Rockfish are breaking new ground with Everspace. Not so much in terms of the moment to moment gameplay beats, nor the way that they've re-purposed roguelike mechanics and moulded them into something new and unique, in this case into a genre mix-up that's more Elite than classic dungeon crawler. Rather their's is the first game released as cross-platform early access via Microsoft's Game Preview Program on Windows 10 PC and Xbox One. We've actually been playing the standard PC version of the space shooter, via Steam, but for those who want to sample early access across multiple platforms, that option is available.
Everspace draws on roguelike tropes like permadeath, procedural generation, and punishing difficulty to create a challenging single-player experience that puts players in the cockpit of a spaceship and then has them advancing through various stages (or not, as the case may be), dodging asteroids, and engaging in the dogfights with enemy fighters.
First up, it looks great. Roguelike (or roguelike-like, or perhaps most accurately in this case, roguelite) often means low budget, but Everspace looks really sharp, with plenty of interesting space-based detail, decent particle effects and colourful explosions. It doesn't feel low-fi in any major area, although the third-person perspective from behind the ship didn't feel as smooth as the cockpit view, with the model of the ship seeming to judder ever so slightly. While we're being critical, we also have to say that we weren't dazzled by the voice over work either, which felt a bit lacklustre compared to the rest of the presentation.
The most important thing in a game like this is the controls. We played on PC, but we got in the mood for the Xbox version by playing with a wired Xbox One controller. It handles great, although it does take a while to get to grips with the control scheme. Vertical and horizontal thrusters are mapped to the left analogue stick and you steer with the right. Thrusters are on LB and LT, and weapons on the RB and RT. Using the d-pad you cycle through consumables and weapons, and you active your non-lethal equipment via the face buttons. We had a look at the standard keyboard and mouse controls, and while we didn't use them, they look very straightforward.
Once you've got a handle on how it all works, it quickly becomes intuitive. Indeed, there's a lot of space shooter standards upheld here, so it doesn't take long to get into the groove of stripping shields with energy weapons before busting out the projectiles, or alternating between a limited supply of rockets and your more plentiful weapons. Targeting a specific enemy is easy and your missiles will rarely miss, and you can also use an assist to line up your target, aiming ahead of your opponents flight path.
There's lots of environmental obstacles that can both help you during battle, and/or hinder your progress. Indeed, you spend a lot time flying around - or sometimes through - asteroids. Our most repeated mistake was trying to boost out of harm's way, because not only does the boost strip your shield for a time, but if you try it in a tight spot you can crash into objects with disastrous consequences.
Elsewhere in space there's ships where you can trade items or repair your craft, and you'll need to from time to time, because once your shield is down you're taking permanent damage. It won't take you long to get blown to smithereens, as you've not got the hardiest of spaceships, and so caution and accuracy are two very important skills and they'll determine how far you progress.
Things get roguelite when you consider the soft progression system. Using credits earned as you play, between games you can update your craft and make it increasingly effective thanks to a really wide array of persistent upgrades. That'll certainly help those who get lost in its systems and who want to test themselves and find out how far they can push themselves.
With non-linear story elements still to come, along with new starter craft and a hardcore mode with a more traditional view on permadeath, there's plenty to look forward to in Everspace. While we'll we wait to see where the promised narrative takes us, we're left with this already well-formed shell; it offers fast paced and challenging space combat imbued with the spirit of Rogue, and it's shaping up nicely.