From Space: When Pink Means Danger
Co-op action against pink aliens? Help save Earth with your friends!
A giant crystal meteor impacting earth would be a disastrous global event in itself. Subsequently defending against space invaders intent on attacking us and stealing the fallen meteor crystals is an even bigger job and can only be accomplished through teamwork and innumerable amounts of ammo in From Space, a 2.5D top-down twin-stick shooter for up to four players in online co-op. This latest offering from Triangle Studios leans into the bubblegum color palette of the 80s with neon pink crystal deposits, aliens, and monsters. The gun-toting, alien-fighting crew comprises members who look like they were last deployed in Team America: World Police, minus the crude humor.
Squad members can choose from defensive, offensive, and support specialist roles. Each specialist type has two characters with the same base stats, but different specialist weapons, perks, and items. The game starts you off with a basic loaded pistol. Additional weapons, ammo, perks, and supporting items like grenades, barbed wire, and health packs are picked up while traveling through the world. Killing the pink aliens accumulates experience, while also randomly dropping energy orbs, ammo, and health. The accumulated experience levels up your specialists, which improves their base stats, and also eventually unlocks the specialist weapons. Other specialist items and perks are obtained by completing different missions and tasks.
The primary missions advance the main goal of preventing the aliens from harvesting the crystal energy and destroying our world. Meanwhile, successfully carrying out tasks commissioned by other NPCs allows you to recruit them to join your squad, which can be helpful if you’re playing solo, and also indirectly decreases the aliens’ ability to harvest crystal energy. Missions and tasks can involve anything from escorting NPCs through hazardous terrain while ensuring their survival, transporting an item to a designated location, defending a post against waves of aliens, or taking out alien nests.
In all cases, you can always assume that you’ll run into no less than three aliens in any given area, ranging from aliens that crawl like animated sticks of chewing gum, to hopping little beasts with gnashing teeth. As you progress, different types of aliens start to appear and present more challenges, from exploding spiders to toxin-spitting worms and shield-bearing brawlers - you do not want to be caught in that neon pink horde alone!
Different types of weapons and ammo boxes are found in random map locations. Regular weapons require either ballistic, explosive or plasma ammo, while specialist weapons take their own distinct ammo type. You cannot carry more than one of the same weapon, but you can have multiple weapons that utilize the same type of ammo. With only two weapon slots in the beginning, however, your options are very limited, especially since weapons do not appear very frequently. I found ballistic weapons like the assault rifle to be the most reliable in terms of damage and rate of fire. The flamethrower, which takes explosive ammo, is very good at applying damage over time to crowds but also risks injuring yourself and your teammates. Judicious use of that particular weapon is vital but almost impossible to maintain when descended upon by the enemy masses. Plasma-based weapons like the zapper were much more useful but also took longer to reload.
Once you have gathered enough pink energy orbs by collecting alien drops and destroying crystal deposits, you can upgrade your non-specialist weapons at safe zone workbenches. Specialist weapons are automatically upgraded by leveling up in experience. You can also switch specialists at safe zones and other locations scattered across the map. All specialists share the same experience level, which is a relief since it means that players do not need to keep replaying the game just to level up each individual character. This also makes switching specialists during gameplay worthwhile, since you will be able to use a character with improved base stats that is best matched to the mission.
The selection of co-op action games for four or more players that do not fall into the horror genre is sparse, making From Space a welcome, if occasionally exasperating, addition to the category. As the spiritual successor to Triangle Studios’ earlier couch co-op arcade shooter, It Came From Space And Ate Our Brains, From Space continues to focus on the co-op experience. I typically enjoy playing offensive characters, but when playing solo, I found the offensive specialists’ base stats inadequate against the attacking hordes. This is somewhat mitigated when playing as part of a co-op squad comprising other support and defense specialists, although I still did not find the offensive specialists’ damage-dealing ability to be a worthwhile tradeoff for their fragility. Ultimately, I found the defense and support specialists to be the most fun and useful in both co-op and solo play, once their specialist weapons, items, and perks are unlocked.
With a full squad of players, managing health, stamina, and ammo while watching each other’s backs is challenging and can be fun. An accumulation of seemingly minor design choices, however, such as the inconsistent appearance of health packs at safe zones, frequently detracted from a fully enjoyable experience. Initially lacking an autosave feature, From Space characters lost any experience and crystals gained if players died between saves, which is a common occurrence in this frenzied, action game. The odd decision to require players to activate the save feature the first time they visited each safe zone was an additional unnecessary annoyance. Fortunately, the developers have since issued a patch to enable autosave when players are out of combat, which in my opinion has greatly improved the gameplay experience.
From Space co-op games are locally hosted, which means that any progression in the game or your character is saved to the host’s account. This is not a problem if you only ever want to play with the same group of people every time. If however, you wish to level up your character on your own to bring into the squad later, or to contribute to a different squad, you will not be able to do so currently. Based on a recent developer Q&A posted to Steam, local hosting was a reasonable choice based on the resources available to an indie studio. It also appears to be a logical next step up from the couch co-op experience. Nevertheless, the developers are now actively working on features requested by the community, including allowing players to bring saved co-op games to their solo play, and allowing low-level characters to catch up faster to higher-level characters in a squad.
The initial playthrough in both solo and co-op scenarios proved slightly vexing and perhaps may have benefited from releasing in early access. That said, From Space can still be a fun experience, especially since the developers appear to be actively updating the game based on community feedback since its release in early November. Their first patch notes addressed a number of my issues and noted ongoing work on a variety of other community concerns. Since then, they’ve released two other patches - all positive notes indicating developer interest and progress toward making a more enjoyable game.
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