The ‘Student Showcase’ award at the Independent Gaming Festival always plays host to a nice selection of student-developed indie games from that year and, while not all can win the grand prize, for all the student winners it must be quite an honour.
Indeed, while Mayhem Intergalactic did not scoop the grand prize in 2008, sole creator Chris Pelling aka Inventive Dingo definitely must have felt proud. Now, more than a year after his space-based strategy game was released, it’s still proving to have plenty of life left in it, with a release on Steam this week.
I don’t know if this says something about myself or the usual layout of games in general, but the main thing I noticed after booting Mayhem Intergalactic up was the distinct lack of a Campaign Mode, or any ‘main’ mode for that matter. The game simply offers a single player a choice of either a ‘Quick Game’ or a ‘Custom Game’, and it doesn’t take a gaming god to guess what each of these entail. I let it slide though – it’s the gameplay I’m interested in.
And the gameplay is interesting indeed. What at first seems like quite a daunting task quickly shows itself to be one of the simplest setups I’ve seen in a while for a strategy game. A turn-based saga (much like how the Civilization series works), the action all happens at the end of the turn.
The game begins with a mad rush to grab as many surrounding planets as possible and then, once borders with other players have been established, it’s time to decide whether to build those borders up or go in for the kill and try to take more planets. Each planet owned will provide extra ships each round, and battles to take planets take the course of a ‘Risk’ style conflict – attacking a planet which has 10 ships defending it with your own fleet of 15 ships will most likely result in a win – although it’s not a certainty, as the 10 might get some lucky shots in. Yes, it’s completely down to luck (and hidden mathematics) but if you stick a considerable amount of attacking power to the enemy, your chance of prevailing will be greatly heightened.
And this is pretty much the entire game explained. There are other minor points – for example players can set up convoys so that planets which are never in use can have their ships moved automatically to more useful areas – but the basic concept really is that… basic. While the simplicity in gameplay is great for beginners and casual strategists, more hardcore players will find MI really isn’t for them – there really is just not enough there to justify paying for it, especially compared to the majority of other games in the genre.
I did keep playing for quite some time, however, for the simple reason that I just cannot resist achievements. Mayhem Intergalactic has 21 of its own and attempting to make them your own is, of course, extremely addictive.
So while the simplicity of Mayhem Intergalactic is a huge plus for beginners to the strategy world and casual gamers, it’s also its biggest downfall as far as ‘real’ gamers are concerned. If you can grab a couple of friends and get some rounds of multiplayer action going, you’ll have a blast, but it will most likely be only the few times. Hats off to Chris Pelling for the inventive idea, but personally for me there just isn’t enough depth to keep me playing.
Verdict: Casual gamers will have a blast annihilating their friends in space, but more hardcore strategists won’t find much here to interest them.