Hands-on with a submarine in space
Hutlihut’s Void Crew has an interesting development story. Over the last few years, the friends and family behind the game were looking for ways to interact online a little more cooperatively, with tasks instead of just running and capturing a flag in a shooter. As they brainstormed, they realized that a slightly more management-focused experience was important to serving their personal goals, and since they loved space Void Crew was born.
Management is an important aspect of the simulation, as players take control of a ship that needs to scour the galaxy and collect loot, avoiding enemies in the process. It’s a submarine in space, basically — something that became ever more apparent to me as I played the preview at PAX.
The loop is this: up to four of us wake up in clone compartments and immediately form a team. Once our individual aesthetics and personal touches are specc’ed, we head out to a platform and board a ship together. We vote on a location, one person becomes the pilot, and we fly out.
Our demo focuses on exploring a derelict station, from where we need to recover loot and resources. We make our way through the ship (while there is a specific one that we’re currently on, we can upgrade or get new ships later) and introduce ourselves to the various locations on board. There are engines, med bays, attack modules, and a crafting station. The little tour even shows us the neat pilot’s chair, before all four of us head out from the back of the ship and zoom around with our jetpacks (it’s kind of perilous to be floating in space, and very easy to get disoriented and upside down if we’re not paying attention). There’s a big emphasis on physics and realism in the game, so not only do we need to understand how to navigate but we also need to stay close together, or else we’ll end up running out of everything we need to survive out there in the void.
Collecting resources is a snap; we find some crystalline objects in the station, grab them with our beams and hurry off. We can even throw them forward, if we want to try and juggle more than one, to maximize the amount of stuff we’re collecting at once. Landing back into our ship gives us the opportunity to craft up our resources and build things like better engines, develop fuel, upgrade our shields, and build our weapons systems. We have juuuuust enough resources to add a heavy gun, a couple of light guns, and shields for the front and rear. We’ll need them, because the next section initiates a space battle.
The battle is a combination of dogfighting and waiting, with the chosen pilot commanding and pivoting the ship here and there to get us better aim, and the other three of us shooting at enemy craft that have started to appear. It’s incredibly dependent on cooperative play. At one point, while we knock out some of the enemy shield systems protecting a giant central nervous system, we realize that our own rear shield is nearly gone. One of our teammates leaves their turret and heads back to fix the shield, while I stay put with the lighter gun and take out some of the smaller fighters. My direct partner is manning the heavy, and aiming for the bigger enemies before realizing that he’s running out of ammo quickly. So, he leaves to craft some more with the few resources we have left; luckily my own turret doesn’t need much ammo to make it through the ordeal, so I’m now the sole person keeping the enemy attackers at bay. It’s a bit harrowing, as we’re almost cooked, but a swift move by the pilot rotates the ship just enough for me to point right at some of enemies and slow them down so that the rear shield is back up and the other light gunner is back in his spot (we can determine where to place our guns and weapons on the ship, and we found having a light gun on both sides and a heavy on one was best). Suddenly, my partner on the heavy was back at his post next to me, and we were back in action.
BOOM. We take down the enemy swarm and the central nervous system, and our pilot navigates us out of the fray and into hyperspace, where we escape to live another day.
It’s a fun loop, and certainly leads us to high-fiving each other as we manage to complete the demo with a solid result. I’m curious what else there will be in the game — if it’s this same loop over and over it may end up becoming repetitive, so the development team will need to work towards making these kinds of situations unique and providing enough variety so that subsequent playthroughs feel fresh each time. Is there a long-term goal? Are we growing a colony? Or are we just heading out into space over and over again? Void Crew is tentatively set to release later this year, so we’ll hopefully find out more by then.
Images and video courtesy Hutlihut and Focus Entertainment.