This is Perpetuum. In the distant future, humanity has advanced far beyond the contemporary understanding of science (and possibly created the microwavable Pizza from Back to the Future 2), and as such a new source of energy is needed. Discovering tiny wormholes, Earth-dwellers happen across a planet by the name of Nia, which just happens to be inhabited by warring-robot overlords, but hey, why would that stop you from eyeing up the landscape with fabric swatches?
Using remote-controlled mechs, it is your job to help or hinder the progress of humanity's struggle to usurp power from an ingenious race, and further the ambitions of that dastardly "science" thing. Taking the form of a sandbox-hybrid MMO, Perpetuum is an enthralling journey of colonization in an alien land, and while the experience is enjoyable, one word will always be at the tip of your tongue - and I'll give you a clue, it isn't "Adam".
Let's just get it out in the open; Perpetuum is to EVE Online, as Pepsi is to Coca-Cola - one is sweeter than the other, but both will ensure your life is squandered in some way. Avatar Creation's obvious muse for this mechanized-MMO is plainly, and obviously, CCP's hugely successful space-em-up. From the vehicle perspective, to the quasi-space stations, and even further to the UI itself - visually, you will find it impossible not to point at the screen mumbling "I can't believe it's not EVE" but that isn't to say that there aren't a few flourishes and improvements over the intergalactic elephant in the room.
For the most part, Perpetuum manages to be an interesting, and dare I say attractive experience. The art direction follows the path of a beautifully realised world of technological chaos; the natural world elopes around the electronic wonders of the synthetic inhabitants; weird and wonderful alien plant life spring out of every crevice and every horizon is illuminated by the invasive view of a metallic structures.
And for a small independent company, for the most part, the game's technology manages to compete on an aesthetic level. The draw-distances are impressive, the effects are satisfying, and it is a fair bet to say you will not have happened across a setting quite like Perpetuum's. It may have taken one too many UI cues from EVE Online, but it still manages to be an overall impressive experience.
The primary focus of this title is as you might expect: create an avatar, and discover the world on your own terms, whether through combat or craft. The character creation system throws you in at the deep end as there are multiple choices as to what your mech might favour. Starting out in such a manner does feel a little like swimming against a tide of confusion, but throughout I found that the initial choices are more like "nudges" into certain areas, rather than the overall arc your journey will take. The developer's have also opted for a "man behind the machine" system, seen in CCP's game, and so you will also have to contend with a fairly archaic looking character creation tool. Top marks for anyone who can design a human that doesn't look like a paedophile with cosmetic surgery.
Beyond the initial steps Perpetuum opens out into the sandbox-like environment players have come to know and love. Mindless drones wander around areas waiting to be killed, specific locations are rich in ore, and it is your choices which shape the experience. The tutorial of the game does a nice job of introducing the controls and the varied nuances of the title - with more windows and tabs to contend with than seems humanly possible.
Like EVE, experience points are gathered not through deeds, but through time, every minute accruing an Extension Point; once enough of these have been obtained, then you may unlock a certain technology whether it is in industry, combat, or one of the many options. There are a number of skills, and a number of tiers, so figuring out what path you might take will leave you with a multitude of options. Of course this time-based system does draw its own problems, in that the "time= win" formula applies, but for the most part it is a handy system, even if we have seen it before.
Away from character growth, most of your time will be spent in the pursuit of currency, and this can be obtained numerous ways. A quick and easy way is to run missions, from bounties to collecting resources, these tasks will hand you a reward of credits, as well as any loot you might happen upon. The game boasts an entirely player driven market, so supply/demand is essential to the experience, and many will find themselves at home with gathering raw materials for those crafters amongst us.
Like Perpetuum's intergalactic counter-part, there are also ways in which to garner thrills higher than that of simple mission running, in the form of the Beta Islands. Like Low Security space, these isles offer higher reward resources, but the gamble is open PvP and full loot. This is also where a lot of corporation conflict will arise, so navigating these high-risk/reward locations will be a valuable, if hazardous, experience within Perpetuum.
Playing Avatar Creation's MMO is a little like gazing upon a re-tooled version of CCP's landmark title, but it isn't safe to simply assume they are one and the same. The developer's have borrowed heavily from the aforementioned, but the implementations and refinements to the system add a certain flavour that feels individual, but, there is too little to truly turn your head away from a life in space. It is enjoyable, and there's plenty to do, but EVE Online still has that edge.
As you might have come to expect, Perpetuum drops the ball when it comes to innovation. The entire ensemble feels like a lovingly crafted pastiche of the EVE mould. This isn't a bad thing, but the game barely steps out from the shadow of the space-faring MMO, and a few more steps in its own direction is sorely needed. From the UI, to combat, and mission running, there is too much here that reeks of other developer's work, but when Avatar Creation's add in their own flavours Perpetuum shines.
Being only a year old, Perpetuum packs a surprising amount of polish. The experience feels refined, and works better than a lot of other indie-titles and it seems as if the developers are working on getting the core of the game correct, before moving forward. For this players are rewarded with an ensemble that feels tight and well made - there is a succinct lack of unfinished content, and for the most part, everything here feels finished and well implemented. Of course there could be a few touches here and there to the combat system, but with a new patch just weeks ago, even this has taken a step into a more frenetic and enjoyable place.
Community is key to a game such as Perpetuum, and luckily Nia boasts a fairly active, if somewhat small user base. Corporations are a great way to meet new people, but further into the game become essential to the PvP and endgame experience. To the newcomer it isn't the easiest thing to muscle your way into, but it certainly isn't impossible, and the chat tabs are usual abuzz with chat and help - and with an active player market, there is enough human contact here to make you smile that the MMO part isn't yet lost to the genre.
Much of the Perpetuum's longevity comes from the activities of corporations, and also the pursuit of more extensions, as well as currency. Player versus player activities can be found in the beta islands, as points can be controlled, and groups can fight for bragging rights, as well as conveying into dangerous territory to find resources. It isn't as well rounded as most MMO experiences, and the skill system does make it hard for a new comer to catch up with the rest, but Avatar Creation's have created a game that will keep your attention long past the initial stages.
Given more time, more refinement, and a surge in originality, Perpetuum could be the alternative choice to CCP's domination of the mechanized sandbox world. At the moment, while Avatar Creations are doing a lot of things right, the game is too similar to other titles, and an extra push in creativity will see this robotic title soar into a new realm of enjoyable MMOing. Entertaining, fun, and a great start, but further work is needed for this game to be truly recommendable.