Space Siege Review

We review Gas Powered Games lastest RPG, Space Siege.

Review by Lewis Denby
Published 31st October 2008

Space Siege

  • Developer: Gas Powered Games
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Release Date: 22nd August 2008

The classic role-playing developers all seem to be taking a bold leap towards the future these days. BioWare delivered the excellent Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, and Bethesda will next week unleash their piece de resistance Fallout 3 on the world. Now, as a futuristic successor to their excellent Dungeon Siege series, Gas Powered Games have given us their own take on the space-age RPG.

The result is Space Siege: a slick production with some nice ideas, but sadly a game that never comes close to the mark set by recent similar titles.

It's also a schizophrenic game, packed full of contrasting narrative clich├ęs that sit awkwardly alongside each other. Hackneyed humour intersperses abject horror. Overblown, pompous action cut-scenes stand out clumsily among the eerie hallways. Its tale of a space station in disarray, controlled by an AI with sinister ideas of its own, smacks more than a little of the System Shock series, and the design of the station itself is, in places, uncomfortably reminiscent of the Von Braun's haunting expanse. But Space Siege is utterly devoid of the dripping atmosphere and existential terror that drove EA's seminal franchise, thanks in large to the incessant, predictable hoards of unintelligent enemies and repetitive, unimaginative gameplay mechanics.

Generally, it's another Dungeon Siege affair, but Space Siege proves that style feels clunky and wrong in these more confined environments. Foes swarm en masse from up ahead as soon as you enter a new area, giving little time for strategic battle-planning. They're usually in packs of five or more, but it's a real burden to do anything other than stand still and pick off targets one at a time, thanks to the unhelpful camera and simplistic controls. The more beasts that attack, the more combat becomes a matter of sheer luck and blind firing, removing any element of skill in favour of frantic button-bashing. Fighting consists of three facets: shooting, dodging, and utilising cybernetic powers. A combination of all three is usually essential, but it's all artificial depth tacked on to a lifeless and wholly uncreative system.

The aerial camera is a particularly bad design choice for both mechanical and aesthetic reasons. For starters, it makes it practically impossible to assess upcoming areas of the ship in advance, meaning you're usually in the middle of a baddie-infested room before you know anything about it. It also means you spend your entire journey staring mainly at the decidedly grey floor. The quick glimpses of the ship's artistic design are more than pleasing at times, but it's difficult to see anything in any detail, which strikes a heavy blow to the sense of immersion and place.

If Gas Powered Games were insistent on plumping for a third-person view, it would have made much more sense to opt for a close-up camera and WASD controls. The point-and-click interface is wildly counterproductive and counter-intuitive. In all honesty, Space Siege would improve immeasurably if poured into the first-person shooter mould of the games it so oddly and desperately attempts to mimic.

Level design is monotonous and entirely lacking in credibility, with each area seeming completely out of place in the grand scheme of the ship as a whole. Long, claustrophobic corridors connecting disparate, tattered rooms may be a nice tension trick in theory, but when it's plainly obvious that it is just that, the atmosphere takes yet another nosedive.

It's also positively unidirectional, considering the game box's boasts of non-linearity. It's a locked-doors corridor-shooter at heart, with the only serious open-endedness coming late on in a multiple-choice finale. Before then, character development ties in nicely with the ethically-questioning narrative, as adding technological implants brings you closer and closer to the cybernetic malice you were initially trying to slay. You can choose to stay on the light side, sticking purely with skill upgrades and traditional levelling-up, but the game becomes even duller when played this way, and the impact on the experience as a whole is minimal whichever way you choose to progress.

Perhaps most disappointingly for a game by such a renowned development house, there's crushingly little invention or creativity on display. Space Siege consistently feels like a mere homage to several classic sci-fi titles, without ever contributing any significant ideas of its own. Even in borrowing these elements, it repeatedly executes them with the flimsy half-heartedness of a game that just can't be bothered to keep up with the pack. And that is such a shame.

It even stems as far as the aesthetic quality, which is about as patchy and varied as it gets. Some areas of the ISCS Armstrong are gorgeously crafted, brimming with slivery creative vision, but most are utterly, depressingly bland. Voice actors in conversation sound like they belong in totally separate games, such is the shift of quality between deliveries. Even the in-house engine seems a little confused: it has the sheen and muscle of an Unreal-powered game, but textures are horrifically low-res, the architecture jagged and blocky.

Despite showing promise throughout, Space Siege never dares to throw itself bravely beyond the confines of mediocrity and familiarity. Perhaps if it were driven by a script written with the panache of System Shock, or the gripping, edge-of-seat action of Mass Effect, it would be able to hold its own in today's sparkling climate. Perhaps if its aesthetic value were not so varied and unpredictable, it would hold some artistic merit. Unfortunately, despite serving well as an idle distraction, Space Siege proves completely lacking in the quality of Gas Powered Games' previous releases, and as such remains a thorough disappointment from start to finish.

Review Score: 6.6/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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