Developer: Firedance Games
Salvation Prophecy is one of the most ambitious games I've seen in years. Indeed, it's utterly astonishing. Attempting to reach the holy grail of fusing together high strategy, third-person shooting and space sim combat, this unassuming little package promises much more than games several times its price.
Is it being developed by a team of hundreds? Funded by fat publisher war chests or massive crowd funding campaigns? Nope. What makes Salvation Prophecy doubly impressive is that it's almost completely created by one man - Sean Lindskog - who describes it as an "I-made-this-game-while-living-in-a-cabin indie," and called in favours from artists around the world. As such, don't expect much in the way of production values and polish, while shortcuts and oversights abound.
Patient players, however, will discover that Salvation Prophecy is infinitely more than the sum of its three inconsistent parts.
Salvation Prophecy throws four warring factions into an epic confrontation for territory and colonies: the human Free Nations, brutish robotic Drone Unity, tricksy cyborg Wyr and the religious Salvation warrior-women. After choosing a side, you become a pawn in the war effort, a small cog in the machine who gradually rises through the ranks to become the leader of their race. The war is fought on three fronts: in space, on planets and an overworld galaxy map, each of which offer a different perspective on the conflict.
Sadly Salvation Prophecy puts its weakest foot forward from the outset: the ground battles. Effectively boiling down to straightforward brawls against waves of identical enemies and static buildings, you'll lead a team of fairly capable allies in an attempt to eradicate enemy colonies to secure territory for your faction. It's very primitive fare in terms of AI, mechanics, visuals and challenge, and frequently feels rather boring due to the predictable opponents and monotonous rhythm of your basic weapons. Even after new elements like bombers and mech defenders are introduced later in the campaign, ground pounding tends to be a bit of a chore. Be sure to choose the Salvation faction if you want to change things up, because at least their reflective shield gun makes for a slightly more interesting alternative to explosives.
However, you're also free to strike out into the 'verse in the cockpit of an upgradeable fighter, which is where things take a sharp upwards turn. Put simply: Salvation Prophecy is some of the most fun I've had with an arcade space sim in recent years, stripping back the traditional bumf and busywork to focus on the raw thrill of dogfighting. Whether you're assaulting an enemy space station with an allied fleet, defending a base from attack or taking on some pirates for cash in hand, you'll hurtle through gauntlets of neon laser fire that lights up the wild black yonder, effortlessly jinking and rolling thanks to intuitive controller support. The ship designs are also superb; uniquely alien, sleek and sensational.
Special mention must be made of Salvation Prophecy's approach to FTL fast travel, which is perhaps the best I've ever seen. Once you've chosen a distant ship or target to approach, you'll seamlessly enter a hyperspace tunnel that challenges you to dodge past crackling arcs of lightning as you race headlong towards your objective. There's no break in the action, while the tunnel minigame keeps you occupied with moment-to-moment stimulation rather than twiddling your thumbs. As a fan of Gene Roddenbury's Andromeda, I was well away.
You'll stay for the dogfighting and put up with the ground operations, but Salvation Prophecy's crown jewel gradually reveals itself over the course of a few hours. Its universe may be very small compared to traditional space sims or 4X games, but it's very much alive.
Fleets aren't just arbitrary numbers that auto-resolve in the background, instead, they exist in the universe as a physical and very real presence. All four factions send out strike forces into the galaxy in real-time, all of which can be engaged at will. There's nothing more exciting than defeating a ragtag crew of pirates only to notice an enemy fleet headed towards one of your colonies on your scanner. You'll turn tail, desperately rush to your system's defence and receive a reward for holding the line, before subsquently agreeing to assault an enemy citadel in a retributive attack. Sometimes you'll dawdle around a seemingly remote base in search of better weapons and healing stim packs, only for klaxons to blare as an opposing fleet leaps into the system, forcing you to scramble your fighter and put them to rout.
Salvation Prophecy's universe exists in a constant state of flux, of sweeping gains and losses, with each race battling each other as well as your chosen faction. Once you become faction commander, you're free to order your own fleet strikes, sign off on ground operations, build up defences in some streamlined menus and -- this is the big one -- then directly participate to ensure your faction's success. Ground missions suddenly become a joy when you've got a real stake in the proceedings, when it's a mission you ordered, and the resulting victory and new colony are that much more rewarding. This high strategy layer proves to be unbelievably involving and compelling to the point of full-blown compulsion, delivering scope and scale that bigger games from massive development teams shy away from in terror.
It takes rather too long to get to this point, mind, and your time spent grinding away for money and experience serves to highlight a few aggravating oversights. Progression and storyline is practically identical regardless of which faction you pick, stopping them from feeling unique or interesting during repeat playthroughs, while they inexplicably share exactly the same space stations and dropships. What's more, you're also often locked into storyline missions involving dark prophecies, impending doom and mysterious far-flung planets, but these effectively simmer down into very repetitive and grindy missions against identical monsters and some simplistic non-puzzles. The ground pounding is the weakest link in the chain, so it's a shame that the overarching storyline relies so heavily on terrestrial jaunts.
Visually, Salvation Prophecy is a game of wild extremes. Moments of exquisite beauty gleaned from sumptuous skyboxes (spaceboxes?) and profoundly alien scenery grate against muddy textures, blocky character models and clunky animations that wouldn't feel out of place in an early PS2 title. Voice acting is universally awful when it appears.
Including a generic human faction was a major misstep in this pundit's opinion, since we can totally ignore jerky animations and recycled assets when we're controlling a mass-produced robot drone, but we know how other people are supposed to move and look. And how they shouldn't. Considering the gorgeous ship design and exotic overall aesthetic, Salvation Prophecy could have better played to its strengths by, if anything, leaving out traditional humans altogether. Not to mention Salvation's army of identical barefoot green women wearing bits of cloth into battle.
On the whole, though, Salvation Prophecy is an utter triumph considering its humble origins, and a momentous achievement. It's rare to see a game with such lofty and reckless ambitions deliver on so many of its promises, and end up so fiercely compelling in the process.
But. But. It costs £15.99.
There are times when I genuinely hate the tyranny of review scores, because we don't have the luxury of reviewing games in a vacuum. Even games set in hard vacuum. I personally reckon that £15.99 is reasonable for the amount of ambitious content, but it feels like a big ask considering that you can net any number of games with more polish, flair and competence, and take less time to showcase their most innovative features for less. Salvation Prophecy often feels like an exceptional prototype for a game that Firedance and Lindskog simply couldn't realise with their limited resources and budget, while many players will find themselves turned off by the uninspired ground combat and hokey production values, leaving before the high strategy layer and dogfighting show their true potential. To be honest, I'm not sure if I could entirely blame them.
Personally, I love Salvation Prophecy, but my hands are tied when it comes to the score. Thankfully we have an Editor's Choice award for games we feel deserve extra recognition, and I've rarely been happier to deploy one. With luck, this will be just the first big step in an illustrious career for Firedance Games.
- Ambitious and compelling fusion of space sim, third-person shooter and high strategy
- The compact universe feels dynamic and alive
- Gorgeously alien ship and planet designs
- Deeply addictive and refreshing if it grabs you
- Countless rough edges and compromises, hokey production values, recycled assets and inconsistent presentation
- Ground combat tends to be dull and monotonous, especially in key story missions
- Frequently feels like a prototype for something far greater
The Short Version: Salvation Prophecy fights its intergalactic war on three fronts, tying dull ground combat and excellent arcade space dogfighting together with an addictive strategic layer. Though many players will understandably balk at the wildly inconsistent presentation for the price point, the dynamic galaxy makes for a refreshing and compelling new experience if you have the patience.
An astonishing achievement from a tiny studio, and a game that will hopefully lead to even greater things.