We descended into the depths of a hollow space station to try out the player-versus-player combat in NetDevil's Jumpgate Evolution.
What Is It?
What do you mean, what is it? It's Jumpgate Evolution, the massively multiplayer online space shooter that's so thick and rich you can play it with a joystick. Rather than sticking to a strict leveling system with higher level players far overpowering newbs, the game's combat is about skill...if you can hit the ship, eventually you'll kill your opponent, as long as they don't get you first.
What We Saw
I got to play through a couple of rounds of multiplayer in a completely enclosed space station map appropriately called "The Descent" on a rather lovely triple-monitor set up.
How Far Along Is It?
The game looks highly polished, but of course that's only half the battle in an MMO game. Beta should be coming up soonishly, with a planned release sometime this year.
What Needs Improvement?
Skill Balance: Right now there really isn't any method in place to separate the novice players from the more advanced ones, and in a skill-based game that can lead to some frustrating situations. NetDevil has no plans to fix this at the moment, so it might be a matter of just ganging up on the more skilled player until he or she gives up.
Control Tweaking: The ship I was flying had dampers on that were supposed to make it easier to navigate for a novice player, but I just couldn't quite get the hang of it. Once I took off the dampers, however, I was flying around like a seasoned Descent veteran. This might just be a problem of personal experience - one just feels more natural than the other.
What Should Stay The Same?
Interior Battlegrounds: Fighting in space is nice, but you can only do so much in space. Battling in a confined area with huge space ships adds a welcome bit of variety to the game's multiplayer. The Descent level I played through was quite true to its namesake, with round tunnels and twisting passages leaving the skilled triumphant and the uncoordinated hopelessly bumping into walls. I fell somewhere in-between.
Space Magic: Every time I think we've done all we could with computer graphics in space, some developer comes along and proves me wrong. Jumpgate is gorgeous, utilizing some interesting tricks and alien technology to keep something as bland and empty as space colorful and full of life.
It's In The Way That You Use It: While the skill-based game play has its down side, it also has its upside. No matter how far a player has progressed through the game, they can still be taken out. They might have access to tougher ships or better equipment, but that means nothing if you can out-fly them. It gives players a chance to shine without having to invest all of their time in the game, which is still relatively rare in MMO-space.
This was my first time actually playing Jumpgate after watching others play for a year, and damn if it wasn't worth the wait. If the adventure and excitement of the multiplayer game play carries over to the player-versus-environment sections, this could be exactly what fans of Wing Commander, Privateer, and Decent could want in a massively multiplayer game.