Ancient Space appeared seemingly from almost nowhere, having only been announced a month prior to its release. But this space real-time strategy game manages to be well-made, yet do nothing remarkable at the same time.
Ancient Space wastes no time getting you straight to the action on the first mission. Unfortunately, you’re thrust into an escort and protect mission. Thankfully it improves from there. Later missions have you avoiding combat altogether on stealth missions, which aren’t entirely unique to the genre, but is different and a lot of fun to play.
A really neat way to speed up traversal and modify the battlefield is with warp gates. These can be used to transport your ships to different sectors, like different battlefields. While it doesn’t happen enough, you’ll have opportunities to juggle units across different sectors for those who like multi-tasking.
The campaign spans a 15-mission story arc that ties everything together, which are very linear by design, where any deviation will result in mission failure. And the game is really challenging, even on the “easy” difficulty. You can save at any time though, so you may not need to start a mission over completely. You’ll often have repair ships to be able to heal your and NPC units, which is immensely helpful, and a great way to prevent being sent to the game over screen.
Those looking to try out your skills in Skirmish mode are going to be sorely disappointed. There are only three maps to choose from that are more of a horde mode, rather than a traditional skirmish of taking out an opponent’s base by attrition.
The action of Ancient Space takes place in 3D, for no real reason as it is never used to any great effect. You can send units to move along the z-axis, but when attacking or moving towards a rally point, they will automatically adjust their axis in accordance with the object. There’s a tactical map that can be accessed by pressing the TAB key. It didn’t seem to offer anything helpful, but it looks great like you’re looking at the battlefield from the bridge of a ship. Combat is often hectic, frantic click-dragging events where all you have time to do is watch opponent’s health bars drain, while managing your own health and repairs.
At any point, you can press spacebar to pause the action to get your bearings. As you survey your surrounds while still, or in motion, you’ll see that enemy ships are designated by size: Small (S), Medium (M), Large (L), and Extra Large (XL). This is helpful for how to dispatch your units, and how many, but also makes the game feel a bit generic. Which brings up a pretty egregious oversight, the lack of being able to group units to hotkeys. Without it, you’ll have to group units manually by drag-clicking them and sending them out to do what you need.
The momentum of Ancient Space is terribly slow. There’s ability signaled by a “>>” icon that can speed up units temporarily, but I found myself using it all-the-time. The base movement speed of every unit just seems to be too slow.
Before you start each mission, you’re able to modify Officer Loadouts that can provide active buffs to the fleet while in combat, which are in limited supply. But can help change the tide of battle if you begin to get overwhelmed, such as slowing down enemy units or adding a force field to all units in the sector. Also something customizable, is your ability to change out ship parts to make these hard-to-remember ship names be meaningful units that you don’t want to lose.
Science Fiction alumni from shows such as “Battlestar Galactica”, “Firefly”, and “Starship Troopers” fill out the voice cast to give this low-budget game a big-budget feel. Do these voice actors add anything of value? Not really. Most of the delivery of the lines feels like a first take. It’s all fine, but just underwhelming.
Colorful nebulae paint the celestial skies for unrealistic, but the gorgeous backdrops for the space battles really add to what could otherwise be very bland. Floating asteroids often fill the open space to provide cover for you and your units, and also obfuscate your opponents.
Ancient Space is also a bit buggy, from objectives not completing to achievements not unlocking. Luckily nothing major, and with frequent patching, seems to be getting eradicated. This real-time strategy game has a lot of things going on, some of them interesting, some of them not. The all too familiar story and setting might be disappointing, but the campaign has enough uniquity to warrant a playthrough, even if there’s no multiplayer, and the skirmish mode is a bit lacking.
A Steam code was provided by Paradox for review purposes