Review | Ancient Galaxy
Format: PC | Genre: RPG | Publisher: n/a | Developer: Composite Studios | Out now: £10.38 (www.compositestudios.com)
By Lewis Denby
You certainly couldn’t accuse Ancient Galaxy of a lack of ambition. This is a true space-age epic, no matter what the production values might initially suggest. Ultimately, that’s a mixed blessing. It’s too rough and ready to whole-heartedly recommend, no doubt a symptom of sights set high, but its complexity is nothing short of impressive.
It’s shamelessly single-minded. Clearly crafted with a love of 90s adventures and traditional PC RPGs, it often feels as ancient as its name suggests. But there’s an audience for that, and it’s a game that understands its own appeal. This is slow, meticulous role-playing: Mass Effect with the cinematics stripped back and exploration brought to the fore. It’ll be tedious to many – but a certain breed of gamer will find a lot to like.
As an archaeologist caught up in intergalactic conflict, you’ll work your way around a series of environments with a gun in one hand and a scanning device in the other. This dual focus provides the backbone of Ancient Galaxy: combat is frequent, and scanning various items fills in the background of the story. Scanning fallen enemies eventually allows you to morph into their alien forms, and scanning your own corpse after respawning lets you reclaim your lost equipment. It’s all about careful exploration. Combined with the regular environmental hazards, it’s a high-tech Indiana Jones in space.
Most of your character and inventory tweaking is performed back on board your space craft between missions. As well as a traditional yet basic skill tree, the ship comes equipped with tools for analysing and upgrading the equipment you’ve found. But it’s the shape-shifting mechanic that proves the most exciting. Each of the nine aliens you can become is equipped with different skill-sets, some more appropriate than others for a given situation. The ability to change race almost on the fly leads to a highly dynamic experience, and it would be interesting to see this incorporated into a more accomplished title. As it stands, it often feels somewhat lost on a game that isn’t quite strong enough to make it shine.
The developer’s limited resources cut through the mix a little too clearly. It’s often rather glitchy, with camera troubles, stutters and crashes standing in the way of a fluid journey through the game. Much of the story is told through ugly, intrusive text-boxes – though that’s rather agreeable after hearing the abysmal voice work that crops up every now and then. It seems the work went into Ancient Galaxy’s design, rather than its execution.
Yet despite the rudimentary technology, it’s occasionally oddly beautiful. A mountainous region stands out early in the game, glistening orange in the late-evening sun. It’s less about inch-perfect texturing and complex geometry, and more about establishing a mood. Often, it’s startlingly effective.
Ultimately, the enjoyment you draw from Ancient Galaxy will come down to your patience. It’s a terrifically slow game – from the walking speed, to the scale of the landscapes, to the sluggish crawl of the plot. The action is functional – with a particularly nice laser-aiming, lock-on feature at play – but AI is haphazard at the best of times. And the engine simply isn’t strong enough to excuse the freezes and chugging frame-rates.
If you can see past this, you’ll still have to deal with a galaxy that doesn’t feel quite alive enough. Though there’s a huge culture to explore, it’s only in evidence through the scanned history of the regions. In the few areas where non-hostile life dwells, it’s never teeming enough to be particularly convincing. Above all the technical mishaps, this is Ancient Galaxy’s major sticking point, and the reason it struggles to remain interesting for extended stretches of time.
There are plenty of ideas here, ones that are well worth exploring in the future. Purely as a self-assured exercise in traditionalist mechanics, there’s a lot to commend. The alien-stomping escapades should provide fun for all, but this is a game aggressively set in its ways. It’ll appeal to many but repulse many more. An interesting game, then, rather than a particularly good one.