Underspace Preview – An Uncut Space Gem

“It’s a dog-eat-dog galaxy out there,” is probably the mantra that the developers over at Past a Space Interactive kept telling themselves while creating the tough and intricate RPG arcade-style spaceship shooter that is Underspace. The devs were gracious enough to let us sample a beta version of their game, which is fully releasing to Steam early access April 10th. There’s a lot to chew on with this title, and it seems likely I’ve only scratched the surface thus far. However, that won’t stop me from taking a crack at describing its addictive gameplay loop, many systems, and intriguing setting.

Before we jump into the details, though, it’s important to preface this preview with some caveats. The beta version of the game we played isn’t what gamers would expect for a finished product. It’s possible that some issues will be cleared up by early access, but I can only speak to the version I played. There were glitches, missing voice-overs, and rough patches. Purchasers of this early access title will be playing the game while it becomes more polished, and should temper their expectations to that reality. For more on the state of the game releasing in early access, you can read the developer’s Steam message.

If you watch the trailer above, it’s easy to form the impression that Underspace is nothing more than a spaceship flier, in which you simply fly around and fight stuff. This is partly true, but upon starting the game, there isn’t a ship in sight. You’ll be playing in first-person and your character is on a space station. This is important because it brings a whole other dimension to playing. You can dock your ship at space stations and planets, then walk or travel to different areas to do a myriad of things, like:

  • Buy ships and parts
  • Buy commodities for selling
  • Customize your ship
  • Check mission boards
  • Hear rumors
  • Meet with contacts
  • Read news segments

These areas where you can dock your ship are the only places that are easy and fast to navigate. The player will see icons at the top of their screen with hotkeys next to them. Clicking on them, or pressing the designated button, quickly whisks you to that area to do your affairs. After a couple minutes of exploring, you’ll understand which area each icon represents, and they’re all the same for every station or planet.

underspace preview bar at space station
Hey barkeep, heard any rumors?

So the basic loop is exploring space with your ship, earning money to level up skills, docking at the many stations and planets to upgrade and refit, then heading back out again; it’s simple, but very addicting. Speaking of exploring, space in Underspace is filled to the brim. Everywhere you fly to, you’ll find ships (hostile, neutral, and friendly), fast travel hubs (either warp gates, or boosting lanes), space stations, planets, and galactic storms. Sometimes finding out how to get somewhere felt tedious with all the different traveling mechanics, and at times there were three different waypoints up for miscellaneous things, adding to the confusion.

The storms were very captivating, and where this game really shines. While it’s easy to get caught up in running missions and transporting resources to earn money, you won’t encounter the big boss fights doing this. These more unique encounters only happen in storms, where you will face off against Lovecraftian monsters. These nightmarish beings won’t maneuver like enemy ships do in dog fights. Instead, your skills will be put to the test as you dodge, dive, dip, duck, and dodge, all while blasting the titans at any opportunity.

underspace preview space battle
You’ll constantly be fighting multiple enemies

This is a good time to discuss the flying mechanics; they are advanced, and make for a very high skill ceiling. Currently, the game is only playable with a mouse and keyboard, but the devs have said that they’re working on controller compatibility. It will be fascinating to see how they pull it off, because there are so many controls for flying, it’s mind-boggling.

The ship can move side-to-side or forward and backward, with additional boosting options available. You aim with the mouse, but can also switch modes to select information nodes on their HUD by clicking them. Furthermore, your viewpoint can be from inside the cockpit, or from different third person angles outside the ship — and this can be necessary to shoot enemies whether they’re in front of the ship, behind it, or on its side. Even though I’ve now fought in dozens of space battles — of which I lost my fair share — I still feel like a rookie in the cockpit.

underspace preview rear view
In only took three hours for us to discover the “Backup View”

I died frequently, and that speaks to not only the difficulty of this game, but also its philosophy. There is no hand holding to be had in these spaces. After your first couple of quests, you’re let loose on the galaxy with very little direction. If you’re the kind of player that likes discovering things for themselves, then you’ll likely enjoy this title.

Mechanics and systems aren’t the only thing you can discover on your own; you’ll also be able to find out more about the game’s lore and setting. The universe of Underspace is completely original, with unique species, planets, and star systems. It’s not easy coming up with all new cultures and societies, but from the snippet we played, it seems the devs put a lot of effort into fleshing out the different factions and peoples.

At the end of the Earth day, we felt like there was a nebula full of potential for Underspace. Even in its current early-access state, we still had a blast exploring and dogfighting. For a small studio to produce a title with this much content is impressive, and we can’t wait to see what this gem looks like after it’s been cut and polished.

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Kelson H.
Kelson H.

Kelson is a spud head from out west. He is most happy when holding a milky tea with too much honey and playing a sprawling role playing game or reading a fantasy novel. His video game tastes vary but his main genres are looter shooters, RPGs, and real time strategy games.

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