The latest game from David Scott of The Casual Collective has either the most generic title ever, or the most confident. You see, it's not just some space game, it's not one of those space games, no, it's The Space Game, the one and only; and yea, there has been no other space game before it and there shall be none after. Scott describes the game as a mashup of Vector TD 2 and Oxeye Studios' Harvest: Massive Encounter, and that's a fine summary. It combines the epic scale and frantic pace of Harvest with the depth and abstract style of Vector, and the result sets a new standard for browser-based real-time strategy games.
The Space Game is set in the vast reaches of Canada, oh wait I mean SPACE, where there await fields of mineral-rich asteroids, ripe for exploitation. You, playing the part of a heavily armed mining company, must set up shop in the midst of the 'roids and extract their mineralistic goodness. That's it. Game over.
HOLD ON THERE ARE SPACE PIRATES. Hundreds and hundreds of them, actually. It seems that the best asteroid belts lie within pirate territory, and they love nothing more than to crack open space miners' skulls and feast on their space brains. Expect them to send unbelievably huge swarms of space ships to accomplish that space goal, which results in some space gigantic and space exciting space battles. Space.
So, the basic flow of gameplay is to pop out mining orbs near the asteroids, harvest their minerals, and use those resources to build defenses against the pirates, which in turn allows you to stay alive to mine another day. In order to power your miners and your laser defense grid, you'll need to build Solar Stations, and connect them physically to your other structures by means of relays. All this feels very fluid and natural; building a structure, if you have enough minerals of course, is as simple as clicking once on its icon in the build menu (or pressing its numerical hotkey) and then clicking on the screen where you want it. Upgrading one is a mere matter of clicking on it, and then pressing the space bar or clicking the upgrade icon.
The Space Game comes with a decent selection of modes with multiple difficulty levels, including a Mining Mode, where you accumulate a proscribed number of minerals as fast as possible; and a Survival Mode, where you stay alive as long as you can. I advise playing the Training mode first, then making your way through the well-tuned and perfectly-paced story missions, which smooth out the learning curve by introducing the different enemy types one by one.
Analysis: The Space Game is a shining example of how to make complex gameplay accessible. Your onscreen indicators convey a huge amount of information without overwhelming you or obscuring the wide open, attractive play field. Mastering the keyboard hotkeys allows you to build at a blistering pace, but it's possible—even reasonable—to play the entire game using only the mouse. All of your available options are there to make your gaming experience easier and more pleasurable. The space pirates are your enemy, not the controls. There's even a colorblind mode, selectable through the in-game options menu. This is the slickest, most professional presentation I've seen from the Casual Collective, or nearly any other Flash developer for that matter.
If you enjoy The Space Game, be sure to play the follow-up, The Space Game: Missions.
The freedom of building in two dimensions gives you a lot of room to experiment and find your own strategy. In the end, it's essentially a numbers game, like any other tower defense title, but the sheer scope of the battles make it feel like quality space opera. Because you can see each new wave of pirates coming, it's always a mad scramble to get a new bank of lasers powered and assembled before they arrive. Constant tension plus simple controls plus nearly unlimited mathematical depth equals awesome strategy game.
It's a common problem with defense games, but The Space Game is so tightly focused, it can start to feel repetitive. If the game continues to develop, I'd like to see a story mode with, you know, an actual story, and a deeper variety of goals. However, this is an absolutely rock-solid foundation. If the game is successful, Scott plans to add multiplayer games, player-controlled ships, and a variety of other modes that should extend its life. And there's no reason why it shouldn't be successful. After all, it's The Space Game, the one and only.
Note: The Space Game is also available to play at the Casual Collective, where you get access to a couple of bonus modes, if you have a membership.