• Ancient Frontier Steel Shadows review by Rick Moscatello

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    A Satisfying Blast-Em-Up

    The title of Ancient Frontier Steel Shadows (AFSS) says nothing about the game, as there’s no frontier, ancient or otherwise, and darned if I can see shadows anywhere. AFSS is a turn-based space combat game, more or less, though the ships are made from “hydrium,” not steel.

    The basic premise is you play a space pirate, accumulating and training a fleet while following a loose storyline and completing randomized piracy missions. Overall, you’re not going to feel much like a pirate. Most missions have you blowing up enemy space ships, lots and lots of them, and picking up random bits of space-loot, namely hydrium (needed for ship repair), proto-energy (needed to fuel your ships, more on that later), and data (needed for research), which all can be spent in a fully stocked marketplace between missions. Truth be told, although the game tries hard to make you into a pirate, you’re really more of a mercenary captain, taking on military-style missions for surprisingly low pay considering the risks involved—the loss of a single ship in your fleet can cost 600 or more various resources to replace, while pay is usually half that.

    So, the message is clear: you need to win battles, and do so without taking losses. This is further reinforced by the “hero ships” in your fleet, as you instantly lose if any hero ship is destroyed. As you’ll often be facing huge odds, you’ll have to be careful not put your ships into any situation where fire might get focused on them—even major ships can easily be taken down in one round. Luckily, the AI is somewhat weak, rarely able to formulate a coherent attack beyond “use a torpedo to hit clusters of ships.”

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    The little triangles are mines. Stay away!

    Torpedoes are basically “grenades” in this game, and the space combat is unashamedly 2D, to the point that ships will duck behind the cover of asteroid walls, and the enemy can even “line up” shots like on a pool table, hitting multiple ships in a single line of fire. It’s a quirky system, but you get used to it soon enough. Key to victory is often exploiting the “space mines” which litter the battlefield; these have a tendency to explode if a ship ends its turn adjacent to it, but can also be triggered by another mine or torpedo. So, one shot can trigger multiple mines in a chain reaction more than capable of instantly destroying even a large and heavily shielded ship.

    Despite the strangeness of the “space” combat, the battles are often interesting as well as challenging, as you try to keep your ships alive while simultaneously culling the herd of enemy ships to extinction and attempting to complete a side mission as well as the primary mission of (usually) destroying the enemies.

    In addition to the combats, there is a campaign story to follow. It’s forgettable fare, with each chapter usually nothing more than a set up for yet another difficult battle.

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    So many choices, and good choices, too.

    The real joy of the game is the number of options it presents you as a player. You get to build and customize your fleet, from the three main ship classes (fighter/escort/capital). You get to customize it further with crew members, which can appear randomly or be hired. You customize it further by equipping ships, from a wide array of possible equipment, with more equipment options available if you research them. You can, of course, also customize your ships via research.

    Balancing things out a bit is it costs fuel to send ships into battle, and most items will tack on even more fuel. You’ll generally have enough for everything, though, so the end result is no two players will play this game the same way, beyond using the same “hero ships” which everyone gets and must keep.

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    Freddy Mercury is a space pirate? That explains...nothing.

    Both ships and crew gain experience and improve, although this is automated (basically, each level gives a +1 improvement to various abilities, so a level 1 member granting a +2% accuracy will grant +3% at level 2). You can even go into “training missions” which offer no rewards, just experience…you’ll still have to pay fuel, although your ships cannot be destroyed.

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    Ignore "threat." Send everything you have, every time.

    To open up the possibility of more missions, you’ll eventually have to go on “story” missions which advance the plot, such as it is; the story will have you rampaging through every sector of the universe. Each sector has its own flavor, as there are several factions (as well as an alien race) in the game, although not necessarily in each sector.

    There’s also a randomized quest system, and I’m sure I’m missing a few other details…there really is an amazing level of depth to this game, although it does take a few hours of play to see it. AFSS doesn’t have any uniquely interesting ideas, but it has so much going on, and does it all so well, fans of strategy games should definitely give AFSS a fair chance, as it offers good value for the gaming dollar.

    Overall Rating: 84
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Ancient Frontier Steel Shadows review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post