Game name: Curved Space
Release date: June 29, 2021
Available on: Steam
Genre: Twin-stick shooter
Developer: Only By Midnight
Publisher: Maximum Games
I heard about Curved Space a while ago, but twin-stick shooters aren’t exactly my preferred videogame genre, so I promptly forgot about it. In an alternate universe, things would have stayed that way, but thankfully, a media contact got in touch with me about the game, and refreshed my memory while giving me access to a pre-launch build. Since then, I’ve spent a bit over a dozen hours playing this little gem created by the talented minds working at Only By Midnight, and I feel I’m ready to share my thoughts on it with you, dear reader.
Curved Space bills itself as a twin-stick shooter with a twist, that twist being that the action takes place in curved arenas that reminded me of certain Prey (2006) segments (you can loop around the surface of asteroids and other environments). In reality, the curved arenas don’t add that much to the gameplay (although they look undeniably cool) and the game has a few more tricks up its sleeve that make it a lot more interesting than we’d think after watching a trailer or two.
A quick introduction lets us know that Humanity’s energy needs are currently being covered by the power obtained from space spiders that come in all kinds of shapes (and are often highly aggressive in nature). Our task is to savagely murder these creatures in order to get the energy they transport (something that reminds me of the Thermal Energy from Lost Planet). In order to do that, we’ll be issued a spaceship armed with an energy leash, a dash mechanic, and up to two weapons at a time (though this limit can be increased later). Leashing spiders to siphon towers will allow us to leech energy from their bodies, as well as other interesting maneuvers I’ll describe later. It’s not exactly standard fare twin-stick shooter territory, and I commend the team at Only By Midnight for coming up with all of this.
The campaign will take us to a few different combat arenas (all of them liberally using the curved space gimmick that lets us do stuff like shooting at one end of the arena and still hit opponents who happen to be at the other side of the curve) and interestingly, features a fully voice acted storyline which even lets us choose where to go at certain points of the adventure. It’s not anything to write home about, but once again, it’s also not the kind of thing you’d expect from this sort of game, so I was pleasantly surprised by it. Aside from the campaign, we can also choose to take on a daily mission or Arena, Survival and Endless modes. The extra content is a very good idea, because a normal mode Campaign run took me a bit over two hours and I am far from the most skilled twin-stick shooter player. Thankfully, I feel that the first run of the campaign is more of a tutorial for the rest of the game, and the other modes are very fun to play if the gameplay loop gets its hooks on you. I can see myself spending a few dozen hours on it if not more, should the score-chasing instincts finally kick in.
Remember when I said that the curved space gimmick isn’t really this game’s defining mechanic? Well, I think it’s time to talk a bit more in depth about Curved Space‘s gameplay. Our starship acts as a sort of hoverboard, sticking to the ground, and projectiles fired by us or our enemies will follow the same rules, curving across the horizon in certain situations. The dash mechanic can be used to evade enemy projectiles, or, more interestingly, as an offensive weapon should we have a spider in our leash. Normal enemies go down instantly should they be leashed when our ship dashes into them, and they usually drop health when that happens, so it can be used as a sort of DOOM Glory Kill mechanic (and you even get the benefit of the slight invulnerability window while dashing). Aside from that, our leash also helps charge an Overdrive mode, which once triggered will imbue our weaponry with a lot more power than we normally have at our fingertips, blowing up enemies in mere seconds and helping us when it comes to dealing massive damage to the screen filling bosses that will appear during the later parts of the campaign.
The weapon selection at our disposal is quite impressive, ranging from basic machinegun-type weapons, to shotguns, charged lasers, snipers, and more outlandish stuff like an energy saw. Some of that gear has a fixed amount of ammo, so once that runs out, we’ll lose it, while other weapons can shoot indefinitely. As I said before, at the start of the game we’ll have access to up to two weapons at a time, but there is an upgrade that adds an extra slot. With very few exceptions most of the guns we’ll use have clearly defined roles and will do their job perfectly fine. I wish one of the flamethrower-type weapons was a bit more effective, but it’s still viable if that’s all you have in a pinch.
Our spaceship can also be upgraded as missions end, and depending on how far along the campaign we are at the moment, we’ll have a pretty comprehensive selection of buffs available at our disposal, ranging from basic damage increase mods, to more interesting things such as a leeching upgrade for our leash (so we can get health back as well as energy), damage reflecting dashes, the extra weapon slot I mentioned above, etc. Overall, it’s a simple system that does its job wonderfully.
When it comes to mission variety things aren’t looking as rosy, sadly. We’ll spend most of our time shooting spiders, then shooting some more spiders, and then maybe gathering energy, or shooting specific spiders while avoiding the others. A few missions change things up a bit with the introduction of friendly defensive turrets that can be controlled by the player in order to blow up enemies without getting too close to them, but that’s pretty much all there is to do. Thankfully, shooting spiders is fun, so there’s that. The bosses we’ll face at certain points of the campaign are a blast to fight, but I noticed that some of them showed up way more than others, so don’t expect a lot of variety in that regard either. The harder difficulty modes add modifiers to spice up the challenge (such as a permadeath option) but if you aren’t interested in that, it’s not something forced upon the player (and the normal mode lets you bank extra lives from time to time, so it’s pretty hard to fail).
Moving on to the tech department, this isn’t exactly an amazing looking title, but the art style lets you identify the different enemy types at a glance, and that’s a big plus in my book. I experienced no crashes or performance issues during my playtime, and aside from the camera sometimes getting a bit lost during the curved space transitions, the controls are very responsive and feel good for a twin-stick shooter. The music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it’s very competently done and I can see other people enjoying the soundtrack quite a bit. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the voice acting during the campaign missions.
Overall, Curved Space may look like a one-trick pony with a simple gimmick, but it’s actually a very engaging twin-stick shooter teeming with good ideas and fun combat encounters.
8/10 (Very good)