It's been more than 10 years since the golden era of space flight sims, when classics like X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter and Free Space 2 ruled our hard drives--far too long for our tastes. That's I was very excited to sit down and play Jumpgate Evolution at E3 this year. I wasn't sure what to expect when I jumped into the cockpit, but I soon discovered a wonderfully accessible and extremely rewarding spaceship romp.
If you haven't already seen the ultra-militaristic video featuring the stirring rally cry of Octavius, one of Jumpgate's three factions that is reminiscient of the roman empire, give it a watch before you continue reading.
As you can tell, the Octavian Empire is defined fairly simply: firmly founded on war, expansion, and not being satisfied until they rule everything. Conversely, the Solrain is the hyper-modern corporate-state backed by a seedy mafia underground that's "created a culture of cynics and opportunists", while the Quantar are more mystical--smaller tribal communities seeking honor through battle and bound by a surprisingly sophisticated culture built on tradition, religion, and moderation.
But I know a lot of you could care less about the story, so let's talk about how the game handles itself as a flight sim, shall we? Arcadey and fun, this is not a hardcore simulation like X3, but is instead focused more on creating exciting stories and memorable moments for the player--which it does exceedingly well in the level I played. However, this isn't a casual game and it's going to take real skill to succeed in combat--there's no auto-aim at all, ensuring that combat and movement feels as fluid as a flight sim should, but you can "lock onto a target" which will give you some damage boosts against them and help you locate them in the fray. The controls felt very natural and I felt myself pulled back to my younger days spent playing the Tie Fighter series with my joystick (which will also be supported, although keyboard/mouse worked perfectly for me).
All PVE is handled outside of instances; the developers even said at one point during the demonstration that "nothing in Jumpgate is instanced", which might be a slight exaggeration from the technical side of things, but its a very good indication of their intentions.
PVE content is located in public sectors, where both sides will have objectives (quests) that fluctuate on the fly depending on how your faction and the opposing faction players are doing on their objectives, which will sometimes encourage PVP conflicts. For example, if you fail to support your NPC ships in defending a key point in the defenses and enemy players accomplish their objective to collect minerals to build bombers, you might suddenly see your quest change from defending the point to saving your now-vulnerable space station with an objective to destroy the enemy's NPC bombers now en route. If you succeed you might get a quick counter-attack quest to strike back at the other factions while their guard is down. This dynamic quest system that only occasionally requires you to traipse back to a specific station to speak with an NPC is key to allowing the game's flow to maintain the same rapid pace of the combat.
A sophisticated group loot system will ensure your ability to get loot is not affected by how many people are present, so the more allies you can wrangle into helping you, the better! NetDevil told me that they expect there to be hundreds of players in a single sector and thousands on a server. NPC ships are constantly fighting in the area, and will be replaced by players as they show up, so there won't be a concern that playing at non-peak hours will cripple your advancement.
I've got my space goggles ready and my aim set high for this gorgeous game to revive my favorite long-lost genre.