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Publisher: Ambrosia Software    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3    RAM: 128 MB    Graphics: 640x480 @ 16-bit

Escape Velocity: Nova
March 25, 2002 | Richard Porcher

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Say the word Ambrosia to the average Mac gamer, and the first thing that comes to mind isn't what Greek deities feast upon. To anyone reading this review, Ambrosia is the uber-shareware company that brought us the space trading, shoot 'em up hit Escape Velocity, and its equally ambitious follow-up, EV: Override. These titles are so popular that they have been known to invoke serious cases of Mac-envy in otherwise staunch PC using gamers. I've known more than one PC user whose secret vice was sneaking into my room while I was away, to dominate just one more planet or sneak in a few more cargo runs in preparation for buying that shiny new battlecruiser. Imagine their red-faced shame to discover later, their dirty little habit caught on my desk cam.

Now, PC gamers may have yet another vice with which to contend. On March 18, Ambrosia released the long-awaited third installment in the venerable EV line, Escape Velocity: Nova. Long time EV fans were lined up around the virtual block for a month in advance to download this game. When word hit the developer's log that the game had gone Gold Master, fans were posting away on the EVN message boards, demanding to know why they had to wait to download it.

But all good things come to those who wait, and EVN was released a week later, setting off an avalanche of downloads, totaling 10,000 in the first two days from MacGameFiles alone.

Now, what we all want to know is: was it worth it? Does Ambrosia's latest offering live up to the two-year hype? Has the Escape Velocity legacy been well-served, or is EV 3 just another Alien 3?

Let's find out.

Like its predecessors, EV: Nova is difficult to peg into any of the traditional video game genres. It is equal parts trading sim, action-adventure, strategy game, and even contains elements of an RPG. You start the game as a novice captain, fresh out of spacedock, orbiting a planet or spacestation in your trusty, but woefully inadequate, shuttlecraft. (Wise players will immediately upgrade to the sturdier Heavy Shuttle.) You're given a handful of credits, a quick message telling you how to land on the nearby planet, and off you go. From this inauspicious beginning, you must decide your destiny by becoming whatever kind of space-captain you can. If any of you remember the now ancient game AutoDuel, then this concept will be familiar to you. Both games share a similar heritage.

This has always been the strength of the Escape Velocity series, and it remains true with Nova- the ability to play the game in whatever manner you choose. Are you a Han Solo fan? The you can become a swashbuckling smuggler (and even join the rebellion to boot.) Do you idolize Marco Polo? Then be a trader, buying low and selling high the commodities that lubricate the engines of galactic commerce. Got a mean streak? Be a pirate and ambush all of those enormous, unwieldy freighters, stripping them of their cargo and perhaps capturing them for your own. Just want to try and make it on your own as a decent guy? Check out the mission BBS computers at most spaceports. There are almost always any number of tasks that people are willing to hire you to undertake. You really can do anything in any way you like; there's very little pressure for you to conform to any particular play style. Unlike most epic games, you don't enter the game as a crusader, out to save the universe (not yet.) You don't have to follow a set path. You're just an unknown pilot in a vast universe (I still haven't explored it all) with a multitude of possibilities set before you.

Play long enough, however, and you will find yourself inevitably drawn into a variety of intricately shifting plotlines that make up the greater story of Nova. While you can choose to remain outside of the story, you would be missing out on the best part of the game. EV: Nova features six major plotlines, each of which is mutually exclusive (which means you will have to start a new game to experience the others; but more on that later) and can potentially change the structure of the galaxy, shifting the balance of power from one galactic power to another. During the course of the game, you will come into contact with various governmental factions within known space, each one pulling and twisting the strings of politics, some engaged in all-out war, to gain themselves an advantage against their rivals. In the midst of this rivalry and turmoil, you must either decide who to support, or remain neutral.

In addition to the major plotlines, there are numerous sub plots and smaller missions to undertake. In all, there are over 700 missions in Nova, a dramatic departure from the smaller limit in previous games.

One welcome addition to Nova will be discovered immediately. As soon as you set down on a planet for the first time, you will be greeted by a benevolent stranger who will kindly volunteer to fly around with you for a while and show you, essentially, how to play the game. This series of tutorial missions is perfect for people new to EV, or for players who need a refresher. Seasoned EV veterans may even find it a useful way to get oriented to the way Nova works. Of course, you may not want to have your hand held while you cross the galaxy, so feel free to snub the benevolent old spacer, if you wish.

EV: Nova is a vast game. I can't stress this enough. If I tried to complete every mission and visit every planet and system before writing this review, you might be playing EV4 before reading this. Seriously. But the beauty is that you do not have to try to do and see it all in every game. In fact, you probably should not. Just take in what you can and come back later for more.


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