HIGH The game mostly works!
LOW It mostly works.
WTF Sure, don’t explain what those meters do until the end of the game.
Here at GameCritics we often get games that are given to us in an unfinished state and too broken to review, and at that point we normally reach out to the publisher or developer and let them know the review is put on hold, sometimes indefinitely.
Element Space was one of these wobbly titles that slipped off the radar, but I recently saw it coming up in Xbox sales, which suggested to me that the devs were happy enough with the current state of the game. I thought it might be time to revisit to see how it’s come along.
Element Space is an ambitious attempt to fuse the turn-based gameplay of X-Com with the space opera narrative of Mass Effect. This involves a lot of tactical squad combat with players using special abilities like grappling hooks, fire punches or enemy possession to overcome superior odds.
Between fights the player, as Captain Pietham, talks with their crew mates and upgrades their gear. Conversations will have multiple outcomes with the player leaning in one of four political directions. This, in turn, influences one of many galactic civilizations and may increase the loyalty level of that teammate.
Initially, loyalty just unlocks an extra perk, but Element Space reveals near the end of the game that these are narratively important too. As for that narrative, Captain Pietham is framed for treason by a mysterious group called Tempest who are trying to take over the galaxy. It’s down to Pietham to save everyone.
Now, I am going to say that the version of Element Space I finished this year is leaps and bounds improved from what I tried to review last year. Previously, I couldn’t finish the first major mission due to crippling bugs and an incredibly difficult fight that never explained how to manage the flow of combat. The good news is that the crippling bugs are now reduced.
The intro explains abilities, overwatches, and other elements common to turn-based tactics but fails to explain that it needs to be played much more aggressively than the traditional manner. Normal tactics are generally a case of laying down suppressing fire and teasing enemies into crossfires. In this case, most enemies can withstand one hit easily and will actively run away, using their superior numbers to take a few casualties and rip the player’s crew to shreds.
It doesn’t help that the first big story mission ends on an encounter that has a turn timer with instant-fail result on expiration. If the player fails twice on normal difficulty, then the whole mission has to be done again. It’s a horribly punishing experience that a masochist like me had take up as a challenge, but I imagine most others will give up at that point.
The issues don’t stop there. The claustrophobic camera doesn’t allow a full and clear view of the battlefield. The camera twists out of the way to make it hard to see and highlight enemies, and this failure of basic interface makes it tough to figure out whether I can make a shot or run to a waypoint without using up all my turns.
The politics and crew dynamics are interesting ideas, as is the fact that it doesn’t seem to be possible to recruit everyone in a single playthrough. The problem is that Element Space does a poor job of communicating this. I also think that there were missions I should have done to improve relations with certain factions and choices that I could have made, but I’m not sure what they were.
With these limits on the narrative Element Space is a title that begs to be replayed for different outcomes, but at around 15-20 hours for a single playthrough, and with the slow pace of the turn-based missions, there was no way I could be compelled to go through it more than once.
All of these issues are on top of the still-present bugs and glitches, and there are a lot – crashes, hard locks, incorrect information resulting in my characters shooting walls, character deaths making the whole screen blurry until the end of a mission, and more. If I focused just on these problems, this entire review could be a laundry list documenting the failings. Rather than wasting my word count on that, I think it is safe to just say the game is still really broken.
Element Space is a fusion of two good ideas, utterly debilitated by poor pacing, an awful interface, game-breaking bugs, a brutal difficulty level, and mystifying metagame. Avoid it at all costs.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Sixth Vowel and published by Blowfish Studios. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO and XBX. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence and Language. All of the combat is violent with people being shot or decked at close range, and in some cases cut apart by swords. There is no real gore, and no major swear words.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. No audio cues are needed for play as this is a turn-based title. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no screenshot for the controls. The Left Stick controls the cursor, the Right Stick controls the camera, Left and Right Triggers scroll through menu options and special abilities, the A Button confirms actions, the B Button cancels these, X and Y Buttons are used in a few menus for contextual options and Left and and Right on the D-Pad are used once in a sub-menu.