Game Reviews

Star Nomad 2 - Keep moving on

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| Star Nomad 2
Star Nomad 2 - Keep moving on
| Star Nomad 2

Ever since the seminal space trading game Elite, we've been accustomed to thinking of space traders as first or third person games.

Mobile's been no exception with games like Rogue Star and Galaxy on Fire 2 filling in for the genre on touchscreen.

Yet there's no reason these games can't work from a top-down view. The excellent Escape Velocity series on Mac proved that. Now, Space Nomad 2 is out to prove it again for Apple's mobile devices.

This is, however, a port from a PC original, and it shows.

Space soup

The touchscreen controls are serviceable, but only just. It's clear that thought has gone in to making the whole thing work on the small screen with some neat design tweaks.

Instead of the standard d-pad to replace WASD controls, for instance, your ship just keeps going in the last direction you pressed, leaving your hands free to do more important things.

Those things include boosting your ship engines from an energy reserve, jumping through warp gates, firing missiles, and locking on and off of enemy ships.

It's still a bit too much for your poor fingers to handle. Especially when you factor in that your ship has a certain amount of intertia, making it hard to corner.

That's terribly annoying when you're bumping up against the edges of the bizarrely square play area, trying to make it through a warp gate under pressure.

If you can get past these initial disappointments you'll find controlling your starship comes more easily after a while. Once you can safely navigate the star lanes you can engage in some light trading.

Purposeful place

Star Nomad 2 has a complex supply and demand economy with prices changing depending on what's traded around the galaxy. That's the first clue to the game's most engaging feature, which is a real sense of things unfolding beyond your immediate environs.

In addition to economics, this universe has a slew of competing factions, characters to interact with, and random events to encounter.

You can join in, of course, taking sides in the various galactic disputes, hiring wingmen, and choosing your path in life. Money can be made by trade, privateering, adventuring, or, most likely, a mixture of them all.

Before long you'll be able to afford upgrades to the systems and weapons on your ship. There's a dazzling array of different ways to maim and kill your fellow pilots. Save up enough and you can also upgrade the ship itself.

All the options in the world, however, can't save the maddening experience of engaging in combat.

Clumsy combat

Not only are you constrained by the awkward controls, but the game does all the aiming for you, and it's not very good at it. Often your missiles and turret weapons will impact another ship en route to the target, sometimes even causing friendly fire incidents.

Even when they do go where they're supposed to, an all or nothing experience system means you get no bounty money or upgrade points unless you're the one to land the killer shot. Too often, it's enraging rather than engaging.

It's especially bad early on in the game when you're outclassed by every wannabe pilot in the galaxy.

Star Nomad 2 is one of those unfortunate titles that contains some great ideas and many memorable moments but is let down by core mechanics.

All the sense of adventuring in a vibrant, interactive galaxy can't compensate for having to constantly fight the controls.

It's not unplayable, especially for fans of the genre, although a poor tutorial and a steep difficulty curve make it feel that way to start with.

But even once mastered, bursts of variety get bogged down in too much repetition.

Star Nomad 2 - Keep moving on

This space trader creates an incredible sense of place, then wastes it with clumsy controls and frustrating combat