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Jumpgate Evolution

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: NetDevil


PC Preview - 'Jumpgate Evolution'

by Thomas Wilde on March 23, 2008 @ 5:10 a.m. PDT

Staying true to its early vision, NetDevil has improved upon the original Jumpgate in every way, with a complete graphics update, and the integration of advanced AI features to ensure unpredictable and compelling situations.

Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: NetDevil
Release Date: TBA

The last Jumpgate game came out in 2003, so you could be forgiven for having forgotten about it, or for having missed it in the first place. Jumpgate: Evolution is thus one of those weird games that no one's going to realize is a sequel.

It's an interesting blend of genres that I'm surprised we haven't seen more often before now. As a jet pilot hailing from one of three alien races, you're out to prove your worth in a hostile galaxy by shooting the hell out of things.

Codemasters recently unveiled the game at their Connect event at the Omega Sektor gaming club in Birmingham, UK, and I got the chance to play it for a while.

At this point, Jumpgate: Evolution is so early in its dev cycle that just about anything about it can change. It's more of a loose collection of gameplay ideas than an actual game.

With that in mind, and on the assumption it will not turn into Barbie's Horse Fishing Adventure by the time it hits beta, the demo provided a 10-minute sample of Jumpgate's early game. Only one of the three races was playable, a Solrain, who flew a small, sleek fighter craft. The character creation screen describes the Solrain as a mercantile society of swashbucklers, which sounds perfect for MMO characters in general.

The other two options for playable races were the Quantar, a race of mystics on a path to enlightenment, and the Octavius, an ancient society that prizes its honor and ideals. From the brief descriptions they were given, it seems that what race you pick at the outset will determine the kind of ship you have to start. The executive producer later informed me that the various races in Jumpgate aren't at war with one another in any significant way; if inter-faction feuding is in the final game, the players will be the ones to put it there.

When I created my character, Bob (I needed more slack), I was thrown into a small star system that was plagued by both a bizarre anomaly and a fleet of pirates. The captain of a nearby space station gave me missions to scan the anomaly and destroy the pirates, which culminated in my being sent to destroy a hostile battle station.

I didn't leave my ship at any time, even while docked in station. All the business I conducted, such as outfitting my ship (my starting craft had two gun bays, two missile bays, three slots for various mods, and four equipment slots for my engine, power, radar, and shield upgrades), was done from a single menu screen.

The combat was high on action, low on realism. Imagine recent action-heavy shooters like Heroes of the Pacific or Project Sylpheed. Now give yourself the ability to customize your ship from the word go, as well as to reach new levels of rank by destroying enemy spacecraft, and you'll have a rough idea of how Jumpgate plays. It's fast and furious, but it's by no means a sim, with lots of low-physics dogfights in the remarkably vast gulf of space.

Looting fallen enemies is done by getting within 800 meters of them and engaging a tractor beam, pulling salvage into one of your cargo bays. The in-game chat window also frequently displayed notes as to which salvaged materials sold best in which location; presumably, in the complete game, grinding for cash will be as easy as moving materials where they'll sell the best.

The fight against the battlestation was surprisingly difficult, and one of the NetDevil programmers told me it was meant to be done by multiple players. The station was defended by multiple turrets, which had to be destroyed before I could target the station's shield and power cores. Flying close to it, I was forced to dodge and weave through a storm of gunfire, letting my shields take the brunt of it, before getting a missile lock and letting fly. It was a bit counterintuitive, with a few things like the missiles being handled automatically, but once I got the hang of it, I found myself having a pretty good time.

There's no scheduled release date for Jumpgate: Evolution yet, and what I played was a short pre-alpha. There are a lot of details that are still being worked out as I write this, such as how PVP will play into the final version. This is another example of how developers are trying to innovate and improve upon what's becoming a very tired MMO formula, and I'm hoping this turns out well.

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