Aim for the stars
Ambition is a necessity in the gaming industry, particularly if an indie developer aims to make a living in an industry dominated by AAA titles. Even with the newfound love of indie games in a maturing industry, small devs and publishers fight to have their collective voice heard. In these cases, ambition is key, whether it is to craft an immersive experience, a profound narrative, or an innovative style, etc., something needs to stand out for the general public to notice it. That isn’t to say there aren’t overlooked gems that include the aforementioned aspects, but it does explain why so many smaller titles typically reach for ambitious results.
Everreach: Project Eden is one such ambitious endeavor. Everreach has a solid foundation: written from a former Mass Effect narrative QA tester with a world designed by a professional artist with major film work, Everreach: Project Eden features a large, pretty world and a sprawling skill tree on top of an approximately eight hour narrative. The story follows Nora Harwood, an employee of Everreach, a company colonizing a new world. During the colonization efforts, Everreach lost contact with its colonial forces. In an effort to understand the blackout, Nora and two companions are sent to investigate and, if necessary, restore communications back home.
As the team enters the world where Project Eden, the resort-esque living space, is being constructed, they immediately come under fire. Nora learns, after shooting her way to an ally facility, that part of the original crew threw a coup and jammed all communications. Their hostilities are deadly, however, and each day is a test of survival for the remaining crew. You play as Nora as she completes various missions for the Project Eden crew in an attempt to restore communications and protect those under her care.
Gameplay sees Nora in a variety of predicaments. The majority of the game is spent on her feet, blasting away at enemies while completing objectives. She comes equipped with an assault rifle and a pistol, though I rarely diverged from the former weapon. The firing rate on the pistol was far too slow and the enemies far too powerful. Interspersed between segments of combat, Nora explores the world on her hover bike – which actually provides a pretty entertaining experience. The first bike mission has Nora fleeing an orbital bombing of sorts from an enemy gunship while avoiding boulders and land masses and, on occasion, enemy droids. It was a fun exercise in precision driving and vehicular combat, and I always had a good time in the riding segments.
With that said, gunplay did seem to suffer from jittery controls and clunky gameplay. I think the biggest issue I had was the poor aiming. It felt like the original Mass Effect aiming system, which hadn’t been tightened up as it was in its sequels. This wouldn’t necessarily be a big issue, but enemies absorb so much damage, and there are typically more than one blasting away at you, that you die with relative ease. Even this wouldn’t be the worst, except the game resets you at the beginning of each checkpoint, which is usually at the start of each encounter (this being each segment, not each particular soldier you battle). To make matters worse, the load time – at least on the Xbox One X, which is where this was reviewed – annihilates any feeling of immersion, and I often found myself perusing my phone while waiting. I could complete entire battles on some of my phone games before the game could load at some points.
Fortunately, that is my biggest issue: load times and questionable aiming. The game is still enjoyable, and the combat becomes strategic. Since I hated dying and didn’t trust the aiming, I had to utilize the environment in creative ways. This did expose of the ignorance of the AI, but they only danced around a boulder with me once or twice. Usually, they fired from above or a distance. After each level up, you get to distribute points into Nora’s three skill categories, each linked to character traits like hit points, etc. From there, you were able to grow Nora’s skill tree based on where you put her trait points and the materials you found via combat or chests. The skill tree did provide useful boosts, and any skill tree that works in a fashion similar to this usually holds my attention.
Visually, Everreach is a pretty looking game from an indie dev. No, it won’t compete against the likes of Red Dead Redemption II or any other AAA title. The character models are definitely dated, but the greens and shininess of the world do ease the eyes. Again, for what the game is, it could be much worse. For me, in some cases, sound and visuals go hand-in-hand, too. And while the voice acting in Everreach isn’t the worst I’ve ever heard – I’ve heard some pretty dreadful acting in my day – it also isn’t up to industry standard. It is, at the least, passable.
Still, ambitions were high for Everreach: Project Eden, and the scope of action the game wanted to cover was admirable. No, it won’t be the next Mass Effect, but it is a pleasant surprise in an industry that often overshadows smaller titles. What stands out, for me, in Everreach is how close it does come to resembling a AAA game. It’s not a 2D, sprite filled adventure, or artistic indie masterpiece, but it tries to break itself free from its indie niche; and it does so to an extent. For the price ($24.99), Everreach: Project Eden is also a very affordable game. Its 8 hours of story will likely take you longer – as it did for me – because of its challenge and controls, but its time I spent having a good time, reminding me of the fun I used to have while gaming.