Genre: Space Sim
Publisher: 1C Company
Release Date: TBA
About a year ago, we got the chance to sit down at E3 2005 with 1C to check out their upcoming title Parkan II, and we came away markedly impressed. Space sims can be a little difficult to pull off well, since every fan of the genre begs for complexity, yet it's that same complexity that can bog down a title or make it inaccessible. Parkan II is a fresh take on the space sim genre that is somewhat similar to the Battlecruiser series of games, except with a little more cohesion and playability with its set of features. Even in its preview state, Parkan II is pretty fun.
With our recent opportunity to play a preview build of Parkan II, it was realized that the E3 presentation we saw wasn't all smoke and mirrors, and a lot of the things they touted were not only implemented but also worked quite well. The game starts off by showing a wounded man, the player's character and the Captain of a vessel called the Parkan, in a powered and armed exoskeleton heaving and panting in pain with a dead man lying at his feet. The Captain barely has time to gripe about how rusty his combat is getting if he needs a medpack after that fight before the station's self-destruct sequence engages. The viewpoint switches between a cinematic view and a weaving first-person view as the Captain staggers to an airlock, until an explosion obliterates the station. The near-death Captain is rescued and brought back to health, which is where the game itself begins.
What exactly does the Parkan II gameplay involve? You can follow the main quest, but in addition to that plotline, there are missions that you can accept from space stations and planets, ranging from courier missions to destroying any enemy presence in a certain area. That isn't really noteworthy, given the advent of games such as Freelancer and X3, where side missions are a staple. The big thing that Parkan II pushes forward for the genre is for the ability to engage in first-person shooter combat, be it on your ship, their ship, or down on the planet. Say you have to destroy an enemy squadron orbiting a planet. You could fly in and just blow them to pieces with your ship to complete the mission, or you could fly in, blow the wingmen to bits, then dock with the last ship, beam into their vessel on foot, and steal the cargo before someone gets smart and engages the self-destruct.
You'll be landing on planets quite often in Parkan II, both for trading purposes and for missions. Space stations are on every planet, allowing you to trade, get missions, and repair your ship. While on foot, your exoskeleton allows you to dash forward and jump stories into the air, all the while fully armed and equipped with a decent shield that will protect you against enemy fire for a while. After too many hits, your shield will be depleted and, though it does gradually recharge, it's best to take cover so as not to take health damage. If a planet trusts you enough, it will allow you to just trade from your ship, negating the need to leave it in order to engage in transactions, but others will require you to enter the station and engage with the trade terminal.
If the planet is hostile, expect to see a great deal of enemies both outside the station and within, blocking your path. Once you have eliminated all of the enemies in the station, you can take it over, which in turn effectively takes over the planetary defenses. Some games allow you to steal cars, while others allow you to steal spaceships. This one allows you to steal planets and spaceships. While on foot and in space, you can command NPC units to fight alongside you. On foot, you can beam down tanks from the ship and give them orders to attack your target, follow you, etc. In space, you can command a similar variety of droid ships to increase your offensive capabilities.
There are two things that are fairly disconcerting about the preview build that must be mentioned, if only in hope that they will be resolved prior to release. The first thing is that, for as large as it is, the universe seems rather dead. More often than not, the only ship flying about is yours, and usually, the only ships you see are the ones you're supposed to eliminate for a mission. Chance encounters with trade ships occur quite infrequently. The other thing is that, with the exception of the dead guy in the opening cinema and a few "talking head" communications now and then, every single NPC in the game is a droid. Your crew consists of droids, the enemy crews are all droids, and ground enemies are all droids. It reduces the immersion somewhat when you feel like you are the only human being in the entire universe. Still, it's a preview build with no set release date, so there's time for these issues to be resolved, and the rest of the title is fairly respectable at this point in the development cycle.
There is a large variety of ships to pilot in Parkan II, ranging from small fighter craft, larger assault craft, freighter ships, all the way up to your capital ships. While the small fighter craft can hold drones to assist you in combat, the capital ships can hold actual fighter craft, meaning you can effectively hire mercenaries and have your own fighter wings to scramble. This allows the player to tailor their ship to their playing style; some will appreciate the nimble dogfights, while others might yearn for the massive firepower only a battleship provides, while others still might just want to hop from planet to planet buying and selling goods. In Parkan II, there are approximately 30 solar systems, each with about 10 interactive planets, making for a grand total of 300 planets you can actively visit.
One thing that you will immediately notice about Parkan II is that it is really quite easy on the eyes. Granted, there are titles that have engines capable of slightly higher degrees of detail and flashier special effects, but Parkan II's graphics have a high level of cohesiveness, thanks to its consistent art design. Weapons fire has powerful looking special effects that genuinely convey a sense of impact and intensity, while smaller details, such as the cratered surface of a planet, aren't as immediately grabbing but subtly add to the overall look. When ships explode, they burst into a big ball of fire and shrapnel, obviously more enjoyable when one isn't the ship that is getting obliterated. The sound in Parkan II is respectable, and while it doesn't come out and grab your eardrums, it does have its moments, such as the opening theme that plays on the main menu. I can honestly say that I've never heard Russian rock prior to playing this title, and now, I want the CD.
At last year's E3, we came away impressed with Parkan II, and we got the same feeling as we checked out the latest build of the title. Granted, it still has its fair share of rough edges and head-scratchers (Droids. All. Over.), but at this point, Parkan II is a legitimately enjoyable title. It's definitely not ready for release quite yet, but one can easily get a little excited over the game's general direction. 1C, Nikita, I beg you: Don't rush this one out of the gate, and take the time you need to make Parkan II the great game that it has the potential to be. At the very least, fans of the space sims should continue to keep an eye on the title, as it definitely adds features and gameplay that increase the genre's complexity and depth without being overbearing.
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