There's nothing quite like a neat little indie space simulation to spice up your Easter
Indie game outfit Arcen Games's modus operandi of creating distinctive gaming experiences looks set to continue with the release of The Last Federation, a game which I'd haphazardly try to describe as a space combat/strategy/adventure hybrid. Set in a deeply-simulated evolving solar system with competing AI alien worlds, it offers the tantalising potential for high levels of replayability. If that doesn't get your boat floating from the get go, then you need to stick on a couple of episodes of The Next Gen and remind yourself why space is awesome. Anything which offers the possibility of a decent sci-fi spaceship experience has got to be worth a shot; particularly one with a story as cool as this.
The game kicks off in a solar system crammed full with a host of very different alien races, each beginning on their respective homeworld on the cusp of space-travel technology. You take the role of the last surviving member of a four-headed aquatic species called the Hydrals. Apparently, after committing a series of horrific atrocities, they were eventually wiped out by one of the other alien races who completely blew apart your homeworld. Whizzing around the solar system with a decent ship and a comedic artificial intelligence for a guide, your goal now is to create a Federation between as many of the different species as you can in order to ensure peace and avoid a repeat of the legacy and the fate of your own race. The problem is, the other races don't all necessarily get along.
More fun than dipping warring ant colonies in buckets of different coloured paint!
There are eight other alien types in the solar system, each with their own unique personality and system of governance. While their societies progress, evolve, and interact with each other on their own, you can interfere with them in a variety of different ways in order to attempt to influence the bigger picture. Each civilisation is represented in quite a complex way, made up of a series of variables representing the conditions on each planet such as economy, health, environment, and so on. In addition to this, the races can research new technologies, construct important buildings on their planets, build space stations, and, crucially, build large space fleets which can be used for defence or for invasion. You cannot fully control the strategic management employed by any of the different races, but one way or the other you can greatly affect each specific area.
As you fly around the solar system from planet to planet, you are presented with various classifications of options. These include hostile actions, such as planting a spy or stealing a technology; friendly actions, such as improving the planet's environment or helping to research a new technology; and interactive diplomatic actions which differ depending on the governmental system of each race. For example, the Skylaxians are ruled by a democratic senate and generally favour unity and peace whereas the Thoraxians, an insectoid race, are completely ruled by a hive queen who is only willing to make different operative choices depending entirely on her mood - whatever that might happen to be. Depending on the state of the current universe, your influence with a said planet, and the governmental system that race uses and whatever state that's currently in, you are able to influence trade agreements, the formation of the Federation, peace agreements, or even the start of new wars.
In addition to that, you are frequently involved in battles yourself. These are controlled in a top-down turn-based format, but after you've made your choice of movement and weapon each turn plays out in real time. You have to fight against opponents such as enemy ships and stationary gun turrets while attempting to achieve one of a number of goals. Changing your weapons frequently to suit the situation and using special abilities becomes absolutely necessary when the difficulty is ramped up. The most common objectives are to either destroy all the enemy ships - self-explanatory - or to dock with a space station - which means remaining stationary for several turns next to an immobile structure while everything else in the vicinity tries to blow you up.
Not as hectic as it looks, but just as fun
These battles can be initiated by you, like when you are attempting to steal technology, or by an enemy who is hunting you down for getting too far on their wrong side. As the universe evolves and new scientific technologies are discovered, the battles gradually increase in difficulty. If, for some reason, you yourself fall behind in technological advancements which cause improvements to your ship, then battles can become almost impossible.
A full game can sometimes, although not always, be won or lost in just a handful of hours. Since there are many different ways to win the game and each playthrough can be quite different, everything combines to create a nicely replayable gaming experience. On top of that, options are offered to customise the challenge, including an ironman mode and the ability to independently adjust the level of difficulty of the strategic simulation and tactical battle parts of the game independently. There's even an observer mode which allows you to just let a universe play out without your interaction at all.
If all this is sounding seriously fun, that's because it is. The cool story, unique aliens, and constantly changing complex solar system simulation contribute to a gripping and, in spite of the relatively simplistic graphics, surprisingly immersive experience. The text in the game is well written; the music is frequently atmospheric, if sometimes a little cheesy; and the voiced AI computer which occasionally chirps in with comments on the happenings in the universe is both charming and entertaining.
Layers of complexity ensure that the game remains entertaining several times over
On the other hand, if the game is played purely to win, then on normal difficulty this can frequently be achieved quite quickly and without huge difficulty. Where the game becomes more challenging is when you set yourself specific objectives, like siding with one of the races who're not doing very well in this particular universe, or trying to get one of the achievements which involves only one of the races surviving at the expense of all the others. Also, I was a little disappointed with the ending screen. Some closure is offered on the story, but it would have been nice to get a few graphs and stats with respect to your game, perhaps even a leader board and a score.
THE LAST FEDERATION VERDICT
I’m pleased to be able to give this neat little indie title a whole-hearted recommendation. It’s a cute experience with a great deal of personality which can be played and enjoyed several times over. For fans of space-faring simulation games, it’s more or less a must.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Enjoying the story and immersing yourself in the evolving, growing, unique universe.