Space games seem to be coming back. Think of a major studio that doesn't have one in development right now – it's not easy. It's easy to see the appeal – when you aren't constricted by set rules, anything is possible. So when Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows came out promising a fun space pirate story with riveting battles, the bar was set. Only problem was that it's not as high as I was hoping.
You are...Rogan Harker?!?! He's an ex-space pirate recently released from jail who plans to start anew with his friends. But the government, who is just trying to run smoothly, objects when he starts doing crimes again. This was....confusing. The government in question (AKA the Alliance) was much more interesting than any of Harker's crew. An entire game of them reeling them in would have been great. But we're instead brought in to a criminal's world that's odd because he doesn't want to do it...but then does it anyway? Yeah, the story isn't great. It plays upon all the cliches of 'getting the gang back together', with stock characters like 'old mentor who will get killed or injured'. Even flying in admittedly pretty fun spaceship couldn't save it.
Controls aren't bad. You have the hexagonal/honeycomb layout (in space where this doesn't make sense, but let's move past that). It gets a little trying at time when it doesn't tell you if something is point and click or if there is a corresponding key, but quick trial and error rectifies it. Nothing game breaking. On Steam, after a slight curve, it's great.
Graphics are pretty good. Lasers and energy cannons and things live up to their name when they're fired. The hexagonal field is lit up like a targeting computer. Every little thing has the tiniest detail, and it really works in the games favor. Characters themselves aren't animated, only appearing as a painting of themselves. It does the trick, but after all the good graphics, it was easy to pick this little part out as the low point.
Gameplay isn't terrible. It's a turn based strategy game....in space! As the “story” continued on, Steel Shadows proved just how limited it really was. Every mission seemed to be “Get away and kill everyone!”. There were a few exceptions, but that's what it came down to. There's some strategy involved, especially in weapon choice and where to hide, but again, it's quite limited. Everything is in that grid.
The sound and music was generic. Characters don't talk (except for the poorly spoken intro), so for sounds were the random yet familiar bleeps and bloops of standard space games. Even weapon and ships sounds were the same. Music was better, as there was some really good music that incorporated a very muted electric guitar adding the right atmosphere. For the most part it was typical orchestral (heavy on the violins) going during battles, while at loading and ship screens it gives that muted guitar track right out of 24 or some action movie. I'll give Steel Shadows credit in not picking a more Star Trek-like score most go with – this was the right call.
I didn't encounter any issues while playing. There were no glitches or bugs that were readily apparent, and the frame rate was always smooth. Well, there was an issue with how slow dialogue boxes came up – sometimes it wouldn't let me speed through them to go back to game play, and then other times it did. It wouldn't have been an issue if it was more than still pictures of characters with words circa MECC games in the 90's (And they talked!).
Overall Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows left a lot to be desired. It did the core of things correctly, but it never really got into complexities or changed things up. While some games can be forgiven for limitations, such as having a great/funny story or changing up gameplay, Steel Shadows got old fast because you could tell where the story was going and not care at the same time. However, it still is challenging and can be fun as a turn based strategy game in space. It just would have been nice to have a map of where it was all going.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.