Underspace Early Access Review – The Things Between The Stars

Good space sims are thin on the ground these days. The Everspace series didn’t quite hit the right notes for me, and the heat death of the real Universe will likely occur before Chris Roberts officially kicks Star Citizen out the door. While I wasn’t exactly a big fan of Freelancer, I at least appreciated the things it was trying to do at the time. When I stumbled across a trailer for Underspace, and saw the claims of both Freelancer-style space sim action and Lovecraftian story elements, I was understandably intrigued. It was a ballsy claim to make, and so far, the team at Pastaspace Interactive seem to be delivering the goods in a general sense.

Underspace takes place in a fictional galaxy where interstellar space flight is painless (courtesy of highly engineered jump gates and more unstable natural jump holes). You play as Kardoz Speakerson, the distant descendant of a famous leader known to the general public as “The Speaker.” Many years before, The Speaker thwarted an invasion of the galaxy by entities known only as “The Children,” beings from the parallel dimension known as Underspace, simply by making a speech. For forty-six straight hours. Having saved the galaxy, he was renowned as a hero, and his descendants have basically ridden his coattails into prosperity and power. Unfortunately for you, a mysterious attack on a convoy of freighters owned by your shipping company has left you penniless, owing to being convicted of insurance fraud. You’re not going to jail (you’re literally too high up in society for that), but you’ve got no job, no money, and no prospects. Luckily, one of your friends manages to drag a slightly used starship out of storage and suggests you take up the dangerous but lucrative career of a starchaser.

Nawww, not ominous or madness-inducing at all…

Right now, the visuals on Underspace look a little rough (and in some spots are almost completely missing). But what’s there definitely creates a mood. Asteroids are big and chunky, capital ships are suitably titanic and imposing, and the strange space beasts you find in the middle of the bizarre storms offer a wonderful counterpoint to the industrialized structures out there. Ship designs are distinctive and varied, depending on the faction that’s offering them, and there’s a lot of factions out there. And there’s plenty of variety in the different weapon discharges. Rendering seems to be the big stumbling block, as objects like asteroids seem to “decloak” as you’re moving through a field. And there’s a couple space stations which don’t seem to have any bulkheads, which sorta hampers the illusion. Customization for ships and even yourself (despite not being able to see your own appearance just yet) are available, though a little thin at the moment.

The audio elements are kinda iffy. On the one hand, it’s got a decent soundtrack so far which shifts appropriately depending if you’re cruising the space lanes or some pirate is trying to take a bead on you. There’s a good variety of “pew pew” for weapons and nice environmental sounds for both space stations and deep space (yeah, yeah, I know). Voice acting is the big question mark at the moment. It seems like Pastaspace has been fiddling with AI voiceover, and with less than stellar results. Hopefully, they can get more effective results or a broader voice cast as time goes on, because this sort of game depends on good voice acting, even in the barks.

Subtle, no. Tasteful, no. Hard to miss? Depends on how far out you are.

When it comes to gameplay, Underspace has the basics down pretty well, but it’s the fine details which could use some work. Flight controls are mouse-driven by default (I’d be hesitant to use a controller for something like this), but targeting and navigation are very much keyboard intensive, and they could probably stand to work on a good auto-target system as well being able to lock in sensor returns to make exploration a little easier. A similar complaint about being able to find the storms which are so important to the story and the gameplay could also be leveled. Give players at least a half-decent idea of where to look within a given star system and the draw would be irresistible. Likewise, refitting ships is more of a chore than it really needs to be, though I can’t argue with the variety of options available. Pertinent information about how systems work shouldn’t be hidden in the manual (which necessitates going out to the main menu), so having that easily accessible would be another pain point to ease.

There’s also some questionable spots in campaign missions where you should be behind a piece of geometry, but the enemy can shoot clean through it into you. And the progression of the main storyline feels a little rushed, like you don’t have time to truly explore and enjoy the various star systems you’ve been dropped into. In the same vein, the job board system could use some refinement, giving players a better idea of how the listed difficulty of a mission correlates to their current character level and ship capabilities.

This is one time where romance options are probably best left untouched.

As it stands, Underspace has a good foundation for further improvement. Its narrative elements are closer to the “weird tales” vibe of The King In Yellow than truly Lovecraftian aspects (at least so far), but it’s certainly not boring. The space sim elements are solid in the basics. And the developers are promising newer features to help further immerse players. I’m understandably concerned about feature creep leading to bloat which hampers the experience. But so far, Underspace seems to have the right pieces and parts to make for a great space sim experience. If you can survive the current jank, modest though it is, you might just find your next interstellar obsession. Might even find yourself asking, “What’s Starfield?”

Axel played Underspace in Early Access on PC with a review code.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments