Developer: Nine Dots Studio
Space: the final frontier. Ever since man first looked up at the stars, we've always dreamed of reaching that wild black yonder... before strapping into a sleek fighter and rendering entire battlefleets into space dust with obscene amounts of neon firepower. Well, speaking for myself, at least. Kickstarter is allowing the dormant space combat genre to finally make a welcome resurgence, but now that we've played Strike Suit Zero and await the likes of Limit Theory, Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, a new contender approaches from the humblest of origins.
Nine Dots Studio, who graduated from Xbox Live Indie Games, are working on a competitive 4v4 space sim that fits neatly into the popular MOBA sub-genre. GoD Factory: Wingmen locks two teams in a battle for survival and territory, tasked with destroying their foe's hulking carrier ship while defending their own. Boasting simple yet effective arcade mechanics, fast-paced combat alongside robust persistent ship customisation, this indie effort promised an exciting new take on the genre.
Having recently tested a very early alpha build, I'm inclined to agree.
Before entering battle, GoD Factory offers players the opportunity to construct and customise their own ships out of an enormous wealth of hulls, weapons, upgrades and components. The first major decision is choosing a race, each of which focuses on a different playstyle and boasts a unique visual hook. For example, the Ar Blossom's organic ships can teleport short distances to throw opponents off-guard, whereas the gorgeously alien Guantri crackle with electricity as they shift between two separate combat modes. As a fan of all things mecha-related, I naturally favoured the menacing mechanical Chorion, whose enormous armoured bodies can withstand an inordinate amount of punishment (and tickle my love for Zone Of The Enders and Gundam in all the right ways).
This is just the beginning. Race selected, pilots then assemble their ship from scratch, choosing everything from wings to thrusters, wings and shields. Numerous primary and secondary weapons provide different engagement ranges and exert an according amount of energy from the power core, which itself can be customised. Gadgets modify each race's innate action skill with different secondary effects, such as adding distortion blasts to the Ar Blossom's teleport, or allowing it to whisk players to a random location with a very short cooldown. Consumable supplies can heal, buff or even debuff the enemy carrier at regular intervals. Since this is a preview, not an FAQ, suffice to say that there's a lot of choice on offer and potential for numerous situational builds.
Sooner or later, however, you'll want to put your painstakingly constructed ships to good use. Each player - four per side, remember - can bring two ships into battle, one of which stays within the carrier when you're out hunting in the other. Taking along two markedly different fighters will allow you to react to the course of the match, and gradually heal a damaged craft if you limp back in time.
Two opposing carriers loom out of the blackness of space as the teams scream towards the central killzone, guns blazing and skills firing. With a simple dual-weapon setup, massively powerful boost and subtle auto-targeting (that focuses your guns on the closest priority target so long as you keep it centre screen), the fully three-dimensional action makes for a neat balance between accessible MOBA-style gameplay and full-fat simulation. GoD Factory: Wingmen is very much an arcade space combat game, which makes for a nice change amidst the click heavy top-down or isometric MOBAs on the market, and handles brilliantly.
Dogfighting is fast-paced old-school space sim fare when facing other players (more Terminal Velocity than I-War), but the aim of each match is to annihilate the enemy carrier. These monstrous dreadnoughts bristle with anti-fighter defences and massive cannons that take a few minutes to charge up, and damage the opposing capital ship once their cooldown expires. Players are therefore tasked with targeting specific components to cripple the enemy vessel; both in terms of causing direct damage to weak points, destroying radar installations or inflicting cumulative damage on critical systems. It's even possible to damage a carrier from within by braving incoming flack to breach an aperture on the bow. Each team will need to prioritise how exactly they plan to take down their hulking enemy without leaving their own home base defenceless, all.
In terms of control schemes, GoD Factory offers the familiar gamut of mouse/keyboard, gamepad and joystick setups depending on how authentic you'd like the experience to be. Personally, I found the mouse pitch input far too imprecise and finicky to be of much use in heavy combat (this will doubtlessly be addressed in future iterations), but an Xbox pad maps everything you need within easy reach and offers analogue thrust control to boot. Having spent half an hour rebinding Strike Suit Zero, GoD Factory was a GoDsend.
Free from the constraints of gravity, aerodynamics and air resistance, space fighters can pull off insane manoeuvres that conventional aeroplanes can only dream of. GoD Factory manages to include this functionality without compromising the arcade feel by letting players 'drift': maintaining their heading but facing a different direction with the touch of a button. Facing perpendicular to your direction of travel is perfect for strafing carrier hulls, while turning to cover your six can make short work of any over-confident pursuers. Simple to execute but rife with tactical depth, this mechanic is just another weapon in Nine Dots' arsenal.
GoD: Wingmen will almost certainly rely on teamwork and communication to coordinate strategy and priority targets. Even the slightly weaker human vessels can require plenty of combined firepower to take down, while some of the bigger carrier components are incredibly resilient and demand a strategic joint assault. Choosing whether or not to enter a furball, support your team, focus fire on skilled players or run interference is going to be incredibly tough, and will probably lead to a fair few arguments before finding a team of like-minded comrades. [Note that the LAN-only preview build stopped me from checking out the full 4v4 experience. - Jonathan]
GoD Factory: Wingmen is a more than a little rough around the edges in its alpha state, but still remarkably impressive from a visual standpoint. Nine Dots have clearly put a lot of work into the ship models, packing them with animated detail, and I'm also impressed by the art style and ship designs that resemble practically nothing else on the market. Some carriers resemble impossible Eastern palaces hanging in space, for example, while the diverse visual flair afforded by each race provides eyecatching colour and variety. The fine detail will need work, but again, this is an alpha build we're talking about here. I see worse finished products on IndieVania every day.
Progression will be absolutely instrumental in keeping players invested. Though the alpha build doesn't include this functionality as-yet, playing online will reward pilots with credits to spend on new parts, weapons and upgrades. Ensuring that we have an enormous suite of components to buy that encourage a diverse range of play-styles, yet maintaining balance between newcomers and veterans, will likely be the hardest part of Nine Dots' job going forward. We wish them the very best of luck.
Though from what I played, they might not need much. GoD Factory: Wingmen has the fundamentals and raw mechanics locked down, and it's now up to the small studio to push variety, economy and pack in some more visual oomph. Here's hoping that this brave indie contender can live up to its clear potential.