Last month Wisp Games released a sprawling galactic role playing game set far in the future, known as Flatspace [App Store] for the iPhone and iPod touch. An adaptation of the well-reviewed 2003 PC release, Flatspace is a large scale, open space trading game in the spirit of the legendary Elite, Galaxy on Fire [App Store] for the iPhone, and others of the sort.
The distant future. Space has expanded to such an extent that stars and planets can no longer hold form. Humanity still lives and works in space stations and ships, islands of light and technology in an otherwise cold and flat void.
Such is the backstory of the Flatspace game universe. Upon reading the title of this game along with the backstory, I must confess that I was anticipating an amazingly clever and wholly new type of game experience that might harken back to Abbot's Flatland, or something like the same, but this is not the case. Not that Flatspace is a let-down, but it seems the "flat" backstory is simply justification for a game of galactic proportions being rendered in top-down 2D (well, 2.5D) as opposed to 3D. I just wanted to clear that up, directly.
At the start of a new game, you create a captain for your ship, choosing from among a variety of professions: Trader, Mercenary, Bounty Hunter, Space Pirate, Police Officer and Scavenger. You're then equipped with a rather meager spacecraft and dropped into a random spot in the game universe. From there you're out to amass wealth by way of completing various missions and trading items between space stations -- that is, if you're on the straight and narrow. Another approach is to basically become a space pirate, raiding, stealing, and killing in order to bring in the loot. Whatever your approach, there are plenty of other space pirates out there to keep you on your toes -- watch out for them.
Your ship has the ability to target and scan both space stations and ships. This reveals important information about the nature of these vessels, so that you can decide whether to interact with them (and in what fashion) or to pass them by. Your craft is armed with lasers, but available weapons upgrades, which include cannons, missiles and tractor beams, add to your abilities and are necessary to complete certain missions. Control of your ship is handled via accelerometer for steering, as well as on-screen touch for control of weapons and various other ship features.
Flatspace for the iPhone features three different playmodes. First off, there's the Standard Game, which lets you create a captain and begin amassing your fortune. The Custom Game mode gives you control over the types of people in the universe (pirates, no pirates, etc.), the quantity and visibility of space stations, the numbers of asteroids and nebulas, and so forth. The Arcade Game just throws you straight into the heat of battle, where the emphasis is on action rather than strategy.
Even with my abbreviated time with the game, it's clear that Flatspace offers significant play time to those who fancy a large-scale space RPG. While more approachable than the seminal classic Elite, Flatspace is one of those games in which you can (and must) invest a lot of time.
The accelerometer-only steering can seem imprecise and the interface, a bit unpolished, perhaps reflective of it being a port of a PC game, but Wisp Games indicates that the first update is almost ready, which will include the option of non-accelerometer steering, video tutorials, and the ability to choose your initial bankroll for Custom Games. And those who remain undecided can check out the free, demo version of the Windows release to get a feel for the action.