Retro Game Review: Escape Velocity Nova

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Currently, the video game industry is in a weird place. On the one hand, millions and millions of normal folks are playing very simple mobile games, such as Candy Crush Saga, among others. On the other, hardcore gamers are enjoying hyper realistic, often violent games with big in-game universes. And on some other tentacle, there’re the nerds and geeks who still take pride in their digital paladins and Elder Scrolls barbarians. In general, though, the most successful games are easy, addictive mobile and party video games, the word “saga” now synonymous with cute candy things.

This present atmosphere of mindless gaming fills me with nostalgia for certain games released some time ago. I recall when games meant story, and graphics engines were not powerful enough to make said narratives subordinate. Sure, there were always mindless video games, but if I remember correctly they were more creative than they are now. For instance, a mind boggling, puzzle-laden world such as Myst wouldn’t be as popular today.

Escape Velocity Nova

The first computer games company I fell in love with was a developer for Macintosh called Ambrosia Software. Their stuff was awesome. Even their silly games had a quirkiness about them that stood out (try titles like Aperion and Bubble Trouble).

Their best game, though, was a space adventuring game called Escape Velocity. In it, and the sequel EV Override, you piloted a shuttle in an expansive galactic setting, and had the freedom to follow multiple storylines. They were highly engrossing games, not only for their promise of bigger and badder starships, but for a science fiction narrative that sucked you in.

In 2002, the third game in the trilogy came out. EV Nova, a much improved version of the first two, was and still is supremely awesome, and worth playing today.

Escape Velocity Nova

EV Nova starts similarly to the first two in the series, with the player piloting his or her first ship, a little shuttle with very few capabilities. Narrative provided at the beginning hints at a huge universe of possibilities, giving the opportunity to follow any of the main and minor storylines. The setting is the Milky Way many, many years in the future, and the galaxy is split into human and extraterrestrial factions. And they are warring, which is awesome. There’s even a telepathic race called the Vell-Os that appears at different points of the story. Plus, space pirates (who doesn’t like the idea of being a space pirate?). The game has all the charm of an older school RPG, with some sleek twists and a gorgeous aesthetic (for 2002, but it’s still badass).

As far as gameplay goes, EV Nova is pretty solid. Piloting the ship is easy via lots of key commands (you can choose to just zoom about or utilize a broad range of controls and specific technologies added on to your ship). The interface is simple and the game environment is lush with details like asteroids, different styles of planets and space stations, and the constant threat of random spaceship combat. The visual style and meticulous narrative leaves room for imagination, too, which is excellently rad. It’s more or less Eve Online as I understand it, but like a chilled out version that doesn’t take all your money and time.

AmbrosiaSW offers the game for a trial period of 30 days, after which you have to pay 30 bucks for the full license (a little steep, but worth it). After 30 days, Captain Hector, an NPC in a super-powered ship, follows you and continues to shoot you out of the sky (it’s a funny marketing device, and definitely works). It’s available for Apple and PC, and because it´s an older game you really don’t need a great video card or a lot of processing power (it works on Mac OS 9!). I highly recommend downloading the free trial, then buying the full license. You’ll be supporting Shareware (I miss Shareware) and a small developer (damn you, Blizzard!). And you too will feel nostalgia for old school games, cause 2D was always the most badass way to game (just ask awesome folks still rocking out to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, arguably one of the best games ever). Now that was a goddamned saga.

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