Outer Pioneer from Vivid Games has just soft launched in the Philippines, and it has a whole lot of ingredients that made me sit up and take notice.
It's a free-roaming co-op shooter set in a vibrant sci-fi universe with a killer art style and a whole bunch of upgrade options.
Of course I was going to take it for a spin at the earliest opportunity.
You play as a gun-toting space pioneer sent out into a series of semi-open planetary environments. Each 'level' gives you a small handful of objectives to complete before returning to the extraction point, as well as the odd optional side-mission.
Those objectives tend to be of the 'move here and shoot a bunch of critters' variety, but they're distinguished in entertaining fashion. There are shield generators to take down, bosses to fight, and probes to defend.
Each planet has a distinctive look and feel, and its indigenous populations are entertainingly diverse - from stomping walkers (which leave behind little pilots when they explode) to giant snow seals. The AI seems a little dim at this stage, so hopefully that will be addressed during this soft launch phase.
In between levels you get to spend the coins you hoovered up. In conjunction with the random loot drops you can unlock, the game lets you steadily improve your pioneer's abilities in an impressively wide range of areas. Improve your firing rate, unlock penetrating bullets, make yourself more prone to critical hits - it feels more like an RPG than a mindless shooter.
Space is lonely
One initial disappointment for me was the game's shooting mechanics. Twin-stick controls would seem to be a natural fit here, but your hero's aim is automatic. All you need to concentrate on is moving and activating your expanding abilities.
Still, there's some strategy to those abilities - chiefly in the placement of two auto-firing gun turrets. Placing them carefully ahead of the game's many stand-offs is always good fun.
Another disappointment at this early stage was the lack of any multiplayer action. The game says that this will unlock at level 100, which seems like an awful long way away.
I'm not sure if this is a soft-launch measure or a deliberate means of ensuring that everyone is at a high level of competence from the off, but it seems unnecessarily restrictive right now when this is supposed to be a key feature.
Map to the stars
Misgivings aside, Outer Pioneer is shaping up to be a highly entertaining casual shooter. It's not quite the tight, intense blaster I was hoping for, but conversely it should prove a lot more inclusive and welcoming to those who a normally turned off by such action games.
Indeed, it feels more like an MMORPG than an old school arcade game. Now all we need is some ready access to other players.