Subspace Continuum Review

Welcome back to 1995!

  • Developer: Burst/Virgin Interactive Entertainment
  • Publisher: Subspace Continuum
  • Release Date: 3 July 2015 (Steam), 1995 (Original)
  • Time played: 2.8 hours

So apparently SubSpace originally came out in 1995 – I don't believe I played the earliest versions of the game but I definitely remember playing it sometime in the late 1990s. Whatever the case, 1995 is almost ancient history when you're talking about Internet games; The World Wide Web was in its infancy, the ISP iiNet had started only a couple of years before in a suburban Perth garage, the first E3 was held in Los Angeles, and those in Australia who were lucky enough to have Internet access (like myself) were playing games on dial-up modems.

So it was pretty amazing being able to play a game where you could technically have hundreds of people buzzing around in spaceships at the same time. I seem to recall the game being quite popular in its heyday, quite impressive when you consider most games couldn't handle a handful of people at a time (except for MUDs) and that the total number of Internet users worldwide in 1995 amounted to 16 million people or 0.4% of the world's population (today over 3 billion people are Internet users which is almost half the world's population).

Anyway, the game has gone through a whole bunch of highs and lows. Public beta testing started in 1996 for the game and was released commercially at the end of 1997 for $27.99 USD. The game wasn't a commercial success and was pirated like crazy and in 1998, the American arm of Virgin Interactive Entertainment was sold off resulting in all the official SubSpace servers being shut down. Independently run servers by the dedicated fans became the only way to play. After a while, some fans decided to develop the Continuum client for the game and this is what has been finally released onto Steam.

So about 20 years later, I guess the question is, is the game still relevant? Is it still fun?

Gameplay (4/5)

Gameplay is definitely one of SubSpace's strengths, despite the game being incredibly easy to pick up as it's like a multiplayer version of Asteroids. Players login to a server and can then propel their ship around the “map" (which is usually just space with some walls around) using the arrow keys. Like Asteroids, some Newtonian physics is involved as your ship will continue to glide in a certain direction until you provide enough force to oppose it. You're usually equipped with a cannon and missiles which drain your energy when you fire them. If your energy reaches zero, you die. You can never kill yourself by firing your weapons but you can get really close if you're not careful with your strafing runs since you're vulnerable while doing so. It's little things like this that make the game deceptively simple yet challenging to master.

There are also several weapons and gadgets you can pick up in the game by collecting green boxes floating around space (this process of upgrading your ship by collecting green power-ups is actually known as “greening"). Power-ups you can collect include things like boosts, decoys and a missile called “Thor's Hammer" which goes through walls. As if that wasn't enough, you're also able to fly several ships which have different characteristics. Some are agile, some are fast, and some are better suited as bombers. There are even ships with cloaking devices installed.

I find the game really addictive and firefights really get the adrenaline pumping especially when you have several players in one small area – it's almost impossible to come out of it unscathed. Considering this game is over two decades old, I think that's a testament to how the everlasting appeal of SubSpace… or multiplayer Asteroids with different weapons, gadgets and ships!

Sound (3/5)

If I were to be brutally honest, the game has pretty basic, lo-fi sound effects. But what do you expect from a 20 year old game that had to run on dial-up modems? For someone who played the game in their youth though, ah the nostalgia.

Graphics (3/5)

The game has pretty primitive graphics but they've aged surprisingly well thanks to the game adopting a 2D graphics approach.

Replay (2/5)

I found it hard to give a score for this section because on one hand, I really want to play this game. It's definitely a game you can while away the hours, but unfortunately, I wasn't always able to play the game, even if I wanted to. This is because the time I usually play (in the evenings, Western Australian time) there's hardly anyone playing. The servers are also a bit deceptive when they display their user populations since ones that show 20 people playing are sometimes populated with the same number of bots and no human players. Usually I'll only find a handful of human players across all the servers meaning I can't experience those huge battles like the good ol' days. Also, another problem I have is that due to my ping usually hovering around the 250-300ms mark, I sometimes get booted and placed in spectator mode because my ping is “too high"!

Polish (3/5)

Unfortunately, by today's standards the interface isn't very user friendly thanks to an old, clunky 1990s-style command console interface. Also I consistently get high pings when playing the game (around 250-300ms) due to the lack of Australian servers (or at least that's what I'm lead to believe) and it occasionally takes a long time to load maps.

Score – 6/10

It pains me to give one of the favourite games of my youth this score but you can't rate games on nostalgia alone. While the gameplay is still a strong point with SubSpace and it still feels fresh, it unfortunately looks dated, sounds dated and it's even challenging to get a game going, thanks to a not-so-friendly user interface, high pings and a general lack of players. It's a pity since if somebody were to develop a modern take on SubSpace with an easy-to-use interface, Australian servers and a loyal, but dedicated fan base, I'd be all over it, guaranteed.

Subspace Continuum is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Subspace Continuum Website ]