Arvoch Alliance (AA from now on) is the latest game from Star Wraith 3D Games, and the sequel to 2006’s Arvoch Conflict. I’ll admit right off the bat that I never played Arvoch Conflict…I was taking a break from video games at the time, if you can believe it. Regardless, this game is different from the Evochron games that the company has been pumping out the last few years in that AA is much more focused on combat, and much more linear. To that end, we’ll start our look at AA with a look at its training sessions.
Before I jumped into training, I set up the controls the way I like it. Like Evochron Mercenary and the games before it, setting up one’s controls is simple. I then took the game for a spin in instant action (which I’ll talk more on in a separate entry) to get a feel for the game, and promptly got killed. It’s been a while since I engaged in combat in one of these games, so I was a smidge rusty. ;) I therefore did what any good pilot would do, and started training.
AA has seven training modules, all fully voiced and fully interactive. These training modules cover ship controls, cockpit displays and HUD, basic combat, navigation and tactical consoles, giving ships orders, carrier approaches and landings and planetary descent. Each one goes into a good amount of detail about their subject matter, guiding the new – or experienced – pilot in the multiple steps of acquainting one’s self with flying your fighter and mastering its controls. Let’s take a look at each of these.
The first tutorial is Basic Flight Control, which teaches you how to fly your fighter using your engines and thrusters. You’ll need this info, because these games also allow you to turn off your thrusters in flight so you can pivot your ship around while moving in the same direction – called IDS in the game — thanks to the game’s Newtownian flight model. Not a lot of space fighter games offer this option, so it’s good be become acquainted with it. This tutorial also covered use of the lateral and vertical thrusters, and the afterburner.
The next tutorial covered Cockpit Displays and the HUD. The cockpit in AA, like the games before it, has several panels chock-full of information, everything about your own ship and weapon systems, those of your target, a fully 3D radar globe thingy and more. It’s a lot of information to process, especially I’d think for a new pilot, so this tutorial was pretty useful in making sense of it all.
The next tutorial covered Basic Combat and Weapons, and discussed how to use the series’ unique targeting system called MOTS. This allows your weapons to swivel a bit and independently lock onto your target if it’s within the larger circular targeting reticule. I’ve always enjoyed this targeting system, but to a new pilot it might be a bit funky, so it’s a good thing to cover. This system can also be turned off like most other systems in the game, if you want a more traditional gun model of just shooting where the ship is pointed.
The next tutorial covered the Navigation console and the new Tactical console. The Navigation console is exactly what it sounds like. It presents a map of the area, and allows you to click upon it to set nav points, just as in the Evochron games. The difference here is that, instead of jumping directly to a target, you form a warp tunnel to your target, so you have to actually point your ship in the nav point’s directions, start the warp drive, and then stop it when you’re close enough to the target. Honestly, this felt a bit more “seat of the pants” than the simpler jump drives from the earlier games – which apparently take place after this one in the universes’ timeline I think – and I honestly enjoyed it quite a bit more. It felt more…hands on, more tactical.
Anyway, the training then talked a bit about the new Tactical console. This console will apparently allow you to select any ship in the area and give orders based on the ship selected in the panel, whether it’s a wingman or an enemy. This is where the tutorial first faltered a bit, in my opinion, because I would’ve liked to have seen some ship put into play that I could’ve experimented with, whether it had been an enemy or a friendly. As it is, the tutorial shows you a blank screen with no other ships to interact with…even though there is a carrier nearby, if I recall. This is a wasted opportunity, if you ask me, and I’d like to have seen more done here. I am, however, looking forward to using it once the campaign begins.
The next tutorial is Sending Commands and Ship Groups. Like many space games, AA has a communications menu that allows you to give commands to all of your ships, specific flight groups, or specific ships. These commands range from attack all hostiles to attacking your target to repairing and rearming, and so on. This system was quite intuitive, and was quite easy to use.
The next tutorial was Carrier Approaches and landings. This was in two parts, the first of which being a traditional carrier landing, where you lineup your ship and follow the landing lights into the bay…pretty standard stuff. The second part had you warping into the carrier’s position and landing within a certain timeframe, which is where the tutorial really began to falter. The tutorial, after this bit, has a couple more timed sessions which kinda drove me nuts, but we’ll get to that in a moment. In the second part of the Carrier tutorial, you have to cut your warp drive close enough to the carrier and do a fast landing before the timer runs out, or you start all over again. I only had to do this twice before succeeding.
After this section, for some reason – and I took the screenshots in order of how I played, so this must me right…I hope – you’re ordered to destroy five drones within a certain amount of time. The first time I did this, I didn’t realize my targeting system was turned off, and failed. The second, third, and fourth time, I had issues keeping the drones in my firing arc, as they flew very fast, and my particle weapons couldn’t react fast enough. I knew I was a bit rusty with the combat here, but yeesh, this was kind of annoying. I did, however, feel pretty good to get that fifth drone under the time limit, but it would’ve been more fun and less frustrating with either a longer time limit or no time limit at all.
The final tutorial was Planet Atmosphere Descents. Now, I’ve done the planetary descents in Evochron multiple times, so I didn’t think this would be a problem. The tutorial tells you to manage your shields and not go too fast during reentry, or you’ll burn up and explode. It then tells you you have to go from orbit to an altitude of 10,000 feet in 30 seconds, and then just tells you to GO. No hints on how fast is too fast, or which angle of descent is the best, just a time limit.
This…was insanely god damned frustrating, I’ll admit. Not only have I made successful descents in Evochron, but many other games. However, because of the time limit, I would of course use the afterburners to build speed, but many times it would be too much…or not enough. Sometimes I’d dive too steeply and just blow up. Sometimes I didn’t manage my shields quick enough…and just blow up. One time, I made it through with a couple of seconds to spare, but in approaching the ground too quickly so I wouldn’t explode, I pulled up…and went above 10,000 feet quickly right as the time ran out, only to do it all over again. Regardless, after maybe ten attempts, some hair pulled out and many curses uttered, I finally was able to pass the test.
This timed portion wasn’t necessary, wasn’t helpful, and wasn’t enjoyable at all. I understand trying to make a tense situation in a game in order to make the victory that much more meaningful, but this went way beyond tension to all-out frustration. There was no need to have a thirty second window in my opinion, and doing so caused undue pressure which nearly made me turn off the game entirely a few times.
So, while the last mission is a freaking nightmare, and might even turn off new pilots from playing the rest of the game, a good chunk of the tutorial gets the job done. Overall, besides the timed stuff, I enjoyed playing in the tutorial, and there was a benefit to it. I went back to the Instant Action section, more prepared with the knowledge of how to use the game, and my teammates and I wiped the walls with the enemy in about four minutes. So yeah, the tutorial did its job in the end…I just lost some hair in the process. ;)
If you’re new to space games, and are just trying this tutorial for the first time, don’t let some of its more frustrating bits completely dissuade you from playing more. When it wasn’t pissing me off, I was having a nice time with AA, and I hope you will too once you overcome its training hiccups.
In the next installment, we’ll start the campaign proper. Join fighter pilot Brian “Veloxi” Rubin on his exciting adventures…same space time…same space channel!
You can also read part 2.