With services like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade, it’s no surprise to see Indie developers reviving what many have called “dead” genres. In particular Only Human Studios has created a Space Sim for the modern age called Ensign-1. A Space Sim is a simulation of flight and control over a spacecraft in outer space.
What Ensign-1 does differently than just have you flying around in tie fighter jets shooting at the things that are trying to shoot at you, is to also get off of your ship and run around in bases in a first person shooter section. My initial thoughts were that it might be similar to those space combat sections in Halo Reach were you flew around and then switched back to first person shooter mode whenever the game told you that you’ve had enough fun. Thankfully, Ensign-1 is nothing like that.
I’ll admit when I first started playing Ensign-1 that my first impressions were pretty bad. The game lagged to the point of being unplayable, while everything on the map was pitch black, including my ship’s interior. When I looked in my settings I saw the shadow setting was on, so I turned it off, and the game’s frame rate leapt up about 55 frames per second. After this, the game was pretty enjoyable. The controls for the flying parts where really smooth, and the physics allowed for easy barrel rolls, minus the annoying frog whining for your help. Just use the w, a, s, and d keys to move and the q and e keys to roll.
The best part of the controls is the laser shooting. A lot of games have the mechanic to shoot, but in Ensign-1 you feel like it takes some more precision on your part, forcing you to angle your shots expertly at the enemy ship’s paths, rather than directly at them for a direct hit. Overall, it immerses you into the experience by making you take control of each shot fired.
What is really interesting is that even during combat you can leave the pilot’s seat to look around in your ship. You can man a gun turret in the back, which immediately sparked my hope for a cooperative campaign, but sadly there is none at the moment. It’s the little things like this that make a game feel more intense by giving you actual gameplay choices. Not like the pre-fabricated dialogue options that you find in most RPG’s that claim to have choice, but in reality are still just different paths that the designers built and knew you would take making the whole experience feel empty. This is a true choice as it’s made through gameplay and not a cut scene, or a quick time event, but by your actions as a person. This all sounds pretty silly, but it’s something that I wish designers would use more often rather than the plain dialogue options that change the story.
Of course the flying parts of the game aren’t the only thing to do, as there are the aforementioned first-person shooter sections. The control of these parts are functional, but not that great. The physics aren’t anything special, and they are pretty similar to any other shooter you see on the market. Except that you have to find the ammo and healing kits rather than just wait for all the deadly laser wounds to go away. The thing is that the shooter sections don’t really feel like sections. It’s all up to you to fly into the enemy parking lot and find the intelligence that they’ve been holding. But if you want you can just fly around in your ship for the next six hours, shooting at rocks, and doing barrel rolls. Again, this makes a game where everything is up to you, and you actually feel in control of the events that take place.
Overall, Ensign-1 is definitely worth your time as it’s a more engaging take on Space Sims than even Eve Online. This game still being in Alpha though, and it could use quite a lot of polish. The enemy AI in the shooter sections just stands there taking shots, making them pretty easy. This, coupled with the fact that the save feature didn’t work properly, caused me to replay the first few levels about ten times. I also feel that the designers should add little more to explore than just the main plot missions, like a small asteroid off in the distance to land on and fight some random enemies to find an otherwise impossible weapon to get.
Yet, with some extra polish and fine-tuning on certain parts, Ensign-1 could very well become one of my favorite Space Sims of all time.