August 21, 2021

Taking the High Ground - HighFleet (PC) Review

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Taking the High Ground - HighFleet (PC) Review

By Joel | August 21, 2021
It’s a special game from start to finish, and perhaps, I'll go ahead and say it, one of the best of 2021 so far.

HighFleet cured my pandemic blues. And that's saying a lot.

The year is unknown and the surviving population of the old Earth are engulfed in civil war—the type of civil war that enables game developers to keep the ideologies vague and the names sinister-sounding. You play a Tarkhan captain tasked with capturing a key rebellion city in hopes of bringing the rebels to the negotiating table. But it's not going to be easy as generations of mistrust and bloodshed hinder any potential progress. There is a bad feeling all around.

Arriving at the mission objective, the young captain finds survivors, hears their stories and then is led into a virtual reality version of a close encounter of the third kind. Through narration, he is told about the history of the war and the secret of life on what used to be Earth and continues his journey in the most unexpected way.

Higher and Higher

I watched the cutscenes with pleasure that was frequently interrupted by frustration. The three key game mechanics (arcade shooting, strategy, and an RPG lite component) are very well done. But why does the game amble so casually between these high points? Why must I constantly worry about fuel or have to navigate levers and button pushes to simply get from one point to another?

And why, oh why, in a game where stories of past galactic battles, are we given just one ship to control against an armada of enemy ships? While I enjoyed HighFleet, I can't imagine why I had to go through so much to accomplish what I felt like was so little.

The game misses too many of its marks, especially early on. But I kept going because it had so many extraordinary things in it. It's as if the developer, Konstantine Koshutin, rises to the occasion with its slick graphics and presentations but falls slightly when trying to execute them.

An old friend of mine verbalized his simple definition of a good game: "If the game is missioned based, make sure there are more good missions than bad ones" Thankfully Highfleet does more good than bad.

Despite some of these annoyances, the game does breathe new life into the traditional blast 'em up tropes. Highfleet takes a little extra time to show off its laser beams, steering wheels, and hydraulic joints on its spaceships to make piloting one seem unique.

And the feeling conveyed when landing a spacecraft goes the extra mile to show the player the emotional stress and natural obstacles that one must overcome while solving physics-based dilemmas. The game may not be the next Homeworld, but on its own, it is pretty darn good.

HighFleet cured my pandemic blues. And that's saying a lot.

High Marks

It’s interesting to consider how HighFleet would have fared a decade or two ago when hybrid games like Battlezone and Uprising ruled the roost. I'm sure it would have had limited visibility due to it not being from a big named developer but would have most likely achieved a cult following simply by word of mouth alone.

Of course, access to good games—and this is a good game—is what matters, especially during a pandemic that is forcing many to stay at home, but I wonder if it will get the same traction as it’s buried in an overcrowded Steam service. I certainly hope not.

Overall, I absolutely enjoyed Highfleet. The storytelling is rich with a fantastic legacy featuring deep themes and an admirable structure that, at times, immerses the player in a real cosmic struggle. It’s a game that is not only fun to play, but demands to be replayed for many of its features will be overlooked the first time around. It’s a special game from start to finish and one of the best of 2021 so far.

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