Video games just seem to be getting more and more complicated these days. Aeon Command, a sci-fi computer game from developer Bat Country Games, goes the other direction by offering players an experience that's easy to learn, simple to control, and fun to play.
Aeon Command is a game that takes place in outer space. To be specific, it takes place within a mineral-rich nebula where three factions -- the Alliance, Exiles, and Cyborgs -- are warring over control of the region and the precious resourced within and.... well... that's about it. Stopping just short of no story at all, Aeon Command has a rational premise but no follow through to make the player feel any real attachment to it.
As far as gameplay goes, do you remember playing "Tug of War" in grade school or at summer camp? Well, in a way Aeon Command is much like that schoolyard activity. Instead of a rope over a mud pit, however, each of the two sides has a mother ship and a fleet of ships ready to be constructed and sent towards the destruction of the opponent's. In short, that's all there is to the playing of Aeon Command. At length, there is more to it and it all seems to flow quite nicely.
The aforementioned fleet of ships are constructed using materials that are mined from asteroids nearby the stationary mother ship akin to how resources in games such as Starcraft are mined. These resources accumulate, and the player is then able to build (buy) any of the game's six classes of ship ranging from the weak yet nimble fighter class all the way up to the dreadnought-like Star Ship. Once built, ships automatically go their merry way towards the opposing mother ship and will engage any enemy ships it encounters along the way. Cool and collected, it's a low-key yet enjoyable combination of space shooter and real-time strategy.
Adding some depth, there are two types of upgrades: permanent and in-battle. Permanent upgrades are bought with gears that can be claimed from winning battles. These are upgrades that are done outside of the game's three campaigns, yet effect the statistics and behaviors of the ships in those campaigns. For example, users can permanently buy down the time it takes for resources to be mined, permanently increase an offensive/defensive stat for any class ship for a specific faction, or cheapen the energy cost for an affiliation's special power.
In-battle upgrades are similar to the permanent ones, but they are done during skirmishes and are bought using resources. These only last until the level is over. The only unfortunate thing (and it's a problem whenever anything -- dialogue, menus, etc. -- pop-up during battles) is that these options overlay the action while the upgrades menu is active. This wouldn't be much of a problem had the battle been paused in the background. Instead, war continued to wage without any human interaction or management until the menu (or dialogue box) was cleared.
As for those affiliation-specific special powers -- they're nifty. They can be quite powerful if executed correctly, but they are hardly game-changers. Still, the ability to cause a lot of area damage to opposing ships; or briefly repair your own can come in quite handy during the game's various skirmishes.
Aeon Command itself is broken down into three game types: Campaign, Skirmish, and Multiplayer. Campaign is the real "meat and potatoes" and is where players not only learn the ropes, but also progress through the game's nearly non-existent story, playing through all three factions. Skirmish is for one-off on-demand matches. Multiplayer is exactly what it sounds like, though good luck actually using this feature. There were all of six players online (according to the game's lobby system) and after almost five minutes waiting for a game match, the "cancel" button was clicked and multiplayer was exited from forever.
Visually, Aeon Command is a very clean game. Ship models are 3D-ish and the starfield in the background is presented subtly enough that it doesn't get in the way of the action. This game might not win any awards for graphic design, but it looks nice enough. As trivial as it seems, the game's menus (both in-battle and out) aren't as pretty as they maybe could have been. But, for a game made by a two-man team, that could be allowed to let slide.
In the audio department, there really isn't a whole lot to say -- mostly because there isn't a whole lot to hear. There is no soundtrack to speak of, so all players really hear are the weapons of ships, explosions, and other atmospheric sounds. The quality of these sound effects seem fine, but Bat Country Games could have added more presentation depth by implementing a few subtle tracks worth of background music.
Overall, Aeon Commands (which carries a MSRP of only eight bucks) is a rather enjoyable game that should attract both casual and hardcore players alike. It's got decent bang for the buck and is just as good playing in spurts as it is at length.
(GamersGate supplied a copy of this game for review.)