So, what do you get when you mix the controls of an old RTS — the game play sensibilities of a Graphic Adventure — with the stealth based action of Metal Gear? Although some of you might think this to be the set up for some sort of joke, I assure you that the preceding is a very apt description of Space Age (out now, $1.99) by Big Bucket Software. While the resulting product of such a bizarre fusion does indeed contain a few rough edges, I can personally assure you that — for those who love campy sci-fi films from the 50’s — the end product is an interstellar voyage well worth taking.
You’re a nameless green-shirted Private aboard the amazing Proteus-Z, Earth’s newest fully state-of-the-art flying saucer which – in the far flung future of 1976 — just landed upon the alien world of Kepler-16*. The Proteus-Z’s crew — whom are currently exploring the planet for valuable Nucleum Ore — all initially thought that Kepler-16 was utterly devoid of intelligent life, but will soon discover their assumptions weren’t correct! Along the way the heroic green-shirted Private will discover the answers behind a decades old mystery, deal with the heavy consequences of choices made long ago, and possibly even discover the power of true love.
* (By the way, you can tell that Kepler-16 is obviously a fantastical alien world because the planet — which otherwise looks like a perfectly normal pine tree forest set on Earth — has trees that are shockingly purple.)
The entirety of Space Age is played from a top down bird’s eye perspective, which will always initially be obstructed by an RTS style fog-of-war mechanic (with areas slowly revealed as you walk about). One thing players might initially find odd is that they’ll have to first tap the Private before they can move him around, which can afterwards be done simply by touching where ever you wish for him to walk towards. This is because there will sometimes be stages where you’ll be able to control multiple characters individually, or — should you first draw a box over all of them — even simultaneously.
Other than moving around — which generally always happens at a leisurely stroll — players can furthermore instruct their selected character to interact/converse/take an object by tapping upon it, with the result sometimes being different depending on who is selected. For instance: although the Private can’t figure out how to open a complex alien door, even though it’s as easy as pressing a giant red button, such dilemmas are no big deal for the technically-minded Engineer Kowalski (sometimes known as Can-Do-Kowalski). Furthermore, once items have been gathered they can then either be given to people — used on key bits of scenery — or even combined with other items, all as one would expect to encounter in any typical Graphic Adventure title.
However, beyond solving Graphic Adventure style puzzles — or pushing back the fog-of-war in an RTS fashion — the most dangerous/vital task that players will need to complete is being stealthy. Although the Private carries around his own blaster — and even has a personal shield that can absorb a few hits — most of the Proteus-Z’s other members aren’t packing any such heat, and wouldn’t last even a second in a proper blaster-fight. As a result it’ll be highly imperative that the Private’s friends — when in the presence of hostile alien life — do whatever they can to avoid all possible confrontations, seeing as how getting turned into an irradiated pile of ash can otherwise ruin a perfectly good day.
Using these controls players will travel through a fourteen stage plot wherein they’ll explore — avoid danger — converse with natives, and otherwise learn the mystery behind what happened two decades ago on the formerly peaceful Kepler-16. The running length of these stages can vary wildly, and some of the latter levels can even take a person well over half an hour to finish (which is something of an oddity for an original mobile title). This is additionally complicated by the fact that you can’t just save whenever you want, with the game instead saving at the end of each level — as well as key checkpoints — which further exacerbates Space Age’s inability to fit nicely into the mobile gaming lifestyle.
Another issue that might bother some players — particularly those whom are slow readers — is that the bulk of Space Age is presented exclusively via text, and the player isn’t able to control how fast the characters talk. Although there’s usually enough time to read what someone is saying before the text advances, sometimes a line of dialogue — especially if the game starts throwing out techno babble — will cause you to mentally stumble and fail. I must sheepishly admit that there were some stage sections that I had to replay in order to correctly follow what was being said, and thus I really hope that Big Bucket Software considers adding a selectable option wherein dialogue is manually advanced via tapping.
The final point where players of Space Age might be driven to rage is that the Proteus-Z’s entire crew of must be wearing rather heavy spacesuits, as they all walk everywhere at a very leisurely pace. While this won’t normally be a problem, it does mean that the windows of opportunity during stealth segments — wherein you’ll attempt to get someone past a doorway while an alien isn’t watching — can often be quite narrow. While you’ll eventually learn how to deal with the timing of the heroes’ rather slow movement, this will admittedly lead to quite a bit of frustration — as well as disintegration — early on.
However — these various issues aside — the true heart of Space Age still shines through 100%, with that being the game’s lavish dedication to invoking the heart and charm of classical 1950’s Sci-Fi aesthetics. You will encounter outlandish dialogue, fish globe helmets, constant techno babble, scientifically improbable uses for a common wrench, and even a Robby the Robot knockoff. As long as you can stomach the sometimes rough corners that Space Age admittedly has, the game’s wonky dialogue is positively guaranteed to ensure that you’ll adore every last second of space exploring action present.
One particular example of this — that I especially liked — is when you’re given a strange green goo-like medicine by an alien, after which one of the Space Explorers rightly asks if it’s safe to use. The Proteus-Z’s doctor — without skipping the slightest beat — then nonchalantly proclaims that “…it can’t hurt to try it, as we say in the medical profession,” despite the fact I’m quite sure that no licensed doctor has ever once uttered such a thing. During Space Age you’re going to spend a lot of time reading dialogue like this — all of which is very straight faced, rather than knowingly self deprecatory — and if that isn’t your cup of tea, then it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to enjoy this game either.
However — for those seeking a challenge — Space Age isn’t a game exclusively about its endless camp-filled moments, as most of the levels also contain specific achievements that you can strive for. Often these will involve things such as not losing anyone, or by solving stealth puzzles in a harder alternate fashion, although they also sometimes involve taking unobvious actions that can lead to hilarious optional conversations. Unfortunately the bulk of these also involve doing things that will cause you to ram head-first into the rougher parts of the game’s design, as Space Age’s controls don’t exactly make it easy to pull off pixel perfect performances (but they legitimately can be done).
Finally — should you play through all of Space Age — be sure that you watch through the game’s entire credits too, as I promise you that something super special will happen if you watch the entire thing (also be sure that you have the game’s sound turned fully up).
iFanzine Verdict: Space Age, by Big Bucket Software, is a rather unique fusion of RTS — Graphic Adventure — and Metal Gear esque game play mechanics, although this fusion does lead to some rough edges. Some frustrating issues aside, Space Age’s presentation is a glorious tribute to the rampant — and utterly unapologetic — camp that 1950’s Sci-Fi cinema was so well known for. For those capable of over looking these issues — instead focusing on the game’s love for 1950’s cinema — there will be much to enjoy, although that’s assuming you ever wanted a 1950’s Sci-Fi tribute to begin with.