Transcendence is a top down inter galactic game of exploration as you pilot your space ship from randomly generated galaxy to the next on your way to the core. You have full control over your ship and you’ll dock with space stations, loot destroyed vessels, upgrade and survive space battles against dozens of enemies. Like most space travel games, it fits a place in a certain tranquility and relaxation even with the battles here and there. While this is a game with good screen filling action, I’d say its a balanced harmony between action, exploration and questing.
If I was forced to simplify the gameplay, I’d say its a kin to the old arcade classic Asteroids. You pilot a space ship that uses the up arrow to thrust forward and left or right to rotate. Tank controls, but with momentum. Your momentum can propel you forever. Space and Ctrl fire your primary weapon, Shift fires a missile. Tab changes the missile type and W changes the primary weapon. Its a simple play mechanic or what is a simple game that goes so deep. I would have preferred a dual stick shooter to these keyboard only controls.
In battle, there are all sorts of lasers, bullets and rockets flying. Not just between you and hostile enemies, but there are neutral or good ships too that will jump into a fight with you. It makes the universe feel alive. When I’m getting chased by a dozen ships because I’ve run out of ammunition, it feels good to know I can make it to an outpost and three or so docked ships will jump to my rescue. Another way the game feels alive is there is no pause. Even if you’re docked with a base, reading descriptive text or learning about a mission, the game doesn’t stop. Enemies don’t just shoot at you, they’re smart enough to shoot at where you’ll be!Its a brilliant touch that adds to the difficulty that other games overlook. Your only chance to not get hit is to change course, which is tough to do when momentum pushes you forward. There are asteroids and planets that will block projectiles. You can still fly through them of course, but the projectiles can’t. If your ship takes too much damage, what I can only describe as your shields will give way and leave your hull vulnerable. Your ship has four hull plates, forward, aft, port and starboard. Each type of plate its own perks like some are good against lasers, other can take explosive damage, but all plates have limited amount of damage that they can take before you’re dead. Luckily you can always load up an auto save! I’m really thankful for auto save. With a game this big of size and scope, I just don’t want to have to start all over again. My universe has become my universe, I’ve played in three others, but I just don’t want to go to another universe until I’ve completed “my universe.”
You start by selecting your space ship from one of three available. Each ship has its own weapons, engines, reactor, armor, shields, cargo capacity and expansion slots. Everything can be modified, changed, tweaked, upgraded and repaired in space docks. So your freighter can have the shields of the gunship. Some ships have limited weapon slots, so your freighter can never be as weaponized as the gunship. That’s not a problem though since you can only use one weapon at a time. Sure the gunship can have five weapons, but it doesn’t mean much when you find yourself using only one. The freighter moves slower, turns better and starts out with an auto targeting laser that makes it pretty simple to use. The gunship turns wildly and only shoots forward, but again you can buy new weapons. The yacht feels like its the fastest and that can spin you out until you get the hang of it.
Once you’re in the game, you’re taken through the tutorial galaxy. Its just like every other galaxy, randomly generated, but with quests that spoon feed you things. You’re still free to do what you want, but in order to leave the galaxy you need to complete the missions. Things like destroying ships, then finding three friendly colonies and doing a mission for each. You need to find these colonies, so you’ll need your map with the M key. There are planets and asteroid belts circling a star. You’ll need to discover their locations. Its part of the game, traveling and finding things. Start with the big planets, then go to the asteroid belts. There’s a fast travel auto pilot that makes everything bearable. I wish that it was easier to get out of the map when my hands are working the A key for the auto pilot and the arrows for navigation, dropping back to the makes me vulnerable moving my hand off the arrows.
The quests are laid out easier, they guide you with flags on the side of your screen like a compass. These missions are things like protect a ship, escort a freighter safely, destroy a hostile outpost. In later galaxies, I encountered scenarios where I had to defend a base from waves of enemies. Other times I entered a galaxy to find I was in the middle of a massive battle between good and evil with giant hostile battleships pouring into the space gate. These space gates that I talk about are the galaxy exits.
Once you make it through the tutorial galaxy, all other space gates are unlocked, but you’ll need to find them of course. Some times its pretty easy, other times I found myself stumbling upon them in a least expected place. One of the beauties of the game is that if you leave the galaxy, you can still go back. It makes for a living, breathing sort of universe. When one galaxy is vacant, I can always go back to a previous one for ammunition and fuel. Other galaxies have been over populated, where it was like flying through a city of space stations in orbit around a planet.
Speaking of fuel, you’ll need it. If you run out of fuel, you have 20 seconds or so to power your ship before life support fails and you die. You’re not just fighting space ships, but against space itself. There are refueling depots everywhere and even without them, several space bases have docks to refill your ship for a cost. You can also buy fuel and refill at your leisure. There’s a certain old school 90s PC game charm to Transcendence. Old school graphics, simple game play, keyboard only controls and a bit of flavor text to read. The music feels almost forgotten, like after a few tunes its non existent, but I guess this is space after all. The title theme sounds like a take on Star Trek and that only fits the vibe of the game.
I found some sort of online user feature, but I haven’t seen any sort of multi-player. Maybe it all ties in with some sort of leader board. When you start up the game there is either a demo playing or its a real player, playing live. I’ll go with the demo. You can use your online user name to download a free expansion or pay for premium expansions. I fear that this game goes so deep that I’ll never feel a need to download a new adventure, especially when this one is randomly generated. On the other hand, I think a lot of people will feel that because they had so much fun playing the game in general, they’ll pay money out of respect for the game.
In closing, I think that I’d prefer the controls to be better and not keyboard only. I’d just enjoy this type of game away from my keyboard. There’s a lot of game here for those willing to go down the rabbit hole. You’ll never know what’s in the next galaxy. While I don’t think this is a game for a casual player, I think there’s a specific type of person that will play this for days on end and love every second of it.