Game Review - by James Allen
In space, no one can hear you screaming at your computer as you get beat by another real time strategy game. In the recent three dimensional revolution in RTS games, space adventures have generally been restricted to 2 dimensions of movement: see Conquest: Frontier Wars and The Outforce. The most successful totally 3-D space RTS was the Homeworld series, and now Far Gate enters into the fray, giving players the freedom to play in all three axes. Will Far Gate conquer the final frontier, or disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again?
With what seems to be a standard feature of real time strategy games, Far Gate includes three distinct races: the humans, an organic species, and an energy species. It's amazing how many space RTS games follow these classifications every time. There are 17 singe player missions, although most are made up of two or three parts, which effectively doubles the total. These follow the standard RTS storyline of "humans accidentally enter into a war between two other races, and then get involved." Well, the base story and races don't have much originality. Nevertheless, there are also multiplayer games, which can be contested over a LAN or through GameSpy. An almost simple campaign editor is included, so the intrepid user can create their own missions, both for single and multiple players. In a great travesty, there is no skirmish mode or a utility that creates random scenarios. This lacking feature makes Far Gate seem like a very restricted game, and you are confined to the single player missions or multiplayer. This means that a quick game of Far Gate is not possible, a feature I think should be included in every RTS game.
There are two ranges of sound found in Far Gate: pretty good weapons and unit sounds, and pretty bad voice acting. The background music fits between these two extremes, and is only marginally annoying. The weapons sound very nice, as you can hear the distinctive sound of missiles and lasers whizzing past your head, and the other species weapons systems are equally impressive. Each unit has their own movement sounds too, which adds another level of realism to the game. Sadly, the voice acting is terrible. Each person seems to slow one range of emotions per phrase, and all of them sound so forced that it is difficult to believe that these are real people.
The game of Far Gate takes place at the solar system level, and this fact makes the maps seems very small, although they span the realm of three or four planets. This also throws off the scale of the ships themselves, and they seem much too large most of the time. The biggest skill to develop during the play of the game is effectively manipulating the camera controls. Since Far Gate gives you complete freedom in the camera department, this gives a measure of complication to the game. Actually moving the camera is accomplished by moving the mouse to specific parts of the screen, a system which doesn't work very well: the move up and move forward mouse locations are located in close proximity to each other, and you'll be moving the wrong way in no time. Zooming in on a unit usually brings you in too far to do any good, and when you are in close range, zooming with the mouse wheel may carry you too far past the point of your interest. Nevertheless, after a couple of practice sessions, you'll become accustomed to the controls, although they could be slightly better.
The units themselves are distinct for each race, and run the usual gamut of fighters, large ships, and other assorted units. The number of different units gives a slight measure of variability, and some original kinds of units are present for each side. Each unit can be ordered to patrol an area of space, orbit a planet or other celestial body, enter a wormhole (in which case, you lose the unit for the remainder of the mission), auto attack enemies, attack the nearest enemy unit, and tow other units around (if they have the capability). Some of the larger structures don't have any engines to power themselves by, so you need to use a tug to move them around the system, reminiscent of The Outforce. Your home base is actually a space station, and some original ideas are found here. You can add any new structure onto a free spoke of the wheel, and defensive structures such as turrets can be added to the top and bottom of the arms. Even more interesting is that your station is constantly rotating, so you can't load up the side that the enemy is coming from with defensive measures: you must spread them evenly over the base. Each unit has a radar range which is depicted on the game's HUD: you cannot detect any units outside of these rings. You can set up communications satellites to monitor the far reaches of the universe: for example, you can place some near wormholes to monitor incoming (and outgoing) enemy units.
Resource gathering is refreshingly easy. If you build a pod bay, the utility pods (which come with the pod bay for no extra cost!) automatically retrieve resources from nearby asteroids. If the nearest asteroid belt is too far from your main base, you can tow a mining platform to the middle of the belt, and your utility pods need only to travel that short distance to produce cash. Neat! Speaking of utility pods, they are also used for repairing human units (another species regenerates health automatically). Utility pods are the all purpose unit for base operation, and it's nice to have a comprehensive unit like this in a real time strategy game. The final point of innovation is the interface in Far Gate. The squad, unit, task, and communication panels can all be "folded" at a severe angle, so that they are out of the way, but still barely readable. It's a very nice combination, as most games just remove the offending panels, and the information found on these are lost. The amount of improvement in Far Gate is enough to seem like a new real time strategy game, even with all of the other unoriginal features.
Continuing the recent tradition of space computer games, the graphics are very impressive for the most part. This department reminds me strongly of the graphics found in Independence War 2: every object in the universe is given in a color splendor that gives the game an alive feeling. The nebulas are cloudy regions of color, and the suns are dynamically colored orbs, with bands of flares bouncing off their surface. The wormhole graphics are equally impressive, and they look like light purple collections of double helixes arranged in a ring. The ship graphics pale in comparison, and they are usually blocky objects with few polygons and rough textures. Against the beautiful backdrop, the ships roughness shines through, and is a painful offset from the beauty of the universe.
Far Gate is an interesting mix of inventive and derivative features. For every space station, foldable panel, and wormhole graphic, there is a tired story, predictable species, and difficult camera. Still, Far Gate is a game which presents enough imaginative ideas that most fans of 3-D space RTS games will find something to like, even without a skirmish mode. It's up to you whether there are enough new ideas in Far Gate to sanction a purchase of the game; I for one have found an adequate amount to play the game for a prolonged amount of time.