Space Siege (PC)

Reviewed September 2008.

Dreary games with dreary graphics; that sinking feeling that the developer didn’t really try very hard at making a memorable game for you to play; a game that sparks so few emotions that you can’t even say it was terrible, it was just uninteresting: is there anything more depressing in the gaming world? Well yes actually, it’s when the developers of a game as well loved as Dungeon Siege, decide to make a space based spiritual successor and create this depressingly average title. It could have been so brilliant, taking the age old dungeon-crawler format, adding some philosophical questions and setting it in space. If only it was as good as this theory sounds.

Space Siege is officially an action RPG played from an isometric perspective much like its predecessor Dungeon Siege and Diablo. I say officially because really it feels more action than RPG and I suspect many RPG fans will be disappointed if they expect something like Baldur’s Gate, for example. Instead the game feels much like a third person shooter with an RPG style control system. Much of the playtime is spent wandering up and down spaceship corridors, clicking on your enemies a few times to shoot them. It’s not overly exciting at all and there are many reasons for this. First of all, the control system leaves a lot to be desired. You will be spending most of your time using the mouse, the mouse controls where you shoot and where you move, which is a key problem. Most notably it means it is impossible to move and shoot at the same time. There is an ability to dodge but it’s far from effective. Why wasn’t it possible to use the WASD keys to move about? Who knows, but it’s incredibly irritating, as well as takes a brief while to adapt to. It also feels like some elements of skill have been removed as essentially all you can do is stand still and fire at your enemy, who does the exact same thing to you. Technically, it’s not a huge problem as the enemy AI is mostly lacking in intelligence anyhow opting to run at you whenever possible rather than hiding behind cover, but that’s hardly a consolation!

So the control system is seriously lacking in quality, maybe the engrossing gameplay and story will keep you playing? I’ll be surprised if it does. The game begins with the player shooting at aliens in a very dark, dull looking corridor on a spaceship, and from then on, that’s pretty much all you see. Whoever did the art design for this game was obviously either very depressed or very bored of his job. The actual storyline starts out reasonably well, with the cutscene showing hundreds of alien ships descending upon Earth intending to exterminate us all, you play Seth Walker, seemingly the last hope for humans. The problem is the characters that are revealed throughout the storyline are instantly forgettable and so is the story. I know I keep saying it but why are the interiors so monotonous?! After a while you wouldn’t even be able to tell exactly where you are if it wasn’t for the very minimal map provided and the fact that it is so linear, you can easily assume you just have to go in whichever direction you haven’t been yet. Supposedly the ship is a colony ship; I hate to imagine how awful it would be to live in such a depressing looking place.

Finally, we come to the skill systems and the much mentioned branching storyline that you can directly affect supposedly by choosing to turn more cybernetic than human or not. This could have been the saving grace of Space Siege; unfortunately it wasn’t as well executed as it could have been. The skills system is fairly minimal for an RPG, there is only one combat tree to follow and one combat related engineering tree, neither of which you feel truly in control of. Instead it just feels quite scripted as advancement points seem to appear at set places from one mission to the next, so it doesn’t really feel like you can affect much in the skills system. Leveling up on the whole seems to occur at predetermined points which detract from the RPG element hugely. It could have been a deeply complex system, but instead it feels like an afterthought, which for a game that markets itself as an RPG is a terrible idea. The skills aren’t even overly thrilling; there are no major upgrades so it doesn’t feel exciting at all to add another skill point to one of your skill trees. Plus the few decent upgrades there are, practically force you to follow the cybernetic route, thus ruining the moral options you should have to be either human or cybernetic. It’s hugely unbalanced as, in an ideal RPG, all the paths open to you should have their own advantages and disadvantages so you can tailor a character specifically to your needs and wants. To upgrade your items, you must collect upgrade parts, which is the only thing any enemy ever drops. It’s very functional but again so dull, there’s no excitement of ‘at last the heavy duty shotgun scope piece has dropped, I’ve been looking for that for ages’ instead it’s the same piece over and over again, collect 250 and you can have an upgrade. I’m sure most games use a similar system beneath the surface but it’s nice to have it covered by a much more engrossing manner that many other games use with ease.

Ultimately, the only good things I found in Space Siege was its atmospheric music score and some decent combat animations. It does offer a multiplayer mode where you can play four player co-operative games but this eliminates the story and the minor RPG elements by giving you all the skill points and upgrades you need at the start, meaning all you’re left with is the combat system, which as I’ve already explained is poor at best.

Overall, Space Siege is quite a sad game really. I’m sure no one deliberately went out to create such a boring experience with depressing backdrops and uninteresting characters, but that’s exactly what has happened. The branching storylines that were meant to display the moral quandaries that so many players wish for in games just doesn’t quite work. When your options as a player are to go the human route and be weaker with no advantages, or to be cybernetic and stronger, why would you even contemplate being cybernetic? I really can’t find any reason to recommend this game, it’s not the worst game ever, there’s simply no point in playing it unless you’ve played every other half decent RPG first.