In spite of the game's original qualities, there are just too many other, better choices available to make it worthwhile for most real-time strategy game players.
"Venture into oblivion." That unfortunate tagline has been applied to Far Gate, a new 3D real-time strategy title set in space from neophyte Seattle development house Super X Studios. The phrase inadvertently sums up the experience of playing Far Gate--the game's difficult interface, unmanageable camera angles, and many technical problems all but overshadow Far Gate's various original qualities.
As with all strategy games featuring fully three-dimensional playing fields, Far Gate's success or failure hinges on the usability of its interface. Letting the player quickly and effectively maneuver ships in a 3D environment portrayed on a flat 2D monitor is a serious challenge for any developer to overcome. Unfortunately, while Far Gate's interface seems both attractive and functional at first glance--courtesy of foldaway panels that keep track of current orders and handle the control of individual units, squadrons, and special commands--extended play uncovers a great many shortcomings in its design. The panels, for instance, line all sides of the screen, making it easy to open them up when you're actually just trying to scroll the camera. Locking them in an open position eliminates the problem, though doing this obscures a good portion of the screen. (Freezing them in their folded-back position would likely be a better option, were it available, as you can still read the information on them in this state, and they don't get in the way as much.) Turning the interface off completely and making do with hotkeys and the mouse is really the only way to proceed.
The camera perspective is equally tricky to operate. Zooming in and out with the mousewheel seems to change the viewing plane, so attempting to get up close and personal with a vessel or structure requires some additional fiddling, which isn't exactly conducive to guiding ships into the heat of battle. Right-clicking on a unit or a squadron for a close-up is even more frustrating. One click takes you in so tight that you can't see anything else (which is effective if you want to watch a battle from the chase-mode camera), and two clicks don't move you far enough back to get a good look at the situation. Hitting the Tab key provides a tactical overview of the entire system, but even this is relatively useless since you're placed so far away from everything that it's impossible to see what's going on. Moving the cursor over individual units and obstacles such as planets and asteroids brings up an telescope-like circle that reveals more of the map, though these bubbles appear right on top of your vessels and thus cover more than they reveal. At any rate, most ships are so tiny that you won't know that they're present at all unless you search for them with the cursor. Maneuvering squadrons on this tactical screen is also trying because the left mouse button both selects units and assigns them orders to move. As a result, you'll often select a new unit by mistake when actually trying to move one.
Frustrations caused by the interface will be worsened by Far Gate's general lack of technical polish. Load times are extremely long when starting a mission, lasting a full minute or more, even on a system that's well above the recommended minimum. This wouldn't be quite as bad if the game actually loaded, as it frequently doesn't. While loading saved games in the solo campaign, the game regularly crashes to the desktop without so much as an error message. Starting a new mission routinely required two or more attempts, the first one almost always resulting in a crash to the Windows desktop. Far Gate also crashes during regular gameplay. These bugs can crop up at any time, sending you abruptly back to Windows with only a beta tester's log report to show for it.
That these issues are so troublesome is a real shame, since some of the core concepts behind Far Gate are solid. The story is well told and there are three distinct playable factions in the game that employ wholly disparate units and structures. In the 17 missions of the brief solo campaign, you play as Jacob Viscero, a black marketeering space captain blackmailed into assisting with the human colonization of the Proxima Centauri star system. No sooner are these efforts underway than you're presented with some strange inconsistencies regarding why you're in the star system at all and the trustworthiness of your own military. Making matters worse, a wormhole opens and you're promptly under attack by the nue-guyen, squidlike creatures that treat deep space like an ocean. The standard real-time strategy triumvirate of races is soon filled out by the entrodii, crystalline beings that specialize in a sort of biokinetic energy weaponry. Over the course of the game, you travel to different systems through wormholes in an effort to defeat the enemy and find a peaceful home for the human colonists.