Why, I ask my girlfriend, do you hate 'space' so much? "Because it's stupid. I mean, there's nothing there. Its cold. And its dark. And its LAME."
I always have found this position hard to understand. To me, space always meant possibility: the infinity of the unknown, a canvas for imagination. And indeed, some of the best things we know have come from space. Things like Velcro, the Autobots, TANG and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
But these days, the space we find in the popular consciousness more resembles the nihilist vacuum my girlfriend so detests. The NASA shuttles are grounded, our last batch of comet samples kissed the New Mexico desert at 200 MPH, and UPN's Enterprise is possibly the worst thing on TV (and thats a damning charge indeed). These days, space just doesn't seem like it's worth anyone's attention, and sci-fi fans have never felt less loved in their love of inky nothingness and absolute zero. But as any sci-fi fan knows (especially sci-fi fans, actually), even at the darkest hour hope burns eternal.
Enter Guild Software. Their three-year development mission: to bring us back to the good old days of space battles, trade runs and neutral zone politics with the massive multiplayer online (MMO) game Vendetta Online. But can they deliver that special kind of fun, or are gamers left choking for air in empty space?
To Guild Software's credit, they've created a hell of a lot of something out of nothing. Vendetta drops you into a 3D universe of hypergate jumps, protected trade routes, guild politics, ship customization and yes, space battles with plenty of lasers. Guild Software is clearly trying to give the space enthusiast exactly what they want. The result is that much of Vendetta as a game is not 'if', but 'when': when will some pirates surprise you; when will you smash the hyperjump button at the last possible second before destruction; when will you escape battle with a flaming wreck of a ship; when will you trick your ship out with that GIANT LASER. It's this sense of suspense and satisfaction that makes Vendetta fun.
And yes -- oh yes! -- satisfaction comes at the expense of others. Combat is one thing that sets Vendetta apart from most other "point, click, kill" MMO's. Whereas any idiot can swing a sword or cast fireballs, Vendetta requires that you actually have skill. The 'four dimensional' flight controls necessary to navigate space are so well implemented in Vendetta that even the simple search-and-destroy missions you'll get as a novice are fun. Why? Because you'll know you are getting better. You can feel it.
At least, you had better feel it. To get you ready for that big, nasty, competitive place we call The Galaxy, the difficulty ramps up slowly but inevitably as your neighborhood grows from a space station, to a sector, to a system, and finally to intergalactic travel.
The player is never overwhelmed though. A gentle learning curve is made possible by a dual control system that can be toggled on the fly (or run if need be). In 'arcade' mode, your ship computer automatically compensates for you actions, allowing you to simply fly in the direction the pilot is looking. This will give you a chance to learn sub-systems like navigation and weapons control, but such spatial linearity will only serve you so long.