Survive in Space is a space shooter that blends Defender’s left and right controls with Asteroid’s single screen presence. I like Survive in Space, but its still tough to recommend, because the entire game is a grind. The 50 levels that the game boasts are all the same. Each level consists of three waves of enemies, each enemy gives experience that you use to buy upgrades. Even with upgrades, I never feel like I’m making little progress, because each level feels the same.
Like all shooters, you have your basic machine gun, but to make things interesting, there is a fat laser that lasts a few seconds and homing missiles. There seems to be a color coated mechanic where when you’re red, the four orbs get tucked close to your ship while when you’re red they’re far away. Once your a super weapon get used, you need to wait for them to recharge. Since enemies spawn left and right on a single screen, the game has mercy on you and lets you face left or right ala Defender. Because you push a button, that means you can fly right while facing left and vice versa.
You have a versatile set of controls and the game does a good job of explaining them. You can use mouse, keyboard or a controller, but some of the menus seem to need a mouse.
The enemies feel like a good variety and they feel different than other games of the same caliber. The problem is that you see them all on each level, making each level feel the same. To the game’s credit, every new level includes a new enemy, but they’re always hard to spot when mixed in with the same foes that you’ve seen for hours. Your foes come at you from all different angles, so you need to stay in front of them and destroy them before they can come at you from awkward positions.
To break up the monotony of what it is, there are boss fights every 10 or so levels. Each boss has several bullet patterns as you fight them one-on-one. These feel like a good diversion among a sea of the same. Its odd that I can enjoy a classic arcade game to no end, but when I feel like I’m locked into a 50 level campaign, it begins to feel like a chore. Perhaps if I took it lighter and not as a goal and just played the game over the span of years I’d feel better about it.
The upgrades come in tiers. You first make a few minor upgrades to each weapon and then make a few major upgrades before the next tier unlocks. The upgrades include shorter recharge, more experience, more damage, vampire health from enemies, the chance to kill an enemy with one shot or do critical damage. Everything makes the game a fraction easier, but its never enough to notice a difference. One of the double-edged swords is the upgrade to split beams. In theory that sounds great, but in practice you shoot in a V which means you need to maneuver around differently when enemies are coming toward you.
On the plus side, you can upgrade your vessel too to do more damage, have better shields, more armor and so on. Since this is a game about killing things, I recommend just pour everything into attack power. The quicker your foes die, the safer you are.
Some of your own attacks are questionable. The strong straight laser feels powerful, but the homing missiles are slow and detonate if you destroy the vessel they were aiming at. So by the time they get to their target, its dead, making the missiles almost useless. Good thing there is an achievement for using them. One thing that the game has going for it are the easy achievements that a low percentage of people have.
Perhaps the most aggravating part of Survive in Space are the cheap deaths that come in two forms. The first are the invisible ships that decloak. You can see them and they move in a slow, straight path, but when it gets chaotic they can decloak in on you. The other cheap death is something similar where a vessel will make a portal. The portal starts small so you can see it… unless you sit and shoot, then the portal opens wide and throws out a vessel. These two cheap deaths are the only time I ever die.
To the game’s credit, you can make your own challenge for each level. Its more then difficulty, there are three check boxes for more enemies, fortresses that fly by and shoot at you and asteroids. Yes asteroids fly at you, which makes me feel the Asteroids vibe even more. I have gotten to the point where I am unstoppable so I add asteroids and fortresses. You get extra experience for the extra challenge. More enemies seems to spawn a little too much to handle and when this is a grind, you need to play it safe.
I have avoided perhaps the worst thing about the game and that is the art. In the game, the art is fine, but there are several cut scenes with art that just feels out of place. I am sure someone worked hard on the art, but it cheapens the look of the game. In the end, I’m just there for the arcade experience, so I skip the cut scenes.
Another downside to the game is with your ability to chose between red and blue on the fly means you shoot the same color of bullets. However, enemies fire their own color coated bullets, so if you’re red and red bullets are being fired at you, then they just blend in with your own. Now that I’ve said it, you do have plenty of health and shields to compensate.
If you need a reason to stay in the game longer, there are other vessels to play. That might keep your interest, but after the sheer investment of time into one vessel, its best to just stick with what you know.
In the end, I’m still on the fence if I can recommend it. Its enjoyable, but a chore. Its fun, but there’s just too much of not enough. There are other similar games out there, that feel better to play or have more charm or a better look. Survive in Space is still a fun time waster, but I’d like more diversity when I’m playing the same level over and over again with a new hat. For the right price its well worth the risk to see if you enjoy it.