In an industry full of disparate and spliced genres, indie gaming is king. If you’re an older gamer looking for point-and-click games or titles in other niche genres, find your savoury meat at the indie stall. If you’re a fan of turn-based tactical strategy games, like me, then you need to pick up Spaceland, a cheap indie title that will tickle all your X-COM fancies.
Spaceland is a relatively new game from Tortuga Games that first appeared on Steam back in September 2019. It’s just been ported to Xbox One for £16.74 – a great price for a title that should last you 15 hours to complete the game on Normal Mode. Spaceland is set in a land in space (unsurprisingly) brimming with character and enemy variations. However these variations are so generic that sometimes it can feel like you’ve just taken a big lump of that 0% fat Greek yoghurt and put it in your mouth as you move your super-smart science engineer girl, muscular macho no-nonsense marine and wise-crackin’ wise guy to new spaces on the field. Really, it’s this setting and bare-plot that are Spaceland’s biggest offenders – while they do nothing wrong, they certainly don’t do anything right nor anything to make this game appeal in anyway besides its gameplay. That being said, the gameplay is superb.
Spaceland takes its cues from one of gaming’s marquee franchises, X-COM. With the series’ recent revitalization with XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the genre’s recent indie hits like Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, Spaceland looks to join the pack in its newfound attention. While Spaceland does little to reinvent or add anything new to the genre, it does greatly capture what makes it so invigorating to play. You start off with one lone scout that you move into allotted spaces as you whittle down enemy health bars using weapons and special moves. The strategy comes in with how many of your action points you decide to use by moving or attacking your opponents before it’s the enemies’ turn to decide how they wish to outmanoeuvre you. It’s a grandiose game of chess, albeit chess isn’t in space nor does it offer any Gamerscore – so you can hold onto your board and chess pieces, boomers.
Regardless, the game never lets you get comfortable as it begins to offer you more playable characters with different strengths and weaknesses, coupled with well designed and unique new stages. In one stage you might be crossing moving platforms to avoid and attack acid-spitting plants, and in the next you’ll be riding an elevator, defending yourself against waves of different enemies. By the time you’ve finished the campaign you might find that you never felt like you’ve mastered it. This feeling of “owning” the game by having fully mastered its systems and gameplay loops is found at the end of so many titles so the lack of doing so is extremely refreshing here.
However you might find you’ve finally mastered the title after you’ve gone back to replay all of the 24 missions to find any missing secrets, collect all the chips and gather enough coins to fully level-up your playable characters. These chips let you upgrade your weapons and armour and can therefore make any bosses or levels easier to finish on Normal Mode. Additionally, each of these 24 missions are extremely short, making the title fun to play in bursts rather than long slogs to get to the finish line. Unfortunately, there is no hard mode which makes this replayability less enticing.
Furthermore, when you take this along with the game’s cookie-cutter presentation, plot and dialogue it’s hard to not wonder why this game isn’t a mobile title. Putting this beside a visually-stimulating game like Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden or Phantom Doctrine which is set in an alternate history Cold War, the game absolutely screams Google Play Store. That’s not said to discredit Spaceland, but with so many titles available in the indie market the game does nothing to set itself apart or to stand out, and successfully replicating gameplay from older titles isn’t enough. In fact, with sparse graphical effects and everything else included this game could surely run on Android and iPhone devices.
Spaceland on Xbox One is a game that wears X-COM influences on it’s sleeve, including tons of references to other pop culture stalwarts like Gears of War and Duke Nukem. It successfully captures X-COM’s gameplay with quickfire missions that always keep you on your toes, but ultimately does next to nothing with its plot, characters and presentation to entice players new to the genre to give it a spin.