Black Market (Beta)
Welcome to Black Market, a resource trading simulation from Big Block Media, where you'll be put in the space shoes of Vincent Wake, a greenhorn to the whole inter-planetary trading thing. Luckily, you'll both have the dubious guidance of Hardgrove, a man who lives inside Vincent's eye-patch (or rather I-Patch). He's like a tutorial that haunts your accessories. Black Market's gameplay is at its most basic a resource trading simulation. You buy your commodities for a low price then do some space truckin' to a planet where you can sell them at a higher price. You can smuggle illegal items if you want, but there's always a chance your cargo might get searched as you're docking. That's the least of your worries, though. A far bigger threat are the pirates that roam the trade routes.
And eventually those pirates are going to catch up to you, so you better be ready. Luckily, there's quite a few weapons at your disposal. There's your speedy beam cannons and missile launchers, then you've got your fighter drone swarms and EMP bursts. There's also a whole host of automatic defensive and offensive lasers and special gadgets that can give damage boosts or repair your ship. Combat itself is pretty simple. Use either your mouse of the keyboard hotkeys to select the weapon you want to use on an enemy ship and BLAMMO! it gets unleashed. The weapon will then enter a cooldown period and you'll have to wait a short amount of time before you can use it again. As you hit your enemy, they'll jettison a crate every so often and when you destroy their ship they'll leave behind a lot of crates. Use your tractor beam to pull in crates and you'll get extra money and, if you're lucky, some commodities or equipment.
Every time you make a trade or win a battle, you'll get experience points that contribute to you gaining a level. Every level nets you five skill points that you can invest in one of the four skills: weapons, navigation, trading and piloting. The higher your skill level in a category the more resources, ship parts or better ship you can buy in the case of weapons, trading and piloting or the more places you can go in regard to navigation. Most items have a minimum skill level requirement so if you're going to dominate the spaceways you better beef yourself up.
Analysis: It's important that you know that Black Market is planned as a three part series, the part currently available being Episode I. Big Block Media's current plan is to have the next two episodes be pay-to-play. While that might be a turn-off for some of you, don't let that stop you from enjoying Episode I which offers a lot of content and more importantly is a great game.
If you like games like Frontier or Caravaneer then you'll absolutely love Black Market. Hold on, though, even if you don't care for trading sims, there's a lot more to enjoy in this game. In fact, if you want commodity trading can take a back seat to engaging in space combat or completing the story missions. Likewise, if you only care about making a lot of money you can concentrate on trading. Since you're awarded experience for selling resources you can skill gain levels and open up new items. It's a well designed system that only has one problem. When you visit a planet, you can go to the local bar and buy people drinks in the hopes of getting info from them. The most important info will help you make choices about what to buy and where to sell. But, even if you get a tip like "burn battery prices are through the roof on Dante" you might very well have no idea where Dante is. This wouldn't be too much of a problem but you don't seem to be able to see the whole map of the planets. Your scope is limited and it will make you hesitate to go exploring, especially if you don't know if you even have the skill level to get where you're going. Still, there's a lot of trading opportunities on the planets you're familiar with.
The combat system is a big part of what really separates Black Market from other games in this genre. It actively engages you, battles are often quick so they don't get tedious and there's a lot of different weapon set-ups you can try. Most battles are a little bit on the easy side if your ship is fully repaired, but if you're careless you can find yourself running away in an escape pod. Having your ship destroyed is kind of annoying, especially when you were hauling a lot of cargo and lose it all or if you have to repurchase a piece of equipment in order to complete a story mission. Thankfully, the bottom of the barrel ship isn't too expensive and it's pretty good for hauling and fighting. If you want more of a challenge you can turn on the experimental beta combat mode where you'll find yourself fighting off several enemy ships in each battle.
For those who like story with your space combat, you'll find a lot here. It's not the greatest plot in the world, but the writing is well done. All the characters are distinct and the Black Market world is thought out and interesting. What Black Market does better than most games is humor. Not every joke will hit for every player, but I never groaned while reading any of them. In fact it's one of the few games where I welcomed the creators trying to be funny.
Black Market is a lot of fun with very few drawbacks. With a lot of ways to play there's bound to be something that will appeal to a player. It's updated frequently with bug fixes brought up by the community. It's highly addictive and thankfully there's a lot of content to gorge yourself on. Even if you're not a fan of resource trading games don't let that stop you from trying out a game this good.