The Wreckless Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Set in a corporate-controlled future where the human race is represented by both a galaxy-wide human empire and dozens of powerful corporations, The Wreckless is a modern take on a beloved classic genre: space combat simulation.
You play a new pilot for R-Corp, a powerful technology development firm that seems to be represented by the titular ship’s AI, Sara, and its captain, who is only ever referred to as Captain. Despite plot holes you could drive a cruiser through, there is some solid science-fiction storytelling. For example, you fly drones, which neatly explains why your ships can pull maneuvers that would crush the bones of anything organic, as well as why you can easily jump from one wrecked and gutted hull to another in the course of a particularly brutal dogfight. The odd balance of a glaring weakness (a sparse main story) and a surprisingly subtle strength (very clever and unobtrusive storytelling hidden in the gameplay) quickly becomes fundamental to the rest of the game experience. On the whole, the subtleties in the world-building more than make up for the thin plot.
One of the first things you’ll notice about The Wreckless is the adoption of FPS-like WASD controls instead of the more classic joystick approach. Not only does it make the game more approachable for a casual crowd, but it also works very well. I was skeptical at first, being a big fan of the late-90s hardcore space combat sims like the magnificent Freespace 2: Colossos, but The Wreckless really hits it out of the park, creating an intuitive, easy-to-learn and difficult-to-master control scheme that gives the player just enough rope to hang himself with.
The unusual control scheme owes most of its success to the physics at work behind the game. The fighters in The Wreckless aren’t simply the flight models from Combat Flight Simulator ported into a space-like environment; they are operating on physical principles, which recognize that they’re operating within a vacuum. For example, you can nudge your fighter forward, and with no drag at work in a vacuum your fighter will move in that way indefinitely, and if you turn on the booster engine you can shoot off in any of the four directions. It might have turned out to be a little wonky with a joystick (sadly there’s no way to test it out, as The Wreckless doesn’t support a joystick in any case), but it works perfectly with the WASD scheme.
There are some setbacks, however. With only four directional controls, The Wreckless limits its fighters to left-right and forward-backward movement, which doesn’t fully utilize the 3D environment of the vacuum. Aside from aiming the mouse up and down, there’s no way to change your ship’s elevation, and the whole thing essentially feels like no-clipping through a normal shooter environment, albeit a lot faster. Furthermore, there’s no player-controlled roll axis. It may be a design flaw or a deliberate simplification, but either way it’s a painful omission.
To put the wonderful control scheme through its paces, The Wreckless sports a 16-mission campaign that delivers a wide variety of objectives. There are the ubiquitous escort missions, bombing runs, hectic dogfights, and the occasional stealth operation. Balanced against this is a pretty wide array of playable ships as well, all of which are unlocked through research points (earned in-mission as rewards for successful objectives completed and kills). From standard fighters to quick, lightly armed interceptors and sluggish but powerful bombers, each ship has a different feel and effect on the game, and your choice of fighter type can make a big impact on the mission.
Despite the fantastic variety, the game doesn’t embrace all the customization it so desperately alludes to. There are only three different kinds of weapons – lasers (every ship carries at least a pair), missiles (carried by fighters and bombers) and bombs (carried only by bombers), and it seems like the enemy ships have also embraced this unimaginative weapon set. Even the capital ships and the titular Wreckless seem to carry just a variation of colorful lasers and missile bays. Couple that with the extremely short duration of every mission – maybe ten minutes, tops (not counting player death and retries) – the game, despite all of its successes, falls into a repetitive pattern pretty quickly.
The last and most unforgivable weakness of the entire game is the lack of a multiplayer. The clever control scheme and detailed flight characteristics practically scream for it, and the idea of dozens of human controlled drones sliding around in zero-g, executing the kind of hairpin turns and erratic maneuvering that makes the single player so unique, is a draw that I don’t think many fans of old-school space sims would be able to pass up.
The Wreckless is a great example of what a clever indie production team can do with a simple idea. Fun, intuitive gameplay as a stepping stone for (I hope) future titles. I’d strongly recommend it to any fans of space combat sims and FPS fans alike, and at $10 USD, it’s well worth the cost.
The Wreckless gets a solid 4.25/5.
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