“For being the void of space, this place is surprisingly well lit. It’s a good thing, too. It makes the asteroids that the commanders love to order us through easier to see.”
These are the thoughts I imagine running through the head of space faring fighter pilot extraordinaire, Banshee, the star of Rogue Earth’s Eterium. Let me be up front, I am going to have some criticisms but I love this game. If you have fond memories of the old X-Wing and Tie Fighter games, you want this game. Rogue Earth intentionally designed this as a throw-back to those and they did it well.
To get the negatives out of the way, the first thing I need to bring up is the plot. While this does have a branching story line feature, the anime styled story line just did not pull me in. I found myself not caring to meet with other characters between missions and went straight to the next briefing to get to the action. Credit where it is due, the manga flavored designs of said characters are sharp and nice to look at.
The controls were also initially a problem. While they are very easy to adjust, I found that I needed to engage in quite a bit of fiddling before I found a comfortable set up. The controller options were too loosey-goosey for my tastes no matter how I tuned the stick sensitivity. I ended up landing on the direct control mouse option for the precision aiming of my ship’s weapons and keyboard arrows for general flight. The mouse sensitivity still needed some tweaking, but I was finally able to get myself lost in the giant laser hairballs and knocking down some ships.
My last complaint would be the fights against capital ships. Even back in the Tie Fighter days, we were able to target specific parts of the capital ships to knock out. If we wanted to destroy the engines to make for easier strafing runs or take the shields offline to ensure my hits cause more damage, we were able to make those tactical choices. Here, it seems the ships are made up of much larger chunks. Once the hull integrity of one section gets weakened, it explodes. It’s doesn’t feel quite the same.
With all that said, the action found here is pretty intense. The sorties themselves are very engaging. If you long for the days of yore when the greatest pleasure was lining up a perfect shot to destroy the bogie harassing your wing man, welcome home. The designers also made sure to appeal to those who want to jump straight to the action via auto-pilot while placating the purists who enjoy the contemplative flight and tension that can arise from not knowing when an incident will occur. It’s not always at the nav points…
I actually quite enjoyed the graphics, too. The cockpit view is rather busy looking with a low-fi, SVGA aesthetic designed specifically to tickle the nostalgia bone. (I think it’s there. I may have failed anatomy.) The ships are properly boxy and polygonal, in the style of the time. One area that I wish Rogue Earth did not emulate would be the texture work. While some of it looks quite nice, some are just blocks of colors. While this is in keeping with the technology of the time, some of the better “new retro” games are designed to look like how the player remembers the games, not how they actually looked.
All said, though, Eterium is the proper space dog fighting sim that I have been wanting. As you get further into the story, the battles become hectic and grand. It took me some work to get it to feel how I wanted, but the fact is that all of the options were easy to use to get it just right. It might also take you some work, but if you want to relive the glory days of 90’s space fighters without messing with DOSbox, you will get it here.