Endurance: Space Action is the second release brought to us by Ivan Panasenko and BeardyBird games in the last year or so, it being a prequel to the indie title Ailment. The look and feel is very similar to the first game – a top-down sci-fi shooter complete with pixel-art visuals.
It’s all about the single player, story-driven gameplay in Endurance: Space Action. In fact that’s the only way to play. You discover, pretty quickly, that for reasons unknown your former crewmates have turned into homicidal maniacs intent on helping you meet a grizzly end.
To kick things off, you’ll need to choose a character to play as, and each has varying stats to start out with. Don’t stress too much over this decision, as you’ll get a chance to enhance your traits in the main game. In fact, I only chose my character because she had the same surname as me.
Now, given that the words “old-school” and “retro” are used to describe Endurance: Space Action, you can safely assume that the game is built to challenge, especially in terms of punishing you for dying. You are offered limited support here, in terms of two revival attempts per level, and auto saves at the beginning and end of each one. The levels aren’t too long however, meaning that the game doesn’t turn out to be as brutally difficult as you might first expect.
That said, when you start out you are almost immediately set upon by swarms of enemies armed with only a weak slap to defend yourself with. You’ll need to run, scrambling to fight off enemies in manageable waves. Unfortunately, your pursuers are slightly faster than you, so you won’t be able to run for long.
It took me a while to realise I needed to slap down all the enemies chasing me before I would be able to search containers for items. I was battering the A button, and my character was standing there taking a right pasting. In short, you can’t search for items until the area is clear of enemies.
Thankfully, things get much more manageable when you find a gun, and this happens very early on. There are a vast range of firearms to find in Endurance: Space Action, and they will eventually break after a certain amount of use. It’s for this reason you’ll need to ensure you always have a firearm to hand, as you won’t survive for long without one. Luckily, once you find a gun you unlock it, and can you buy a new version to repair it at any time from the in-game menu.
Credits are important in Endurance: Space Action. They are earned by taking down the enemies that relentlessly pursue you, and can occasionally be found hiding in lockers and storage boxes. You’ll need to use credits earned to heal yourself and upgrade your character stats if you’ll have any hope of surviving, and this comes at a flat cost of 200 a go. You can access this menu at any time whilst in play, using your credits to boost your move speed, health regeneration and more.
You’re advised to search the environment for items, and any found but not taken will be marked on your map so you can backtrack to them later if needed. In this way exploration is rewarded, however as it never gets more exciting than finding an attribute buff in a locker, you’ll soon resort to chasing down the main objective to blast through the levels at pace. This is where a sprint option would have been handy, but if you’re anything like me you will have just upgraded your “speed” stat to max as quickly as possible.
Your map is integral in navigating the maze-like spaceship in Endurance: Space Action. Red squares indicate objectives, of which there may be several active at once. This is normally because there are locked doors, and you’ll need to find the correct computer terminal to open them. Due to the ship’s layout, you’ll need to continuously check back to your map to see which direction to go in, which somewhat interrupts the flow of the game. It feels clunky, and instead having a waypoint on the HUD would have helped smooth things over nicely.
Just in case you were wondering, it’s not just insane former crewmates that are hell-bent on taking you down in Endurance: Space Action. Various traps and killer robots are just as determined to put an end to your attempts to save the day. To make matters worse, you’ll also come across more powerful enemies with chunky lifebars you’ll need to chip away at to get past.
Not everyone is out to get you however. You can save some fellow scientists if you’re quick enough, although you’ll get no reward for doing so. Occasionally you’ll have a companion come along to help, but unfortunately they will spend a lot of their time walking into mines and getting shot, before most likely dying on you.
Endurance: Space Action has a decent stab at telling an intriguing, if slowly developing, story as you try to unravel why pretty much everyone and everything is trying to kill you. This is driven by character dialogue, including some pop culture references thrown in for good measure (usually contained within your character’s thoughts). Interacting with others is of limited use, however you can’t fast forward dialogue; you’ll only skip the entire conversation entirely or sit through it as it moves at a snail’s pace. It’s a minor issue but doesn’t help with the game’s pacing issues.
The game’s retro pixel-art style suits the genre pretty well, however each level looks very similar, mostly composed of dark and dull colours. And further to that, the soundtrack in Endurance: Space Action is mostly made up of eerie, ambient noises, but again this sets the scene effectively by creating a foreboding sense of danger. This is apart from when the action kicks in and then things sound decidedly more frantic.
The only problem with this is that the more lively music kicks in every time an enemy appears on screen. As they tend to filter in as you navigate the corridors, the soundtrack ends up moving at a “start-stop” pace. It’s a little annoying if nothing else, but means the pacing and experience of Endurance: Space Action feels jagged, again struggling to set an even pace. What seem like minor issues, when added up, start to substantially affect the experience for the player.
All in all, Endurance: Space Action is a bit of a slog, truth be told. Despite a decent narrative and some basic RPG elements, you’ll soon realise the gameplay is linear and repetitive, despite the lengthy campaign. There are a few attempts to change up the action in segments, which see you simply having to run from your enemies to others where you are trying to survive against waves of the blighters (just how many crew members were aboard this spaceship anyway?). There is a gradual difficulty curve at play too, but nothing that should give you too much trouble. Despite all this, it’s never quite enough to shake off that grinding feeling. Unfortunately, seeing this one through feels more like a test of player Endurance, and I don’t think that was the aim here.
Endurance: Space Action on Xbox is a decent sci-fi adventure, wrapped in mystery and told over a substantial single player campaign. However, partly due to its length, few will feel compelled to see it through to its conclusion.