Salvation Prophecy (PC) – Review

One man. One vision. Firedance Games’ debut title fights an intergalactic war on all fronts.

We like to discuss ‘the damndest things’ on the Squadron of Shame. Those curious titles that either defy explanation or require one or two runs up and down an elevator to get the pitch out. Salvation Prophecy is a little like that. In short, Salvation Prophecy is a space dogfighter, a third-person shooter and a tactical system-level strategy game, with each facet hinging on RPG-like upgrades and skills. Not only that, but it’s well-written, remarkably attractive and features a very wry sense of humour. And, might I add, coded and written by a single individual.

Players can choose from four particular factions, then embark on a journey of conquest to secure their ascension and dominion over neighbouring bellicosity. As mentioned, gameplay is split across three particular facets. Space combat, ground combat and a strategic mode. A faction space station features as a mission hub, as well as a place to upgrade skills and armaments, purchase weaponry and assorted items. Players are free to wander around their station between missions, taking to the various NPCs and generally set their own pace.

And pace is an interesting aspect of Salvation Prophecy, as everything happens in real time. Enemy factions will operate under their own free will in some semblance of interstellar sandboxery, with fleets of ships raiding friendly space stations, invading planets, developing their own and so forth. There’s a fairly deft attempt at evoking a sense of a truly living universe, and while it often boils down to shoot-shoot-shoot, admiration is certainly elicited.

While there is a dedicated mission line ushered upon the player through a military advisor, you are free to take on a variety of sidequests, again, that usually contain hunting down a bounty. Despite the relative lack of deviation, the adequate ground combat and more than competent space combat is offset by levelling and ability or skill augments. It’s alarmingly well-implemented from a holistic perspective and does a fine job in accelerating visible battlefield prowess.

Ground combat feels like one of those curious late Nineties or early Noughts affairs, in the vein of Evolva or perhaps Giants: Citizen Kabuto.  Salvation Prophecy is not nearly as flexible or effortless as those titles, but despite a certain awkwardness or comparative unwieldiness, players do find themselves being in the thick of battle on alien worlds.  Dropships and fliers roaring overhead, mechs stalking over obsidian ridges or through gargantuan incandescent forests, your troops thumping along beside you as the factions clash.  Defenders pour across the landscape in defense of the planetary installations – the resource factories and barracks, the energy generators and turrets, these buildings that keep an enemy foothold in the system and fuel their war effort.

You can begin to appreciate the scope the sole developer has tried to capture here. These missions, when set apart from the grand majesty of factional machinations, often border on monotonous. However, when you understand that this very invasion – objectively insignificant though it may seem – is part of a greater plot. The teeth of a small cog as it winds its way through the guts and gears of an interstellar war machine.

Space combat is quite a showcase for this independent developer. It’s chunky and not particularly precise, taking cues from mouse-driven affairs like Freelancer, rather than Freespace. The ship models look great, the feeling of flying amidst a massive dogfight is effected rather deftly and there’s an impressive cohesion of scale and colour. Salvation Prophecy‘s space aspect shouldn’t be undersold as simplistic, as it has a great radial menu interface for fleet action delegation, communication, scanning and stellar orientation.

The strategic aspect has players developing systems and planets with installations that both fill the coffers and feed the war effort. Troops stationed on pivotal planets can be ordered to take part in a near-system invasion or defend against attack, bolstered by defence installations and stations in the vicinity. Fighter wings can be ordered thither and yon. Players can set freshly discovered and uninhabited planets to be colonised. Space stations can be ordered to construct space vessels, from fighters to battleships and so on.

You can see how these three pillars of Salvation Prophecy work together to proffer a strangely compelling and wide-angled view over a faction, but also keep the player feeling as though they’re in the thick of it. Station hubs have troops rushing about, boarding dropships and returning from sorties, which leads to a tangible sense of place and urgency. This is especially true when coupled with real time aspects. Klaxxons blare when a station comes under fire from raiding enemies, with pilots racing towards the hangar bay and fighters pouring out of the launch bay. You get a notification when events within your empire happen and thus have time to delegate a response team and, delightfully, are invited to join in with the invasion or the stand.

It took this one-man team and his group of outsourced artists across the globe five years to complete Salvation Prophecy. Much like SunAge, there’s something amazing about that and it should definitely be recognised as a feat of sheer willpower. However, Salvation Prophecy is not perfect. Cumulatively, it features three varied aspects, but individually, these gameplay modules are not as deep as perhaps they could be. Combat effects and player feedback is a little thin. There isn’t a particularly strong sense of place to individual planets. The physicality of the space stations is defeated somewhat by limited locales within – though scale still remains impressive on both the dropship and fighter hangars.

Despite this, and I type this with a geeky grin, Salvation Prophecy is a marvellous first step for a one-man army. I’m a person who admires the games of Derek Smart and the sense of scale and technicality they strive for, so it is no pejorative when I say I felt like I was enjoying a strange arcade spin-off of a Smart title. Like Smart’s games, Salvation Prophecy has often more than adequate graphics – sometimes even beautiful, but that classic utilitarian functionality rules over copious window dressing. And when investigating the narrative and dialogue within Salvation Prophecy, unlike Derek Smart’s titles, there’s a profound undercurrent of humour running through the game. I shan’t spoil any of it, but there are some real gems in the game – especially the tutorial.

If you’re partial to those strange titles in the ether that go beyond the norm and try something different, Salvation Prophecy is a good option. If you enjoyed The Precursors, you’d enjoy Salvation Prophecy. Hell, if you just want to see what one guy can achieve by breaking the cliched mindset of “independent developer” and creating one of those loveable “damndest things”, I’d recommend keeping an eye on this one. It’s a fine effort and I’m rather curious to see what comes next. Let’s hope it doesn’t take quite as long.

This review copy was kindly supplied by Firedance Games