Screenshot by Darkchaos via Rockfish Games
In a small corner of a ship graveyard, my ship hums quietly. 3.5km away, there are three targets: an enemy scout, a mid-range madcap interceptor, and a support drone. The support drone will go down in a single shot. The scout, however, will probably close the distance quickly and require a few, fully charged shells. The madcap is the biggest threat, but is much too sturdy to eliminate before its allies can get to me . My time would be better spent thinning the herd. The humming stops, and my railgun begins to whine. There is a crack, and 3.5km away the scout flashes gold and blue as its energy shield is dispersed by the impact of a heavy metal slug.. All three ships turn to face me, and as they do a second shot punctures the scout’s cockpit, instantly obliterating it.
The drone and the madcap begin to close distance. The drone manages to get halfway to me, 1.8km away, before a heavy slug tears its lightly armored body to tatters. The madcap, however, manages to enter its optimal range of 900m. I switch weapons, and back my ship into the gaping, metal wound of the dreadnaught behind me. The madcap is forced to either follow me through the obvious entrance to the derelict ship, or will have to find another route through. The pilot charges. But it isn’t enough. I see their right wing poke out from cover as they swing around the corner, and my rocket barrage reduces them to a broken husk before they can open fire.This is the moment that sold me on the promise of Everspace 2, the recently released, arcade-y space shooter, developed by Rockfish Games. In it, you play as a former military clone, burdened with the memories of every death that came before, on the run from the military which he once served. It is, at first blush, a perfectly competent space shooter, closer to Freelancer than Elite Dangerous, with a handful of charming characters and simple simulation systems. However, it quickly reveals itself to be a masterclass in designing engaging 3D spaces, and using them to produce wildly different styles of play using almost identical tools.
Everspace 2, despite the vastness of space and my love of a good railgun, shines when it allows itself to be dense—in the tight, water-worn channels digging into planets, in the hollow core of asteroids, and amid the corpses of impossibly large ships. Yes, the spaces between these places are gorgeous and often excellent for space dogfighting, but they lack the tension and sense of scale provided by the game’s interiors.
This feeling of density is only magnified by your ship’s top speeds, which hurtle you through the void at dozens of meters per second. Entire kilometers can pass in moments when you slam the thrusters. When an enemy can cross a six kilometer distance, at which they were a speck, in seconds, moving through a dozen meter gap or quickly weaving between broken chunks of ship feels all the more intense on account of the contrast.More than a shift in tone or tempo, moving through interiors feels like an entirely different style of play. My railgun operates at a maximum range of 3.5 kilometers, at which an enemy ship will either be totally unaware of my presence or rushing directly towards me, engines roaring. Combat at this range is about accurately placing a reticle on your target, as they move in a predictable arc, before they can get a chance to respond. Dogfights in open space, similarly, are about outmaneuvering your opponent in wide, slow arcs, delicately trying to balance the optimal firing ranges of your respective weapons. Sometimes you will perform precise maneuvers, cutting your thrusters mid flight to quickly turn and obliterate your pursuer, but for the most part, dogfighting relies on gestural movements. The same cannot be said for fighting in interiors.
Fighting on the inside of an asteroid is quick, tense, and brutal. At sub-600m ranges, unguided rockets (which are primarily intended for use against massive, borderline stationery targets like cruisers) become shockingly effective, and the reduced flight speeds of interiors only accentuate this fact. Death comes quickly inside a broken moon, for both you and your opponent.
This shift requires you to not only switch to close range weapons, but to move in quick, jagged arcs. With a mouse, this means sudden, jerking flicks of the arm and wrist. It is a totally different physical sensation to the stable velocity and gentle curves of the game’s normal dogfights. The same is true of controllers, in which the light touches of dogfights are replaced by desperate, panicked rolls of the thumb.Cover, too, becomes so much more vital in close quarters combat. When dogfighting, cover is a temporary reprieve, one that will leave you extremely vulnerable to being outmaneuvered if you rely on it for too long. In more dense areas, however, you can more reliably predict where your opponent is actually going to approach from—there are simply fewer options for approaching you—creating deadly ambushes. However, the efficacy of cover extends to your enemies, too, with deadly ships hiding around every corner, or tucked into the awkward and raw crevices of dead dreadnaughts.Even outside of combat, moving through interiors feels radically different. The approach to challenge and puzzle design changes dramatically. Where puzzles in open space are often about following a target, or flying from region to region of a given area, interior puzzles are all about noticing details and charting specific routes through tight corridors. One early game boss fight relies on the player using their ship’s tractor beam to pick up large objects, before hurling them at the enemy to open up a damage phase. This fight takes place in a ship graveyard, which rapidly oscillates between tense, close quarters combat, and more open dogfighting between the large pieces of a broken ship. The fight has an incredible rhythm. You engage the boss at range, defeating the drones surrounding him and creating more debris to hurl. You fling yourself across the vastness of space to actually grab the dead drone, before dashing into the crevices of the shattered dreadnaught and waiting for the boss to come around the corner. When he does, you hurl the bit of metal into the front of his ship and then release a barrage of close range fire, dodging his shots the whole time. Then, the cycle restarts.This boss fight highlights one of Everspace 2’s greatest accomplishments: the elegant transition between its two modes of play feels incredible, and allows for more dynamic engagements than just about any other space shooter that I’ve seen.Where other games in the genre have managed to excel in one field, or the other, Everspace 2 manages both, and is all the stronger for it.