Final Rift (XBLIG): Review

For about forty-five minutes I suspected this was going to be a very different review. Here’s my little story of averted woe: I’d gotten about five sixths of the way through Final Rift, a fun little space combat/trading game on Xbox Live Indie Games, and was polishing off the last few missions in the fifth galaxy. One of these involved destroying some enemies around a planet in order to buy an object that was essential to progress. You know how these videogames are with such things.

The mission was to take out a small number of pirates attacking the planet selling said object. I’d seen them previously when passing through the system on my way somewhere else, but had decided to leave them for later. I’d seen this scenario before in previous levels and knew from experience that the pirates would be scattered about the area, and thrusting toward them was a bit tedious. Besides, I was already on a few other missions! So I hopped back out of the system and thought nothing more of it.

Half an hour or so later and I’m back to finish the job. Except… nope, there aren’t any pirates here any more. That’s weird. The system, in fact, is almost entirely empty. There’s just one military guy and the station. Weird. I dock at the station and try to buy the item; I can’t buy it until the pirates are destroyed. Um. I un-dock: still no pirates.

Now I’m worried. I leave the system and come back again. No pirates. I do the same again but dock elsewhere first. No pirates. I fly around the empty system and kill the lone military guy in case that works as a substitute trigger. No pirates. I dock, exit and relaunch the game. No pirates. I throw the pad down in frustration.

Fortunately for indie developer LargeLaserGames I am an ex-games tester, and am not defeated easily. After a break I come back to the game, travel to another system, dock, then save and exit the game. Then I re-launch, and fly back to the troubled system… at last! PIRATES! BEAUTIFUL, PEG-LEGGED, RUM-SWILLING SPACE PIRATES!

Final Rift screenshot 02

Let me embrace you with lasers!

Indie developers: Test. Your. Damn. Games.

I was ready to give Final Rift an absolutely excoriating review because it had let me get almost to the end before flinging a showstopper bug right at me. If those pirates hadn’t reappeared that would’ve been it. There’s no alternative way to progress and I would’ve had to start again, which I wasn’t prepared to do. Luckily for me, and for Final Rift, I gave it one last try, kicking the damn engine until it started and I could complete the game.

And now here’s an abridged version of the review I was originally going to give the game – abridged because I’ve already spent 500 words complaining about a game-breaking bug.

Final Rift is a good little game. As you’ve probably already grasped it’s a fusion of space combat and trading in a stripped-down Elite style. A lot of the usual variations you get in this genre aren’t present: there’s only the one ship, though you can upgrade it; the trading engine is very simple indeed and prices vary in a consistently predictable way; combat is no great shakes and essentially boils down to a couple of repeatable tricks. But this is also an indie game, predominantly made by just one guy, and it’s on sale for 80 MSP, which by my calculations is approximately “less than half a pint of cider” and therefore a bargain for the five or six hours of entertainment I got out of it.

Final Rift screenshot 03

The planet names don't get any less stock skiffy nonsensical than this, but at least they have some vowels in them.

The game is structured into six levels which are all pretty similar. The game drip-feeds a few bits of new content like alien enemies, new upgrades for your ship and – supposedly – rebel governments, although I never saw the latter in action. For the most part, though, you’ve seen and done 90% of what the game has to offer in the first level. Not coincidentally that’s also the level I spent the most time on.

Fortunately the game is a sufficiently well-rounded package that it’s quite possible to play on and enjoy the later levels and gently climbing difficulty levels. Final Rift is what I consider a hangover game: it’s ideal for those mornings after the nights before when you want something nice and simple to play whilst the paracetamol and cups of tea do their job on your system.

Visually it’s simple but pleasant. The backdrop of space is a beautiful and rich tapestry of nebulae and distinct galaxies. The game also has some other nice visual touches like the contrails of your missiles (no one else has missiles, it’s just you) and the way that destroyed enemy ships tumble forwards in a cascade of detonations and particles. There’s a decent range of different enemy ship models, too. Oh, and the motion blur effect that kicks in when you’re using the afterburner is quite good. It’s all very simple and nice. Also simple but more functional than attractive is the sound: the music is generic and the sound effects are stock, but they do their job of giving you audio feedback to help understand events.

In gameplay terms… well, don’t expect too much. The controls seem fiddly at first but you’ll get used to them. Combat is basically a case of getting behind someone and staying there in one-on-ones. For busier fights (which are rare) you can usually do the same, but if you find yourself taking a lot of hits it’s best just to afterburn out of there, then turn and fire on enemies as they pursue you. The AI is crude and will fall for that every time. In fairness this was also the case in my favourite space combat/trader game, Privateer 2: The Darkening. There are a few fights that seem really tough, but these simple tactics will get you through anything.

As I said there’s only so much to explore and discover although the game does reserve a few minor surprises for later on. There’s a bit of a plot going on too; something to do with alternate universes. Normally I’m really into my videogame narratives but this was pretty incoherent and detached from the gameplay, although the ending was unusually upbeat and sweeping.

The final word on Final Rift: it’s a good bit of fun and doesn’t cost very much. But if you buy it, watch out for that damn bug. C’est la vie.

Final Rift screenshot 01

Thrusting is fun, amirite guys? Motion blur! AMIRITE.