For a time, it seemed like we had lost one of our great genres. For nearly a decade, the space shooter languished in obscurity, alongside other PC-centric relics, but finally, the world has decided to reclaim our fantasies of interstellar dogfights, and space sims are once again en vogue. Beyond Space is hardly the first attempt to bring the genre to mobile, but it’s one of the best in recent memory.
Where games like Dangerous and Galaxy on Fire harken back to the genre’s classics like Elite and Privateer expansive open-worlds with trading, side missions, and free progression, Beyond Space is a gushing love-letter to the streamlined action of Wing Commander. Don’t expect to mine asteroids for minerals to sell off across the galaxy; this game is all about the heat of battle, with a bit of chatter in between.
The Wing Commander series is as notable for its cinematic presentation as it is for its gameplay, beginning with its dialog-heavy scenes and eventually sporting multi-million dollar live-action cut scenes in later titles. Beyond Space sports a good deal of chatter, complete with voice overs, but everything about it falls flat. The acting is as terrible as the writing, and the story utterly uninteresting. Everything about it is forgettable, but this matters far less in a portable game than a PC title.
Luckily, the rest of the game is more impressive. The graphics are beautiful and fluid, with detailed ships that feel metallic, and some beautiful, diverse backdrops that help space to feel like more than just a black void. Each mission is a small, self-contained nugget of action, usually requiring around 5 minutes to complete. This is perfect for a mobile game, and even with the dialog, it make it an appropriate choice to grab a quick game during some downtime.
The action itself is the game’s strongest suit. The controls are much as you’d expect, with either a virtual d-pad or accelerometer to control your ship’s yoke, and a big button to fire. There are a couple new tricks, as well, like the ability to do strafing roll to dodge incoming fire, and a limited speed boost that recharges over time. These elements add up to a more nimble feel than your average space fighter, and they keep the action brisk and exciting. There’s a generous amount of auto-aim, which might disappoint hardcore fans who enjoy having to compensate for the speed of their projectiles, but it makes the game arcade and accessible. Don’t expect the depth of Freespace, here, just some fast, simple, intense dog-fighting.
Between missions, you’ll unlock new ships and weapons. There’s no money or experience system, so this is pretty straightforward, but choosing your loadout becomes an important part of your success in a mission. There’s not much sense of progress beyond that, and the game is fairly brief, lasting only a couple of hours, all told. When it’s over, there’s little incentive for replay, given the lack of exploration or optional content.
It’s hard not to like where Beyond Space is coming from. It offers some of the best space battling you’ll find on a touch screen (alas, no controller support to be found), and that alone makes it worth a spin. Those hoping for a compelling story, exploration, or real depth would be well advised to look elsewhere, however, with Galaxy on Fire 2 standing tall as the platform’s best.
Beyond Space’s excellent combat and slick graphics make it worth breezing through its relatively short campaign, but it’s lean on depth or compelling story.