Welcome back. We’re covering another favorite of my childhood: Escape Velocity Nova by Ambrosia Software. It is the third entry into a series that started on Mac computers. While I never owned one myself, a family member of mine introduced me to the series, and I still play it on occasion. David, if you’re reading this, thanks.
It’s not different from most space sandbox games at first. You have a crappy little shuttle, and are meant to run missions and trade routes until you can upgrade your arsenal, and thus take better missions, and so on. As a game taking place in a two-dimensional space from a top-down perspective, combat is surprisingly enjoyable. There are a good number of different weapons and ships, so any player can find something they’ll enjoy using. Just don’t think too hard about how your ship can’t ever fly over or under incoming fire.
Money can be made through trade and shipping runs, which is the typical boring but effective approach. On the combat side, one can loot ships of their cargo and money, or try to capture them to sell at a shipyard. The latter is markedly less profitable, though. Capturing a Leviathan super-freighter only nets you ~ 1 million if you sell it as an escort when you can easily make ten times that by trading with it.
The story of this particular game is rather unique. Unlike games like Freelancer or the Evochron series, there isn’t one major storyline. There are six. One for each major faction in the game. And several smaller quest-lines, or threads for the smaller factions, each with interesting missions, rewards, repeatable cash runs, and damn good writing.
Seriously. This game uses text to convey all major events outside the ship-to-ship combat, and it is amazingly good. You might think this would put the narrative a tier below that of other games, but the opposite has happened. There’s no hokey voice acting, no badly done special effects, no uncanny valley character models. Rather than jump into something they would have done badly, they stuck to a story-telling style they were comfortable with and ultimately got a better result. The planet descriptions are also excellent, helping to give players the impression of an amazing universe that has more than ships to loot and missions to run.
The six storylines are quite good. There are a couple tricky missions if you are unprepared (A strictly non-lethal fight against a few other pilots, and landing on a planet with a small fleet trying to stop you when you’re not allowed to actively engage them). Most see you playing a part in saving the galaxy from the frightening powerful Bureau Of Internal Investigation or siding with them in one case. Each storyline gives you a more in-depth view of the race you’re working with and showing why they act as they do, and how they view the other races for acting as they do. That’s an impressive amount of material conveyed considering the writing is still only one aspect one the game.
If the base game loses its charm for you, there are a number of mods available. While the game hasn’t seen recent activity, there is still a sizable mod database still available on the Ambrosia website. They don’t all work, it’s true, but there are some very helpful options in there, like custom starting pilots that have better ships and money, or being able to play a different story thread with your old character. There are total conversion mods as well, fitting as EV: Nova started as one itself.
All that said, it does have some issues. You can’t get the super high tech stuff without going down one of the major storylines, and even then you’ll only have access to one faction’s gear. The computer knows that killing you will instantly win whatever battle you’re engaged in (even if you’re in a lowly fighter craft being escorted by carriers), and tends to exploit this. On that note, carriers in general are iffy, with fighters being stupidly expensive, slowly launched, and easily destroyed by stray shots.
Graphically speaking, it looks good. The ship sprites are very detailed, right down to shadows which help them look three-dimensional. Combine this with environmental effects such as asteroids that block enemy fire, and interference muddying your sensor readings and you have a decidedly immersive game on top of the title’s other strengths.
EV: Nova is $30, and can be found here: http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn
There’s a trial version for anyone wishing to take a closer look without impacting their wallet.