Zigfrak – PC
Developer: Entheogen Studios, LLC
Publisher: Entheogen Studios, LLC
Release Date (NA): December 13, 2013
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
Zigfrak is an action space combat RPG set in a distant and contentious future. You play as a member of the FreeRunner faction and must do battle with various hostile human and alien forces throughout the galaxy and beyond.
Starting with a basic small craft (either a really heavy fighter or a small frigate), you must complete campaign and side quests to earn XP, credits, and loot to upgrade your ships. The main focus of the game is space combat and, as promised in the game’s description, downed enemies do “explode like loot piñatas,” so you’ll never be lacking in cool items that add to your combat capabilities.
The game only supports keyboard/mouse control, with defaults for movement being W, A, S, and D for forward/reverse movement and strafing, while Z and X roll your craft, and Q and E can be used to turn left and right, respectively. You can also follow enemy crafts by holding down the left mouse button and dragging the mouse. Weapons are fired with either the number keys or Space, which fires all available weapons at a target. You can dock with craft/stations by tapping Enter, and interact with objects in space by clicking on them. This is also used in conjunction with your ship’s tractor beam, which can draw loot toward you with a mouse click. It’s a useful feature, as dead enemies drop tons of loot and the goodies can quickly drift far away during a dogfight.
Various other commonly employed keys include I for inventory menu, M for the galactic map and J to engage Jump engines for navigating to mission sites.
Travel between mission is accomplished via Hyperdrive, which uses Dark Matter for fuel. This stuff is fairly expensive at stations but does drop periodically during combat as well. The intergalactic map is laid out with each region occupying a hexagonal area like many tabletop space games. When you accept a mission to an area, you can easily navigate to it by clicking on that mission icon on the Map screen. During missions requiring you to navigate to various areas, you can simply press J to jump to the next waypoint.
Damage is straightforward. In the Zigfrak universe, all ships have a shield value and a hull value. Shields soak up initial damage while the hull is your last line of defense against fiery death in the depths of space. Out of combat, damage regenerates fairly quickly, but equipped items also take durability damage that can be repaired at a friendly station. If the player allows an item to fall below 1% durability, the item is lost.
One great feature is that the game will automatically replenish ammo as it is depleted. This eliminates a lot of needless micromanagement and is a welcome feature.
Item quality follows video game standards- Grey, White, Green, Blue, Purple and Orange in ascending order of rarity/power, plus two more categories: Opulent and Nightmare (both of which I haven’t found any yet). Additionally, ammo can be gathered that produces extra burst damage, or DOT in five schools- Kinetic, Thermal, Electro, Nuclear and Strange
Zigfrak features a large number of loot categories, including credits, weapons and ammo, cloaks, shields, armor, and overshields and payloads- items which produce either useful effects during combat or “Toys” (convey no useful effects but are funny/silly). The game also features a crafting system, which allows the player to turn various items gathered in combat into useful tools for the ship.
Your ships have a high degree of customization possible, with weapon, shield, armor, engine and fuel slots that can be individually upgraded. Ships are also able to equip special items like cloaking devices, etc. for a limited edge in combat. You can also choose the name, hull material, and various skins to differentiate your ship from the norm. The ship designs remind me of a board game I used to own called Silent Death, which featured a number of similar craft shapes.
Weapons fall into four basic categories: energy, ballistic, rockets, and drones, although not all types are available to the player at the start of the game. Starting with “Emergency” ammunition for your weapons, it’s not long before you are picking up green, blue, and purple ammo.
Missions are generally centered around blasting one type of enemy or another, although there are some side quests and randomly (?) generated content that throw some variety into the mix. The campaign scenario progression seems to be pretty linear, exempting the side trips mentioned above.
The graphics in Zigfrak are superb. Although I am not a huge fan of shiny ships in space, the skins available for your fighting vessels allow you to vary the hue of the hull to suit your tastes, and the ships do look the part- sleek and deadly.
The spacescapes are awesome as well and change frequently throughout the missions. Lit by stars of varying colors, the backgrounds to missions feature a plethora of planets, dust clouds, floating hulks, and other visually interesting elements. The developers really produced an excellent environment which beckons the player to explore.
Animations are great as well. Weapons look different as they are fired, and your missiles streak toward their targets followed by a contrail. Since you can disable adversaries or destroy them, helpless vessels tumble and drift, rewarding you with satisfying explosions, including flaming debris. Certain weapons even disrupt your visual display, causing static to fill your screens as the ship’s systems struggle to adjust.
As you progress, you are hit by weapons which debuff you or temporarily cripple your ship. These effects also have unique visual representations. So overall, I can’t say a single bad thing about Zigfrak‘s graphics. Also, even on the POS I was able to maintain 40-50 FPS at 1440 X 900 full-screen, so the game is frugal with system resources.
Sounds and music are top-notch as well. While traveling and outside of combat, the game lulls you with ambient, mysterious melodies. During combat, Zigfrak ratchets up the tempo and the soundtrack transforms into a pulse-pounding cornucopia of techno goodness.
The Bottom Line
Zigfrak offers a lot to love. Tasty visuals and sound set against a stunning background made for a promising start, and I entered the game with expectations of high adventure in deep space. As an aside, Zigfrak’s creators are clearly folks who love their sci-fi, and it shows. Subtle (and not so subtle) references abound in-game, and even the load screens pay homage to various venerable franchises.
Although I am a diehard keyboard/mouse fan and the controls respond well to the buttons, in this case, I actually missed gamepad support. I’m wondering if an Xbox 360 controller and a program like Xpadder might not reap benefits in this game. With a total of eight buttons controlling ship movement, it seems the two sticks a pad offers might be the way to go.
Combat is, unfortunately, simplistic. Once you’ve targeted an enemy, you don’t have to maintain your targeting reticule around their ship in order to score damage (unless you go way off target and line up another ship). Likewise, there’s no way to reliably avoid enemy weapons. So, although you have the ability to strafe left and right and can roll your ship, you’re going to get hit anyway. The best way to approach combat in Zigfrak is to just target enemy ships and hold down the space bar to automatically fire all your weapons at will. The game doesn’t reward tactics or fancy flying. In fact, these behaviors just prolong the combat and increase your chances of dying. Also, the perspective is somewhat limited, so the player is never really able to effectively prioritize targets. You end up just following the red arrows that lead you from ship to ship, blasting away.
This would be a minor annoyance, except as noted above, combat is the main focus of the game. It quickly becomes monotonous, and that’s really too bad since the game engine works so well and the models look so good you want to become the stellar version of Maverick, but it’s just not possible.
Another issue I have is with the loot. As promised, there’s no shortage of it, but therein lies the problem. With blues and even purples freely available very early on, they are not really special or inherently desirable, they’re simply the new greens in Zigfrak. And so much loot drifts around after a battle, there’s no point in trying to conserve ammo; it’s freely available and that reinforces the mindless aspects of the combat system.
One minor point that’s really a personal peeve rather than a failing on the game’s part- when you start taking damage from weapons that also cause deleterious effects, your ship is surrounded by these multicolored curly-cues that, to me, look decidedly out of place among the elegant models and more realistic animations going on around them. They also obscure a lot of the limited field of view.
The last issue I have with the game involves the campaign missions. So far, these have been completely linear. Rather than being able to wander around the wondrous expanse of Zigfrak, you’re led from place to place with very little variety- just the predictable and tedious combat. Granted, you do have several missions to choose from after completing the earliest battles, but it still feels like you’re being dragged down a corridor rather than being able to explore the universe for yourself, taking the good and bad that comes along with an open-world design.
So, is Zigfrak a bad game?
Absolutely not. As I noted above, the graphics and sound are first-rate, every bit as good as what you’ll see out of a big game design company, and these days quite a bit better than what some of the big studios are cranking out on their game assembly lines. I could clearly tell that the game was developed by a group of very talented and imaginative designers who put not just code and protocol, but their love for the genre into this effort.
Zigfrak is the kind of game that draws you in, but ultimately disappoints because you have this splendid environment, fast action and what could be a great storyline (indeed, if the proper writers were to take the reigns and develop the plot, it could easily be a popular franchise), and all you can do is press a button to go from place to place and put in your time blasting bad guys to get that expanding cloud of loot. Suck in the loot, jump again, rinse and repeat.
Which brings up my final point. Billed as an action RPG, Zigfrak is anything but. It’s not alone. The RPG moniker gets tossed around way too freely these days. It doesn’t mean Really Potent Gear, although that would fit contemporary games better. Role Playing Games should be just that. RPG is all about imbuing your avatar with some of your personality, investing in your characters a little bit of yourself. By this standard, there are precious few legitimate RPG titles around today. Different hull colors don’t convey any more individuality than choosing a chartreuse and lime green smartphone.
So, what does Zigfrak get right? It never takes itself too seriously, which I think is great in any entertainment medium. And it’s a masterful technical achievement, worth playing just for the smooth action and nice visual and audio environment. So long as you’re not looking for anything more than a shoot-em-up that doesn’t ask the player to develop much skill, it fits the bill. And at under $5, it’s definitely worth a play through.
I can’t say that Zigfrak billed itself as anything more than it is, the RPG thing notwithstanding. I just wish there was more to it. The Zigfrak universe begs to be expounded upon- the factions revealed and their ultimate motivations explored. It’s the lore, the backstory that makes or breaks an RPG world. I hope Entheogen Studios makes a Zigfrak 2 and gives the universe it created the complex RPG viscera it needs to shine like the bright star it could be.
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