There are risks in going where no man has gone before.
Dangerous happens to be the title of Binary Helix’s new space simulation game. Oddly enough, the word ‘Dangerous’ is exactly how I would describe the direction of this and other simulation-heavy games currently being ported to iOS. Dangerous walks a fine line between engaging the player and obtuseness, one which it often crosses for the worse.
The core gameplay progression of Dangerous doesn’t stray from the space sim formula. As the player is strung along by a central story, there is a vast galaxy to explore and many opportunities to partake in dogfighting, mining, trading, and dialogue interactions.
The game is a decent space simulation that offers more complexity in control than a game like Galaxy on Fire. However; complexity is not always a beneficial in video games, especially touch controlled games. I was honestly surprised by the sheer amount of information and buttons displayed on screen during flight that the prospect of playing the game was immediately overwhelming. It took me some time to become comfortable with the game’s various autopilot options, managing shield cycles to balance out energy costs, picking which weapons to fire, and cycling through targets. While the game does have some semblance of in-game help, tooltips would have been nice to grasp the purpose of the game’s many buttons. There were many cases in which the accidental button press hampered my game experience, an issue that is only magnified in the iPhone version of the game.
It is a rare iOS game that offers keyboard support in an attempt to push back against inherent complexity of its control, but Dangerous does just that. While I would feel driven to become accustomed to the controls, or even to borrow a keyboard to use for play, the core flight mechanics of Dangerous don’t strike me as ones that warrant the extra effort. Players can engage the autopilot to follow, throw their ship into orbit, or enter a stationary turret mode and just unload all weapons into their target. I never found any of the combat mechanics to approach the exhilaration of a Freespace 2 or X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. Nothing in Dangerous approached the feeling of something as simple as matching speed with a target before going in for the kill in Freespace. I don’t feel motivated to role play as a badass fighter pilot, especially when it is less frustrating control-wise to throw myself into turret mode and hurl everything I can at the enemy for a quick kill.
Combat scenarios become more risky as the game progresses, and it helps to have hired hands to aid in the fight. The player can also hire in-game workers to automate mining and trade- the two other big space sim elements in Dangerous. While the economic aspects of space simulation have never been the selling point for me, Dangerous offers what one would expect out of a trading sim. There are innumerable stations, quests, and interactions to be had.
This sea of content comes at a price, though. The game makes a clear effort to draw the player in with story content. While I certainly appreciate the developer presenting the player with more than a combat mechanic on top of a spreadsheet, the limited scope with respect to in-game art leaves the player wanting. Seconds after a dialogue with a character central to the story, I found myself battling a pirate with the exact same character art. While I normally excuse some repetition of art assets, it is hard to value a story when you see the faces of its main characters plastered on every pilot and trader in the galaxy.
Limitations in art don’t stop with 2D imagery, the 3D environments the game takes place in are not easy on the eyes. While some ship and station models look decent, there is a general lack of polish with the in-game special effects. I also find it jarring to find myself orbiting a giant octagonal planet. After seeing what Galaxy on Fire does on the same devices, it is hard to get past the lacking visuals. Dangerous also had a hard time running on my device (iPad 1), which means that whatever level of visual fidelity is achieved here isn’t really paying off.
It is hard to divorce my two separate issues with Dangerous’ controls. The biggest issue players will come across is the unwieldy amount of on-screen buttons interwoven with HUD elements. Once these controls are mastered, though, the thrill of combat just wasn’t there for me. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more with a keyboard, but at that point I’d rather just play the desktop version.
If you have sucked all the content out of Galaxy on Fire – which is admittedly less robust when compared to Dangerous – then you may just be ready to jump down the rabbit hole of this game. Just know that for myself, the payoff wasn’t there.
This review is based on Dangerous HD. I recommend you try out the lite version