Let’s not mince words-  Evochron Mercenary is not going to be for everyone.  This is a simulation that requires patience, thought, and practice to master.  Those of you willing to put in the time needed will be rewarded with an experience unlike any other.  If this sounds more like a recruitment speech than a review, that’s because this title seems more like a full on hobby than a normal game title.  If you are the right person, the star systems of Evochron Mercenary can be a new home.  If you aren’t, it can be an extremely frustrating lesson in futility.

The scope of the Evocrhon Mercenary universe is staggering.  It’s truly a title where the term “universe” applies.  At 5km/s, it could take over a YEAR (real time) to travel from one end to the other!  Fortunately, jump gates and warp drives exist to get you from place to place much more quickly.  A universe that vast wouldn’t be very interesting, so StarWraith has seen fit to fill it with myriad planets, space stations, asteroids, and much more.  Here is a list of some of the activities you can perform as a pilot (from the Main Features page): “(R)acing, spying, mining, trading, (shipping), escorting, combat (both in civilian space and military war zones), exploring, asteroid clearing, equipment cleaning, crew management, station building, and ship design.”  Only your choices and skills limit you in this title.  There is no overreaching plot other than to survive and prosper.  That being said, there ARE training missions that take new players through some of the more common elements found in EM.  These quests also reward you with locations of hidden caches of goodies which can be sold or equipped as you choose.

EM’s seamless universe is a wonder to behold.  Yes, the graphics are dated, especially some station and city models, but they’re beautiful nonetheless.  Not only do things look good, everything is functional-  You can travel to any planet, fly through its atmosphere, and land on its surface or trade in cities.  Nebulae interfere with an enemy’s ability to see your ship.  Asteroids DO concern me… (sorry).  I can’t stress enough how much of a joy it is to travel ANYWHERE and not encounter load times.

Flight modelling is VERY well handled.  Ships handle differently in atmosphere, and in space.  While flying in inertial mode, you can continue traveling in the original direction while spinning on your other axes to face enemies or get a better view of surroundings.  Numerous flight sticks are supported, including my trusty Logitech 3D Pro.  Even with this support, keyboard and mouse may still be needed to interact with all ship functions (cockpit monitors and keypads can be activated by mouse clicks while in flight).  As I said at the beginning, there’s a LOT to take in and a lot to memorize.  Some of the default key bindings struck me as odd (Alt-F for autopilot?), but these can be changed.  I also thought the joystick calibration routine was a bit cumbersome, but it does allow you to configure exactly how you want to fly your craft (so long as you know which axis you want to configure beforehand).

All of this freedom does come at some cost, however.  While there are in-game tutorials, they are sparse.  New pilots will do well to check StarWraith’s forums and help pages to learn the nuances of navigation, piloting, inventory, and so on.  I wish  some of these topics were covered in greater detail in-game, especially navigation.  Finding your way across Evochron’s massive universe is daunting.  While you have the ability to plug any coordinates in the nav computer and auto-pilot to a destination, actually FINDING destinations is tricky to the point of being frustrating at first.  The nav map tries to cram too many data points into too small a space, sometimes leaving a jumbled mess (Note: text boxes can be cycled or even turned off, but the effect can still be ugly).  I wish the nav map could be scrolled more easily.  It’s doable, but the execution lacks elegance.  Much like everything else in the title, navigating takes practice, but this will turn off more causal gamers.

The trading interface is touchy as well-  I had just purchased by first mining beam (needed to scan containers and mine asteroids).  I checked my cargo and assumed I had to click on the beam to install it (my fault, I should have read the manual)-  Without waiting for conformation, the beam was sold- disappearing from my ship, but not reappearing on the station’s inventory.  A quick reload later and I was back where I needed to be, but I think a better UI could help here-  I also wish there was a way to have a “galactic catalog” of some kind to let me know what systems may offer what items while in flight-  It’s frustrating to have to track down specialty items by randomly landing on planets/stations.  That being said, I really enjoyed the ability to trade with other ships in flight.

Approaching a planet from a distance, watching the mists clear and settling in for a landing on a city landing pad is exhilarating the first few times, but later it seems to be painfully slow (even cruising in at the maximum allowable speed before burning up in the atmosphere).  I wish more tutorials had been given about setting maximum cruising speeds in flight-  I wasted a lot of time getting from place to place before I realized this was an option.  Yes, it’s in the manual, but there are so many commands that information can get lost.  Once again, thanks to the online community for helping me out with some of the trickier aspects of flight.

Combat is wonderful, if difficult.  There are so many strategies that can/must be employed to provide a challenge to all pilots.  Many of them have to do with the inertial mode I discussed earlier.

I love this title.  It’s something I see myself getting drawn further and further into every time I play.  Be warned, though- this is a difficult sim to pick up and play.  It takes work, but it is SO rewarding.   For gamers looking for the ultimate free form space title who don’t mind having to learn as you go, this gets my highest recommendation.  I can’t wait for the add on which promises mech-based land missions!  Evochron Mercenary is available on Steam for $24.99, not a bad price at all for a never ending title like this.  BRING ON THE MECHS!