I love space games — “No, really?” I hear you say — especially spaceship sims like TIE Fighter and Freespace 2. Being in the virtual cockpit of a space fighter is a thrill few other types of games can match, and I’ve played and enjoyed most of the sims I’ve encountered over the years. Sure, there will be one reason or another as to why a space sim doesn’t light my world on fire, like bad enemy AI, a boring story or a useless HUD. There’s one issue that’s come up lately that has shed light on a pet peeve I didn’t even know I had…
Thanks to some unnamed suspects, I recently began to realize that poorly implemented or even lacking targeting controls just piss me the frak off. I mean, here I am, buzzing around in an itty-bitty fighter surrounded by swarms of enemies, including fighters, missiles, bombs, capital ships and so on. Situational awareness is key to these combat situations, so I need to be able to quickly target a specific enemy or type of enemy.
I beat up SOL: Exodus a lot over this in my reviews — admittedly it was the one big problem I had with the game, otherwise it was great — but I want to use it as an example. SOL: Exodus put you in the middle of several frenzied battles including capital ships, fighters, bombers, drilling drones and so on. With all this going on around you, how can you target a specific enemy? Well, you can either target it under your crosshair or…cycle through all the enemy targets in order from nearest to farthest and vice versa. That’s it.
- Want to specifically target missiles heading toward your mothership? Too bad.
- Want to target the enemies attacking the ship you’re supposed to be escorting? Oh well.
- Want to specifically target the bombers heading toward an installation you’re trying to protect? Tough luck.
- Want to try and target a turret on the capital ship you’re supposed to take down? Hahahaha!
Honestly, I found this downright MADDENING. Throwing all this crap at you and not giving you a way to quickly sort through it felt like a purposeful handicap to increase the difficulty, and I didn’t appreciate it one iota, no sir. I know the key word there is “specific”, and while this game is meant to be more simplistic in nature to appeal to a wider audience, if I had trouble with the targeting system, how frustrating will it be for a new player?
Let’s take a look at the opposite extreme, Freespace 2. This is also a game that threw a multitude of varying enemies at you, but its creators understood the need for quick and decisive action.
- Want to target bombs or torpedoes specifically? There’s a button for that.
- Want to target the attacker of your escorted ship? No problem!
- Want to keep track of important targets? Easy, put it on a list.
- Want to attack the subsystems of an enemy capital ship to take down its turrets, or engines or weapons control systems? Go for it!
It’s likely unfair to compare a relatively simplistic space game with the crown jewel of the genre, but I do so for the sake of contrast. The designers of Freespace 2 understood that, as a pilot, we need all the tools we can get to help with situational awareness in the battlefield, and gave us the best tools in the business. Other games…not so much.
Thankfully, many space games seem to do well-enough in this regard not to make me notice, as again I’ve only discovered this recently. Therefore, to the developers out there who are making or plan to make a space combat sim, first off, thank you, we need more of them. However, secondly, please, please, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY put some serious thought and time into situational awareness and targeting capabilities. If not, you and I will have words.
So what about you guys? I’ve just ranted about one of my space game pet peeves, what are yours?