlds with unlikely spaceships whizzing between warmly-lit asteroids to unleash unsubtle lasers upon their evil-hued enemies. It's similar in a technical sense too, since your cranky old laptop is going to be able to run this game quite merrily. Jumpgate will have one of the lowest system spec requirements of any mainstream MMO to launch in the past two years.

That bright palette alone gives you some clue of the angle NetDevil is taking with its reworked space MMO. It's extremely accessible to the most casual of gamers. We recently got to sit down and play it at Codemasters' Midlands HQ, and everyone was immediately at ease, soaring between the asteroids and tracking down enemy drones. Controlling the game with mouse and keyboard (or joystick, if you wish), it's clear and comprehensible: you fly where you point the ship, and shoot where the ship's cross-hairs are aiming. Add timed lock-on missiles to equation, and you're pretty much ready to undertake any mission the game has to offer.

The first few excursions all take place within a small corridor of beautifully-rendered asteroids, with one large, hollowed-out rock as the mission base one end. First I had to shoot down a handful of low-level enemy ships, and then I had to scan some mysterious object by flying up to it and pressing the space bar (how appropriate). Then there was more combat against marginally tougher opponents, followed by the destruction of a large enemy capital ship at the far end of the asteroid belt.

There are dozens of ship types, each unlocked with particular licences.

Each mission is punctuated by a return to the base, where you can choose to sell loot, and to repair and rearm your ride. This early area is similar for each of Jumpgate's three factions, who go through a two-tiered starting area before mixing with pilots from other factions in the core game-world. Aside from the fact that I was flying about engaged in real-time hitscan combat - and the fact that I was piloting a fish-like rocketship instead of an elf or a wizard - it could have been the starting area of any MMO of the past five years.

For this reason alone, I suspect that Jumpgate will do well. It's easy to understand, and that means it's fun both for the space-shooter aficionado, and for anyone who has played WOW; plus it's enough of a halfway house between them to seem entertainingly different. The missions carefully guide you to your objective, and then it's down to a mixture of your level, your ship type and weapon loadout, and your personal skill with a laser to decide whether you come home with the goods or are blasted back to the spaceport.

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Jim Rossignol