The last time I seriously invested in a space combat sim was during the “X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter” era in the late nineties. I was part of a guild and everything, participating in tournaments via the MSN Gaming Zone…kudos if any of you still remember what THAT is. I also dabbled a bit in “Freelancer” and “X-Wing Alliance”, though not as heavily. I found that I missed those good old days and was therefore excited to get my hands on this particular game. “Ensign-1″ puts the player in the role of a fighter pilot returning home from a deep space mission. Upon arriving at Earth, you and your mothership discover hostile aliens on Earth’s doorstep and naturally, there’s only one thing left to be done. Before we lock and load, I’d like to thank Brandon Smith from Only Human Studios for providing me with a free review copy.
The main menu allows the player to participate in single or multiplayer games, try out creative mode, view the controls, and adjust game options. The options menu allows the player to adjust game difficulty, adjust different gameplay options, toggle fullscreen and other graphics settings, and more. While there isn’t a screen resolution drop down, you can adjust the window size outside of fullscreen mode. The keys are not rebindable, but there is an option for an XBox 360 controller scheme if you happen to have one. Multiplayer is available, though you’ll have to download the server client (via the Desura link at the end of this article). In multiplayer mode, players will either team up in a randomly generated galaxy to fight off the bad guys or battle against one another. Either way, I’m glad to see that there is something for everyone. Creative mode let me take off and fly around, but I wasn’t able to do much else. I didn’t see any other ships or stations on my mini-map to interact with, so unless I’m missing something, this seems to be some sort of risk-free, free-fly mode.
Editor’s Note: I was informed after the review went live that you can hit F1 while in creative mode to access the mission editor.
One of the coolest features of this game is the ability to not only dogfight in space, but being able to trek it on foot and do battle inside of facilities and space stations. Yes, you’ll be able to switch between space blasters and personal blasters…can I get an “Oorah!”? Further, you’ll be able to commandeer any ship you come across when on the ground. Since this is the case, your interface will change slightly as your avatar switches environments. “Star Wars: Battlefront 2″ stands out in my memory as a game that employed this feature, but I can’t think of many more games that ventured into both realms at the same time. I must applaud the developer for successfully integrating this mechanic…I honestly feel that we need more games like this out on the market.
When in space, your ship’s interface will give the player access to a mini-map and various panels that advise the player as to the status of their ship and the ship they have targeted. Ships primarily have three weapons: blue lasers, red lasers, and missiles. Blue lasers are effective in taking down shields while red lasers are effective against hulls. You’ll be switching between the two often during dogfights using the “1” and “2” keys. Missiles require a solid lock and there are no guarantees that they’ll hit. As far as movement goes, you’ll be able to pitch, strafe, roll, accelerate, decelerate, and activate an engine booster. At any time, you can hit “tab” to leave the pilot seat and move around your ship, even to the point of jumping into a turret or leaving the ship if applicable.
When on the ground, your HUD will display red, green, and blue colored bars that look similar to those found in “GoldenEye” for the SNES. The red bar indicates your health and losing all of it means game over. Before damage affects this red bar, your personal shield represented by the green bar will need to be depleted first. Unlike your health, this green bar recharges by itself when not talking damage. Finally, the blue bar represents your gun’s ammo count…not to worry, you’ll find different guns and more ammo scattered around the environment.
As for actual gameplay, the game is broken up into a series of missions, each one tasking you with doing something different. In the very first mission, I started off in a spaceship and immediately squared off against enemy fighters. The second mission began the same way, but turrets were added to the mix that I was forced to shoot down. After that, I had to navigate my ship inside a structure, dock with it, and leave my ship to fight auto-turrets and flying robots on foot. After retrieving a mission critical CD, I rushed back to the ship and lifted off, only to be blown away by tougher ships that arrived on the scene.
The game isn’t without its faults. For one, I found myself glitching inside tunnels to the point where I’d fall through the wall and get stuck inside the asteroid. Taking the tunnels at very low speeds is highly recommended. While there is a voice directing you somewhat, I feel that the game could do a better job in teaching you the basics and telling you what you need to do next. There are no mission markers telling you to dock with the station on the second level (outside of the mission briefing), nor is there anything telling you that you need to hit “tab” after docking to explore it. I found myself unable to view the controls from the in-game menu, so I was forced to poke at buttons until I found the one I wanted. Finally, the game is (in my opinion) incredibly difficult, even on the rookie difficulty setting. I think the damage against you and your ship needs scaled back considerably on the rookie setting. It’s possible that I’m just terrible at the game, but new and/or casual players may run into the same problem and get frustrated as a result.
Overall, “Ensign-1″ is extremely fun to play despite its steep learning curve. In my opinion, the game is well worth its current price tag of $4.99 (as of 1/15/13). This game certainly brought back a lot of fond memories, even when I was sighing loudly (there were kids around) each time I died and was forced to restart a level. Fans of “Descent” and other space sim games should definitely consider picking this one up. There is a demo via the below Desura link, should you wish to try before you buy.
Final Verdict: 5/10
You can learn more about and purchase the game by visiting its Desura page, here:
You can help bring the game to Steam by voting for it on its Greenlight page, here:
You can view video play sessions here: