Rodina: Game Review
The engine room is ablaze. Atmospheric pressure is ripping the hull apart as your ship plummets towards the planet surface, spinning uncontrollably. The pounding synth track steps up a notch as energy blasts whip past the starboard engine. You break the atmosphere, narrowly dodging the peak of a colossal mountain. The surface looms ever-closer. No time to disengage the cruise drive now. Brace for impact.
Welcome to Rodina.
Indie space games have had a good run recently. FTL brought us adrenaline-fuelled, addictive gameplay. Kerbal Space Program gave us realistic astrophysics, orbital mechanics and all the tools we needed to mess with them. And now Rodina has raised the game once again, bringing a new level of choice and immersion to the space-sim. I should mention that this game is early access, meaning that it is still in development and is therefore only the foundations of a much larger project. But even in its current state, Rodina boasts a scale and sense of freedom which is unparalleled in today’s gaming scene.
The game mechanics centre around first person exploration, switching to third person when you pilot your trusty space-craft. From the jump, you are encouraged to fly around, salvage ammunition and ship upgrades, fight off enemy vessels and visit new planets. The GUI is enjoyably minimalistic, guiding you but not making you feel like you are being led around by the nose. Ship to ship combat plays out like any combat-flight game, enabling you to roll, dive and manoeuvre while firing an impressive array of futuristic weaponry. The controls are enjoyably smooth and responsive, making dogfights fun yet keeping them challenging enough to warrant your full attention. Another facet of the gameplay is the ability to customize the interior of your ship. A large choice of props, tile-sets and lighting options allows the player make their vessel unique and personal as well as adding new dynamics to gameplay. My recommendation: Make sure a fire extinguisher is installed in all rooms. I learnt that one the hard way.
On starting the game you are alone on a desolate asteroid. You enter your name, locate your ship and after a non-intrusive tutorial on basic piloting, you are free to explore. From this point onwards, the game’s story is told through personal logs and intercepted messages that you find in amongst salvage and supplies. These are all well-written and range in style and content from intriguing to comedic to downright tragic. While the story is bare-bones at best, it suits the lonely, isolated tone perfectly and quickly drew me into the world. One of the game’s most often praised features is its stellar soundtrack. John Robert Matz creates a plethora of electronic soundscapes and scores which accompany every moment perfectly. Whether it’s a pulse-pounding techno beat to ramp up the tension in a battle, or a sweeping orchestral piece to welcome you to a new world. There is a real “epic” edge to the music that mixes with the game’s scale and open-ended nature to create an immersive, cinematic experience.
As to be expected in its current unfinished state, the game does have a few issues. More than once I have finished customizing my new ship layout and on exiting the menu have found myself unceremoniously stuck in a nearby wall, unable to do anything but quit to desktop and restart. A few other bugs and crashes still exist in the game, however the developer is quick to post fixes and updates so these niggles don’t present a serious problem. Value for money is also a concern. In its current state the replay value is low and players could find themselves tiring of the same old planets and enemies. I would advise however, as a concept Rodina has huge potential and with the addition of further content always on the horizon, it has nowhere to go but up. The developer has stated that his end goal is a “Daggerfall in space” RPG-like experience. If that isn’t an idea that excites you then, as a gamer, you are beyond help.
The final glaring problem (for some players at least) could be the low-fi, un-textured quality of the graphics. I’ll admit that right now, Rodina is not a beautiful game, at least not aesthetically. Your ship’s exterior looks like it’s recently landed in a muddy field and the planet surfaces are essentially barren deserts broken up by occasional piles of salvage. However this is all subject to the ongoing development. Plus, having such retro visuals is what enables the player to fly from planet to planet, enter the atmosphere, land, get out and stumble around without encountering a single loading screen. At least, for now, I would consider that a fair trade.
Rodina has been a blast to play, with my total in-game playtime nearing twenty hours. As a result I watch the update feed like a hawk and I can’t wait to see what avenues of gameplay the developer will unlock next. If you’re a sci-fi fan and want a customizable, open-ended and immersive gaming experience; go out and buy Rodina. If you’re not, then buy it anyway. After all, in space no-one can hear you spend.