Redshift reaches for the stars with its sci-fi RPG experience

Redshift, the new role-playing game from developer Synapse Games, brings the spaceship massively multiplayer online genre to Facebook. The game is a real-time combat strategy title that puts players in control of a single spaceship to guide through missions and battles.

Players start out as a rookie pilot with a dumpy little vessel and start taking on small missions to keep the interstellar peace, which largely translates as flying around the vast emptiness of space and getting into thrilling battles. Flight is controlled by pointing and clicking, while the both the mouse and keyboard can be used to trigger the action slots at the bottom of the screen. Aside from the action, players are also encouraged to explore the galaxy and harvest resources, which can be manufactured into useful equipment for their ships. Because of its depth, Redshift has much more in common with CCP’s 2003 massively multiplayer online role-playing game Eve Online than it does with any Facebook real-time combat or strategy game.

One of the game’s strengths is the plot, which is doled out via dialogue screens that bookend missions. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into this; after several hours of play, the same storyline that started with one of the earliest groups encountered is still ongoing. Thankfully, the narrative is interesting to follow, especially once all the different threads start to tie together and paint a larger picture of the faction conflicts that are threatening to tear apart the tenuous power balance across the galaxy.

The  graphics are impressive as well. Ship and station models feature a large amount of detail that’s sometimes hard to see in the default canvas app view on Facebook — when expanded to fill the screen, though, the game looks impressive. Effects occur in real time, with things like missiles and lasers helping make the game’s real time combat fun to watch, too. Finally, the backgrounds — decorated with floating planets, stars and nebula clouds — look magnificent.

Many of the usual MMO staples are here, like level-grinding, player versus player combat, and item crafting. Most of the missions follow the “go here, kill this many enemies, and report back” formula, but the combat system keeps things fresh thanks to changeable weapons that can be controlled by hotkeys. There are also skills that provide passive bonuses like improved damage or reduced costs for repairs and item manufacturing. The skills can be leveled up through training, which takes place in the background. However, it’s obvious that the rest of the game isn’t something that can be left alone, since a ship will be “docked” if a player idles for more than a few minutes.

As the game progresses, more ships and equipment become available to buy with both soft and hard currencies. The soft currency, credits, can be used to pick up a pretty wide variety of stuff, but the hard currency “star tokens” will buy higher-end gear and ships and can also be used to reduce the time it takes to train skills. The star token costs feel a little high to us at the moment; a single ship or day of skill training costs $10, which is well above what we spend in other strategy combat games on the platform.

There’s also a lack of virality here. Right now, the game only offers players the options to share their progress when they level up. Since missions tend to take only a few minutes to complete, these completion points seem like they would be ideal opportunities to provide players with the option to brag about their progress.

Note that Redshift is a very young game and that many of the issues we’re about to discuss will likely be resolved or updated in the near future. That said, the suffers from lag issues on a regular basis. Depending on the time of day, it’s not uncommon to wait for a little while before all the graphics pop into place. Additionally, the game occasionally freezes completely, though the chat feature will keep on working like a dream. Another bug that regularly occurred was that hotkeys would randomly stop working. When this happens, the action icons need to be manually triggered with the mouse. This is arguably the game’s most frustrating issue, since it seems to happen without any warning.

What may be the biggest challenge for the game, though, is that it isn’t something that can be played passively. Synapse is already on record with its desire to make niche games, and bringing a deep MMO experience to Facebook isn’t going to appeal to the widest range of users on the site. The hands-on nature of almost every aspect means that it has to actively be played. Between this and the sometimes-high star token costs, the conversion point may be trickier to lead players to.

There’s a lot here to like, even with all the early bugs. We look forward to seeing this game grow in the niche market once the kinks are ironed out.

Redshift currently has 40,000 monthly active users and 4,000 daily active users. To follow its progress, check out AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.

Wait

There are a number of small issues present that will probably discourage many from getting into Redshift, but once they’re addressed this game will probably attract a legion of hardcore fans.

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