To quote a great author of our time, “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.”
It’s no wonder then that MMO developers have latched onto space as a setting. You can fit a lot of people in space. The more players, the better.
background:white">The other thing about space, though, is that not much happens there. Sure, there are a few supermassive black holes, but by definition space is sort of filled with nothing. It’s these conflicting feelings of awe and boredom that affect the player of Vendetta Online. Awe at the incredibly large and beautiful environments, and boredom at the slow, intractable grind.
The idea of the game is to pilot a ship around space, earning money and experience with which to buy bigger ships, better cargo, heavier weapons, and so on. You join one of three space-faring nations depending (roughly) on what you want to specialise in: combat, mining, or trading.
Vendetta Online has a lot going for it. Not only is it deep, with a surprising number of ships to but, items to trade, and so on, but it looks pretty spectacular. Asteroid fields hang in front of the gigantic rings of gold gas giants, while the nearby stars glare brightly onto the hulls of drifting leviathans.
The only pity is that the framerate on Xperia Play drops dramatically when it has to deal with a lot of ships or environmental features at once. Otherwise the game looks sublime.
A long, long time ago...
There’s a reason it looks so well-crafted and has so much content. Vendetta has been around for a long time (since 2004), first on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The developer knows its way around.
This means that it’s fiendishly well-supported. Within the first few days of release on the Market the game has already seen a number of updates specifically targeted at Android users. Given the history behind it, it's likely that these will continue for some time to come.
However, this is also a problem. The game is cross-platform. The universe you play in on your Xperia Play is the same universe as those playing on PCs and Macs, and it's obvious from the start that this is an extremely hardcore title, designed primarily for someone with a keyboard, a mouse, and a ton of free time.
The controls are a near-insurmountable challenge to master, especially when flying without the ‘assisted’ flying mode on.
The D-pad controls thrusters on all sides of the ship, while the right touchpad controls the nose. The L trigger also gives you a welcome turbo boost, while the R trigger fires your primary weapon. Secondary and tertiary weapons are mapped to the 'start' and 'select' buttons.
It feels like it should be simple, but it isn’t. Just getting my ship into the dock the first dozen times was an exercise in patience. It’s slippy and inelegant and feels like it’s just a little too much for the phone to handle.
But this isn’t the worst of it. That comes when you get into the game proper and the missions reveal themselves to be of the rote MMO kind, with very little variety.
There are more missions and epic PvP battles much later, but the amount of investment required to get to that level usually runs alongside the desire to socialise and team up – which is incredibly time-consuming and awkward to do through the Android version’s keyboard and tiny – at times totally unresponsive – menu systems.
On a tablet, these menus are likely bearable, but on the Play’s smaller screen they just cause eyestrain and twisted knuckles.
Vendetta Online is well-constructed and beautifully presented, but the gameplay just doesn’t hold together on the device without spending days and days getting used to flaws and mastering the graceless controls.
All that said, there’s not much else like it for hardcore MMO fans. However, if that’s not you then you’ll come away wanting to like Vendetta Online but unable to shake the feeling that it just doesn’t belong in this particular space.