Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’ve been following Rodina for sometime now although I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon it to begin with. Created principally by former Bethesda developer Brendan Anthony, Rodina is a space exploration game with an unusually accurate scale. The sandbox consists of a solar system with planets, moons and asteroids in abundance. Interstellar travel is not really required as the scale of the solar system is vast, with planets of actual planet scale rather than scaled down facile of celestial bodies. The planetary surfaces are huge and generated in a manner that allows flight all the way from space to the ground with no walls of loading screens, not only that but the terrain generation has been written as such that geological features seen from space can be travelled to. The current state of the game is somewhere close to a public beta/pre-release purchase with a purchasing scheme that borrows from the likes of Kickstarter and Starbound where multiple tiers can be chosen. Interestingly higher tiers include the option of feedback on the continued development cycle, allowing pre-release purchasers some say in the future of Rodina development. The initial week post-release was a tad bumpy, however never once did the developer falter in offering refunds, requesting debug information and generally being very available to purchasers through Twitter and Reddit. Whilst a smoother release might have been nice I feel that the manner in which the situation was handled was a testament to the developer’s dedication to the game and to customers, a silver lining if ever there was one.
The gameplay in Rodina is focused around exploration with a fine sprinkling of dogfighting. Time as the player is spent split between piloting the ship in a third-person perspective or walking around the ship and planetary surfaces in a first-person mode. Flying takes a little getting used to as the manner in which engine control is handled is a somewhat novel for a space game. The engine is generally controlled as you would imagine however there are various modes determining the power output of the engine which are changed like the gears on a car. This clutch method was a bit puzzling at first and is a little odd coming at it from the perspective of countless other space games that don’t handle in such a manner, however with that forgotten it would probably be quite intuitive for a driver. Overall though the speeds and controls of the various modes are well balanced and provide that fun little element of skilled flying, especially when planets are involved. The atmospheric flight and re-entry take some getting used to and can take a little while thanks to the scale involved, however there are little tricks to be found. Overall the entire flight model is entertaining although it can be a little twitchy at times and landing can be a bit of nightmare depending on how well you determine a good LZ. Hopefully as patches are rolled out many of these niggling flight model issues will begin to dissipate.
One of the advantages of a slightly twitchier flight model is that dogfighting becomes more intense. The implementation of combat is well done and very entertaining in a simplistic stripped down manner. This isn’t Evochron Mercenaries with its power distribution balancing, shield management and complex strategic combat. This is stripped down to the bones, fun-as-hell dogfighting. The weapons have a very satisfying weight to them and the main guns can spray a fantastic amount of glowy pixel projectiles at whatever you want dead. Secondary weapons are included too to spice up the experience. The combat is hard, or at least unforgiving, small mistakes or a minor underestimation of enemy force will result in a very rapid loading of a save file, making winning even more satisfying.
The exploration element is handled through simple point of interest markers on the HUD when flying, fly towards grey crosses to find loot and logs and red crosses for a bit of combat. Progression is handled through this exploration as the necessary upgrades required to handle certain planetary environments can only be acquired as loot through the process of exploration. Other loot to be found includes secondary weapon ammo and text logs which help to bulk out the story and lore of the game world. Establishing story and lore through this form of exploration is not an especially new trend in games, however it remains as effective as ever.
The aesthetics of the game are distinct, whilst not being the most gorgeous AAA high-fidelity graphics ever seen the game has its moments. Quoting directly from the Rodina FAQ on the subject of graphical fidelity; “The focus in Rodina isn’t on graphics, it’s on features and gameplay. As a small studio with limited funding, if I focus on getting Rodina to look like a AAA game, there won’t be any time left over to make it fun. One of the lessons from Minecraft is that great gameplay can make up for simple art, and that’s an approach that I endorse. I’m trying to make Rodina beautiful and immersive, but I have no interest in competing on a AAA level.” This is an admirable recognition of both the limitations of the developer and how best to allocate the available development resources, and something that I think indie developers are increasingly coming across. The result of an attitude such as this is games that are unique, interesting and willing to take risks as opposed to the big, beautiful yet ultimately shallow experience of many modern AAA games, like Bioshock Infinite for example. Rodina takes a Star Fox inspired aesthetic and couples it with the attractiveness inherent in the procedural generation systems that the game is built upon to great effect. The soundscape is certainly worth mentioning with the sound assets being of high quality and the soundtrack by John Robert Matz of particular note.
System requirements have been fluctuating since release, however the current recommended requirements are a graphics card with 12GB VRAM and a quad-core CPU. There have also been reports of less than stellar performance in Intel GPUs, although I’ve yet to have a chance to confirm this personally. The game is also Windows only, so Mac-heads and Penguins out there are out of luck, maybe if we make enough noise and revenue it could make an appearance on other platforms. Stability has been greatly improved thanks to hard work from the developer and prompt debug reports from purchasers, however it is absolutely recommended that you try the free demo before buying. Currently purchasing is on a pay-what-you-want scale with $15 being a base purchase for the game and all content updates. Anything between $2 and $14.99 will give you an unlock of the current version with no updates and the tiers including and above $25 start to give little extras like feature votes.
This game has some way to go but the developer is dedicated to his product/art and early access here will hopefully push the development even closer to the long-term goals stated on the website. Try the demo, if you like it then consider investing in what is a great game and could be a phenomenal game, if not then maybe bookmark the page and sit on it for a while.
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