Games Gazette Logo

     

The actual Ceres is the largest of the asteroids in the belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The game CERES Tactical Space Combat is a game published by Iceberg Interactive and Jotunn Games for the PC that installs via the STEAM media. It is a complex strategy game that requires a lot of time and planning. The Solar System has been ravaged and the Earth has been destroyed, split into several large asteroid - style systems which have been colonised by the relatively minor number of humans that escaped prior to the Earth's destruction. In attempts to reach other worlds and universes a gate was constructed through which human spacecraft could interact with the great beyond, then suddenly an accident of extreme proportions occurred which caused the Gate to connect to a wild star which was about to go Nova. Humans scrambled as many loaded ships through the gate as they could before the connection to the gate was lost and these ships took off to find and build new worlds wherever and whenever they could. Over the years the majority of these colonies survived but virtually all of them became tyrannical and saw the others as enemies and a danger to them.

     

On some of these new "planets" there are alien beings, monsters of sorts, and on others there are machines with such high artificial intelligence that they are more of a danger to the human populace than any monster or human could ever be. All of these things come into play during the game but not all at the same time. CERES is about survival and to do this you must run your character as if it was an extension of yourself if you were in the same situation.

To begin with you have to choose a character. You have the choice of three types of career characters which you can name, but otherwise you have no say in their creation. Select from Bounty Hunter (who has the perk of being a Bounty Hunter), the Stellar Navigator (whose perk is being a Speed Demon) or the Cyber Mechanic (with the Material Expert perk). Each character has the same abilities: Leadership, Hacking, Power Management, Sensors, Beam Weapons, Kinetic Weapons, Guided Weapons, Cargo Organiser, Propulsion Engineer, Structural Engineer and Trader. Alongside each of these is an experience or power bar which is partially filled with Red (low), Green (high) or Yellow (medium), the further along the bar (the more filled it is) the better the character is in that ability. You get one other choice and that is the character's voice: Male or Female, Terran Alliance, Freelance or Pirate.

     

The game starts with your ship clearly marked on the portion of the planetary star-map that is currently visible to you. There are a few places on that map which are also named and hovering the mouse cursor over them will give you some indication of what you are likely to encounter there. One of the places stands out as being the best for your first adventure in this new wide, wild, universe. Clicking on this area brings up a menu with the "travel to here" option. As soon as you take this your spaceship animates and moves towards the selected spot. When you get there you are challenged by the leader of the colony and you are required to select answers to his questions. How you answer  determines how you will be received at the colony.

The leader then explains that you can fly close to the largest asteroid where there is a trading post that allows you to buy and sell the things you will or may need, plus modifications to your ship can be made there. Then the leader offers you a fair number of credits to do a "small" task for him. This small task involves finding a lost spacecraft that is in hostile territory. The leader also offers you the assistance of one of their ships, the only downside of this being that the Captain of that ship is a bit of a big-headed dick. You can select to not do the quest (unwise) and you can refuse help (also unwise) and so your adventure begins.

This now becomes one of those games where a hefty manual would have been helpful, but instead you have nothing but a few options and control applications, which makes this a heavy day of learning the strategies and tactics you will require for a successful game, not just this first mission. Each craft within your map's vision - you have several camera views that let you zoom in and out as well as a tactical map - has its name above it along with a small box and an icon, both of which represent the actual ship. The two ships under your control, the Kuang Wa (your assistant) and your craft (its name depends on the character chosen) can be clicked on which yurns the square blue and brings up a small menu of choices you may make, one of which is (M) movemnt and another being (A) attack.

I have a feeling that my PC may be having a bad day as these ships do not move immediately the M is chosen and the direction determined. You press "M" and this generally brings up a line with an arrowhead (or circle) at its far end that you can stretch to the location you are aiming for. Clicking this stretched line on the required location directs the ship towards the chosen position. As I say, my PC may not be up to it at the moment, but I have found myself having to give the M command several times before the ship will move. I have found it best to locate the target location on the larger view screen and then go back to the tactical view to watch the actual flight.

     

En route you are likely to encounter pirates or enemy ships. These just appear as if from nowhere. They are cloaked invisible until you get close and then they are there and unless you can get moving really quickly (unlikely but it can happen) you are in for a fight. Combat is messy. It is a lot of selecting either the icon for Attack or the icon for the Attack and Follow and then right-clicking to get the crosshairs and aiming at the enemy ship. In the midst of mass combat you can generally just stick the crosshair reticule into the middle and fire, you will not hit your own side. With both of your ships involved in the battle you are most likely to win, especially if you have modified your ships by allocating additional points gained through going up levels of experience.

Once you reach the desired location, at least on the first mission, you are then directed to the next chapter and then onto the next until the mission is completed.

CERES: Tactical Space Combat is a game for the technically minded player who is not looking for an arcade game style of play. It is a tabletop miniatures game that has spiralled off the table and onto the floor and out the door. It is a huge challenge to the player's tactical and strategic abilities. It is not a light-hearted game of philandering throughout space like Firefly or Star Trek, in fact it shows no sign of being "light" in any way at all. If you can spend the time and concentration and you have a penchant for interstellar travel and combat then CERES is a game that you should seriously consider.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015