Farscape Updated Preview
More popular than Star Wars and Star Trek combined? Probably not. Still, the game based on this successful sci-fi show by the same name is nearly finished, and we've got updated impressions of it.
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With the decline of Star Trek and the disappearance of Babylon 5, it seems the fan favorite among sci-fi shows these days is Farscape, the hit TV show from the Jim Henson Company on BBC and the Sci-Fi channel. Notwithstanding Enterprise, Farscape is arguably today's most innovative and beloved space opera show on television. It's only natural then that Farscape should take Star Trek's lead and make the jump to your desktop. This June, Simon & Schuster will publish the first Farscape computer game, simply titled Farscape: War and Peacekeepers. It is being developed by Red Lemon Studios, the developer of Brave Heart, with input from Jim Henson Interactive.
Farscape the show is the story of a human astronaut named John Crichton, who passes through a wormhole into a strange new universe. There, he encounters a cast of alien renegades aboard a sentient ship called Moya, or the Leviathan. Among them are a brutish alien warrior named D'Argo, an exiled and arrogant alien ruler named Rygel, a roguish alien thief named Chiana, a creature named Pilot who is organically bonded to Moya, a humanoid plant-based organism named Zhaan, and a former Peacekeeper officer named Aeryn Sun.
In the universe of Farscape, Crichton finds that a powerful force of law and order in the region is called the Peacekeepers. But they aren't the good guys. They are after Moya and its crew, and in the opening sequence of the game, a squadron of Peacekeeper fighters assault the ship. During the raid, several of the crew manage to flee in escape pods, only to be shot down over a nearby planet.
The production qualities for the game look high, and the intro cinematic unfurls like the opening of a Farscape TV episode. The game begins after you crash-land on the planet surface. You first begin play as Crichton and Chiana, who walk away from the crash with little more than the shirts on their backs. Your first mission is to locate a nearby town and then eventually equip yourselves, find any other surviving crew members scattered about the planet, and finally reclaim Moya.
The game itself is an action RPG. The controls boil down to simple pointing and clicking. It is reminiscent of Diablo, so character control is easy to grasp immediately. However, there isn't really a concept of leveling up. The RPG aspect really comes from finding new items, equipping your characters with more powerful weapons, and interacting with different characters. Red Lemon couldn't give the show characters new abilities, so it is faking character advancement by tying your growing power to better and better gear. In addition, you'll unlock player characters as you advance through the game, in similar fashion to other RPGs.
In Farscape, you can have up to three characters in your party, although you start off initially with two. Letting you have multiple characters in a party, as opposed to giving you a single character throughout, was important for Red Lemon, since Farscape features a lot of character dialogue and interaction. Thus, you'll get to see player characters interact in a limited way. However, you can directly control only one party member at a time. The other characters who aren't under your control simply follow you under AI direction. They'll automatically acquire enemy targets to attack unless you tell them otherwise. This is sometimes problematic, especially when you have a melee fighter who wants to rush up to enemies instead of letting you pick them off first with your laser pistol. Thankfully, you can give limited instructions to your party, including telling them to hold back.
Characters, Combat, and More
There will be at least five playable characters in the game: Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo, Zhaan, and Chiana. In earlier previews, it appeared that Rygel was also playable, but Red Lemon might have removed him because he was a liability in combat. And in a party of three, having one character who is useless in battle (of which there is a lot) could frustrate many gamers. Each character will have his or her strong suits, taken from the series. D'Argo and Aeryn are the best at combat, while Chiana has skills of stealth and thievery. Zhaan is a healer, and Crichton is a natural leader and technical wizard. There will be various puzzles and quite a bit of character interaction throughout the game to make use of every character's specialized abilities. Thus, during the game, you'll be called on to switch characters to meet the needs of different quests and situations.
The interface is simple, with portraits of each character at the bottom of the screen. Next to each portrait, you'll see the character's equipped weapon, health, and vitality. Health and vitality measure the amount of damage your character can take, and it appears that this system basically separates your total hit points into two categories: the HP that can regenerate automatically over time (vitality) and the HP that you can restore only with health packs and such (health). The point-and-click interface is also straightforward, but Red Lemon needs to add context-sensitive icons for various tasks. Right now, whether you are fighting an alien, interacting with a console, or talking to a character, your cursor still appears the same: as a circle with an arrow through it. There need to be different icons--such as a speech icon, an attack icon, a manipulate icon, and a movement icon--to distinguish the various actions you can take against different objects.
The way weapons and combat is handled is a little different from that of other sci-fi RPGs. All weapons are split into three different damage categories--physical, energy, and chemical--while all enemies are vulnerable or resistant to one or more of these different damage types. Part of the strategy of fighting enemies is figuring out which weapons are best against the different alien creatures and Peacekeepers you face. Speaking of enemies, while you'll face recognizable foes such as Sheyang, Crais, and the Peacekeepers, Red Lemon is also creating a host of new enemies and characters. That should keep fans of the show on their toes while also still keeping things a little familiar.
The graphics of the game are decent, and the beginning levels make good use of lighting and shadows. Sound is likewise good, with the voices of the characters being especially noteworthy. That's because S&S was able to get all the main actors from the show to voice their characters. Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo, Chiana, Crais, Pilot, Rygel, and Zhaan are all played by the original actors.
Although the beta build we played had some problems that prevented us from seeing the later parts of the game, we still got a good sense of what gamers can expect when Farscape ships in a few months. The interface needs a little tweaking, and of course, the lack of multiplayer support is an issue for some, but Red Lemon is promising that the well-written story and challenging gameplay will more than make up for the omission. Fans of the show should be pleased with the steps that Red Lemon has taken to preserve the style and themes of the show, while still finding the creative freedom to add a lot of its own ideas. Come June, newcomers and veterans of Farscape alike will be able to embark on a quest to battle Peacekeepers, thwart an evil plot on an alien planet, and rescue the beleaguered ship and crew of Moya.