Perhaps if I keep my fingers jammed on the fire and boost buttons, and my eyes fixed on that stunningly beautiful asteroid, I'll stop noticing how disappointing this space sim is.
PEWPEWPEW! WHEEEEEE! OOOOOOOOH!
Nope. No good. Like the solar flares that periodically roll across its fetching mission spaces, Miner Wars' flaws – bland combat, a crash-happy campaign, over-reliance on scripted tasks – can't be ignored for long.
Pre- and post-release publicity made this crowdfunded curio sound like a cross between Descent, Worms, X3: Reunion and Mount & Blade. In fact, the inducements to excavate, and the opportunities for freelance exploration, alliance-forging and entrepreneurship, are severely limited. While you can visit new sectors to plunder asteroids and visit trade depots, most locations feel like deserted studio backlots waiting for their five minutes in the spotlight.
The 31 story missions have plenty of aggro and giddy interior aviation, but the rigid scripting and sparse checkpoints may leave you yearning for something sandboxier. With a truly dynamic solar system in which players developed drone-operated mines, and took on randomly-generated survey, escort and mercenary jobs, I suspect Miner Wars' gravitational pull would have been far stronger.
Currently, the best thing about the game is its spectacular erodible topography. Jetting squid-like through the craggy coral of splintered moons and mine-riddled asteroids, it's easy to picture moody Unreal Tournament-style duels. As it stands, the enemy AI is too crude and deathmatch options too few to realise the potential. The banks of deserted online arenas visible from the MP lobby tell their own story.
In the short term, Keen urgently need to send a repair crew down to the engine bay. In addition to the save-related crash that appears to have wrecked my latest campaign attempt, I've experienced slowdown and glimpsed distant starscapes through rock walls.
Can I bring up the annoying companion ships, nonexistent tutorials, and extremely naggy Nagging Nora at this point without driving a final coffin nail into what's left of Miner Wars' sparking cryo-chamber? Probably not, which is a shame, because if, like me, you're a fan of Descent's disorientating dogfights, for all its flaws this game does stir happy memories.
Haring down curving tunnels sprinkling mines in your wake... nervously peeping through hatches, missile launcher poised... speeding from self-destructing bases with MG rounds nipping at your fins... at times Miner Wars is the Descent IV we've been waiting for for the last decade. If Keen can take the criticism on the chin and repair and, maybe, refocus their creation, they could still carve out a snug little niche in gaming's vast asteroid.
Expect to pay: $20 / £12
Release: Out now
Developer: Keen Software House
Multiplayer: Up to 16 players
Bugs and dodgy design decisions don’t quite negate the novelty of spaceshipping in confined spaces.