Written by  :  Anatole (61)
Written on  :  Jul 02, 2001
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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A revolutionary online game, kept alive by its devoted player base.

The Good

In 1996, VIE (Virgin Interactive Entertainment), began releasing public betas of its newest project, basically a Massively Multiplayer Online Shmup (Shoot 'em up) called SubSpace. Virgin listened to user feedback, and continued to open test new versions, for two years, releasing retail copies and bundling versions with other software. Finally, in 1998 VIE abandoned the project, much to the chagrin of the online community it had developed. VIE folded shortly thereafter, but the online community not only sustained itself, but grew, while savvy fans further tinkered with VIE's final build, eventually releasing their own SS client, Continuum. Because no company owns SubSpace now, it has fallen into the hands of it's players, and has become one of the most successful stories of the MMOG era.

At it's heart, SubSpace owes a LOT to Asteroids. You fly around in a 2D rendered ship, blasting other ships instead of the benign rocks. There are eight different kinds of ships, but their attributes and special powers vary greatly between each of the user-run zones. Running SubSpace is simple...you pick a zone with a good ping, and connect. The game was/is very far ahead of it's time, and today's team-based shooters such as Counter-Strike and Tribes, while maybe not directly inspired by this game, definitely owe it something.

Each ship has a certain amount of constantly regenerating energy, which is depleted by both being hit and firing. Lose all your energy, and you explode and have to respawn. A ship's standard weapon is usually its guns, and it can pick up (depending again on the zone) several kinds of unique weapons, such as bombs that have devastating area effects, repels which deflect incoming shots, and stealth from both radar and visibility (but cause energy to regenerate slowly or even go down).

Zones are diverse and include capture the flag zones (Death Star Battle), base assault zones (Trench Wars), and good ol' fashioned deathmatch (Chaos). Zones usually have a few moderator ships (known as Ops) that can put players in spectator mode for unruly behavior or cheating. However, the release of Continuum holds the promise of almost eliminating cheaters from the game.

Also, since all the action keys are Tab, Control, PgUp, and the like, chatting in game is a breeze. Simply type your message and press enter. Using simple prefixes, you can send messages one-on-one, to everyone on your team, to everyone on the other team, or everyone on your squad. You can even send audio files under 32K.

The Bad

Some of SS's problems are inherent in most online games. For instance, expect around 33% of the people you meet to be jerks. You know, the kind that spam and swear excessively, and spend more time jawing than playing the damn game. Also, newbies should expect a rough time until they learn some skillz. Sadly, the tutorial level included in all the versions of SS has been done away with in the new Continuum client, so I suggest newbies download an old version of SS and run through the tutorial first. Lag can be a problem too, and slow connections are routinely yanked out of the game into spectator mode or booted off the server entirely. Fortunately, since this game is relatively primitive, it can be run stably on a 28.8.

However, for a 2D game, SS can be quite a bandwidth hog sometimes. You have to turn off ICQ, Gnutella, and any firewalls unless you want choppy, unplayable nonsense. And sometimes not even a 56K can handle SS with all the graphical trimmings (there is a host of optional details in the menu). Broadband users are at a slight advantage because they can set the game to run at a higher resolution and thus see farther than those at 640 X 480.

And since VIE only had one set of architecture for the game's zones, they all have a similar look to them. You can download skins, but it's not recommended.

The Bottom Line

Because of the wide differences in play styles in the various Zones, it's almost impossible to describe SubSpace as anything more detailed than revolutionary, action-packed, and above all, FUN!


Leviathan 4 ever!!