Massively Mutiplayer Online games seem suited to space, which is probably why Eve Online is still around after all these years.
Still, Eve is a very particular kind of MMO. The generous would say "thinking man's," which is a nice way of saying it bores you to tears. Hard to imagine that space firefights with rival corporation ships could be dull – but at least it leaves room for Jumpgate: Evolution to do Eve one better.
What Is It?
Jumpgate: Evolution is the sequel to 2001's MMO, Jumpgate: The Reconstructive Initiative. It features new assets, a new graphics engine and an action-oriented gameplay system that's supposedly more accessible than its predecessor.
What We Saw
I spent 30 very comfortable minutes with the game, which was enough time for two quests and to run my ship into half a dozen asteroids before my shields gave out and I exploded.
How Far Along Is it?
Evolution is gearing up for a closed beta and will likely open it up to the public sometime before the June 2009 release window.
What Needs Improvement?
It's STILL an MMO: A fetch-quest in space is the same as a fetch-quest in Azeroth; kill so many X, and bring me this many Y. I understand there's a need for basic monotonous quests to grind with in order to upgrade ships, characters, mounts, etc. But couldn't the "why I need you to bring me rat-butts" expository text be more interesting? Maybe then I'll actually read it before clicking through it with that glazed look in my eye.
Character Design: All characters appear as a thumbnail image of a guy or a girl and none of the options are terribly attractive. The big issues, though, is that that's all you see of your character – you spend the whole game inside your space ship. Because the image doesn't change no matter what quests you complete or what factions you're a part of and because characters aren't given extensive back-story or witty dialog, it's hard to form an attachment to your character – even when you blow them up repeatedly.
What Should Stay The Same?
The controls: It is not at all complicated to fly, shoot or dock your ship in Jumpgate. W, A, S, and D propels the ship in different directions, moving the mouse steers, the shift key is your afterburner and spacebar is the brakes. Once you master these controls, mash down on the left mouse button to spray death from your lasers and you're set to recreate Galaga in 3D.
The combat: It's simple, it's action-y; and it's a whole lot of fun. You fly after ships that try to fly away from you. They shoot at you, you shoot at them – whoever's shields give first is the guy that gets exploded.
Friendly specs: More and more developers have caught onto the idea that if an MMO doesn't require a major graphics card upgrade or a total overhaul of your PC more people are likely to play it. The joke around developer NetDevil's office is: "You can't play Jumpgate on a calculator. But you can play it on two calculators."
"Non-consensual PvP": I actually don't think I'd enjoy being on the receiving end of this, but the term itself is hilarious.
Evolution wants to blend parts of "Elite, X-wing Vs Tie-fighter and Privateer" into a cohesive persistent world. I don't know if such a thing is possible, and I didn't play enough of the game to get any feel for the depth of the lore or the extent of the PvP space battles. But if they manage to pull it off, they will have succeeded where I feel like Eve fails in creating a not-boring space MMO.