(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played, and our Site Score also reflects the game’s original state. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)
You’d think that a guy convicted of obliterating an entire planet with millions of people on it would get something harsher than a century on ice in return, but evidently Dangerous (Out Now, $4.99 Sale) was interesting enough to keep around. When a secret agent breaks him out of suspended animation he has just as many questions on his mind as the player does, and he’ll have to trawl the cosmos for answers. Whether he becomes a champion of justice in this second life or lives up to his namesake is very much up to the player!
Sticklers for great story presentation in their space sims will feel equally rewarded by and disappointed with Dangerous. On the one hand, the hero’s exchanges with key story NPCs are consistently entertaining thanks to well scripted sci-fi humor, and the game’s wingman relationship system definitely comes through. Dangerous takes a few cues from RPGs system-wise, but what impressed me most is the fact that seemingly random recruits have interesting things to say, and chatting it up with them is crucial to learning about the game’s universe in addition to new quest leads. On the downside, run-ins with hostile pilots begin with insults that sound like they’re being flung by third graders, and that cooled my sense of immersion in the game world. Longer messages are poorly handled on the smaller iDevices at least, where they’re simply cut short instead of finishing in new text pop-ups. You can imagine the kinks this throws into the game’s opening tutorial!
Thankfully, only a few minor points are lost in Dangerous’ tutorial on account of this text string cutoff. Darn good thing, too, because Dangerous has a reasonable claim to being the most complex in its genre! From afar, Binary Helix’s debut title looks like it bears the typical space sim formula: you wander from station to station working your way up to that shiny new vessel or the next cool weapon to slap on it, with freedom to spend as long as you like fulfilling lucrative side quests in lieu of progressing the story. Look more closely, however, and you’ll find that every process – from weapons targeting to gate jumps to shopping – involves more minutiae than the norm.
Dangerous’ complexity turns out to be a good thing for genre fans who have long awaited a title that essentially lets you do things your way. As explained in last month’s preview its style straddles the line between Galaxy Pirate Adventure and Galaxy on Fire. Like GPA, Dangerous lets you outfit your current ship with a wide array of different weapons all at once and presents automated combat options for handling them efficiently; but you can also try your hand at tailing your enemies manually, and Dangerous affords much the same freedom to go on mining runs and engage neutral ships that Galaxy on Fire does.
Dangerous’ level of depth also allows it to up the ante on two systems we’ve seen done before, but seldom this thoroughly: factional alliances and wingmen. The player who focuses on cash first will be in for a surprise when he or she finds that virtually all new ships and equipment remain out of reach; turns out each of the 15+ factions duking it out in this star system wants you to earn a license from it before you can buy stuff that rolled off its own assembly lines. To wit, the player has to earn each faction’s favor by completing their sidequests, at least as long as it takes to get that coveted license — you can always renege on your pledge of loyalty by attacking a faction’s ships once you’re a card carrying member, oddly enough. As an added bonus, falling in with factions grants the hero skills related to the factions’ technological and cultural specialties. Ranging from easier warp handling to organizing other pilots to do merchant runs in your stead, these are certainly tempting! Asking around for leads on new wingmen is equally worth it, as you can bring two with you into battle and command them to target specific enemies or aid neutral ships when a skirmish breaks out. This real-time handling of wingmen is something I’ve yearned for in the genre and it works well here.
Juggling all the options in Dangerous requires attention to detail above and beyond what you have to give most games, however, and this is especially important for genre newcomers to note before diving in. Certain critical functions aren’t well covered by the game’s help menus. Forget one step of properly targeting enemies or warping out of the current area and a second run through the live tutorial is warranted to pick up the missed details. Overlapping help systems become confusing in and of themselves. For example, if you want to review the terms of an accepted quest after leaving a space station, be sure to hit the question mark button — not the “Help” menu button! Thankfully an all-knowing hologram accompanies the hero to most space station functions while he’s docked.
Also off-putting is Dangerous’ approach to the tried-and-true star map. Rather than show how all the space station clusters relate to one another right off the bat, Dangerous makes you find out for yourself, actively recording the galaxy’s shape as you push into new territory. The quest system doesn’t cut the player any slack here; rest assured you’ll be instructed to go places you have no clue how to get to. To the developer’s credit, the player usually happens upon the destination without spending too much time stumbling around in the darkness of space, but the player will always feel a pang of exasperation when the way is unclear. That exasperation is fueled in large part by the fact that it might take forty seconds to reach the minimum safe distance from a space station or other structure before the player can hit the warp engines; travel in Dangerous is deliberate and slow until you pick up the right skills or equipment, so there’s zero room on the player’s patience meter for wasted warp gate jumps.