First Impression: D.E.E.P. Battle of Jove
Steam Game Festival: Summer Edition 2020 is here! As the seven day-long event focused on new games in development kicks off, our sights are set firmly on a title that barrel-rolled into our interest.
D.E.E.P. Battle of Jove is an action-focused, easily accessible space flight shooter that touts a hand-built level design. There are no procedurally generated elements nor a nebulous open-world to navigate. With the developer referencing Star Fox and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron style retro games on Steam and Twitter, Skyward Flight Media reached out to Thinking Stars - the team developing the game. For one week before the public release of the demo, three Skyward staff members extensively played the demo to get a feel for this still-in-development title. Their first impressions have been compiled into this article with critiques and suggestions at the end.
It's hard to draw too much story from the demo alone. The story becomes easier to understand after paying attention to the visual novel style dialogue cutscenes, radio communications, and reading the current Steam page description.
The player is a member of Eidos, a rebellion that opposes an all-knowing artificial intelligence called D.E.E.P. Brain. The story takes place in the Jovian System (Jupiter and its system of moons) at an unspecified time in the future. The demo's tutorial mission suggests that D.E.E.P. and Eidos last fought at least eight years before the game's story with Eidos forces not being victorious.
On the game's full release, the 8-hour story will include voice acting and surely more background, but as it is now, the story is lost within the demo's gameplay.
D.E.E.P. Battle of Jove presents itself as an easy to pick up, arcade single-player space flight shooter. Its focus is on fast, simplified gameplay with enough systems to keep the player engaged with the action and not on managing pages of primary and sub-systems.
During missions, the core systems can are split into movement, weapons, and evasive maneuvers. All functions of the ships are accessible via gamepad or keyboard and mouse with less than 15 buttons and a few button combinations. It should be said that the game was primarily built for gamepads with KBM support coming later. Because of this, some features like an aim assist are not available on keyboard and mouse in this first public demonstrator.
Though it does not offer a full six degrees of freedom of movement space sims are known for, the control scheme follows button layouts that are familiar for flight sim enthusiasts with a handful of advanced options changes in the main menu settings. Increasing game difficulty affects how AI enemies evade attacks and amplifies damage players receive.
To keep the action at the forefront, enemies that are destroyed drop capsules that contain resources for the players. Repairs for the ship hull and shields, different types of ammo replenishments, and credits used for ship customization. This forgoes the need to dock at stations for repairs or plan lengthy journeys to replenish resources. Players are always just a few destroyed enemies away from being combat worthy again.
The evasive maneuver system delivers the ability to instantly execute barrel rolls, U-turns (Immelman Turn), and somersaults with the press of a button or two. Missiles fired by enemies can only be evaded effectively by using evasive maneuvers because of the very small window of warning that is given. Manually adjusting throttle and maneuvering hard to avoid being hit by missiles is rarely an option because of this. Quickly rolling left or right is enough to break incoming missile lock and isn't a hindrance. It was most likely designed like this to add more excitement to the game by relying on the evasion system, but a slightly larger window of warning would be nice all the same. Hostile long-range missile barrages can be evaded by going full thrust, but the energy in Propel Mode is shared with evasion. Running out of energy/fuel to evade is a danger for those that rely on full thrust too often.
An unexpected part of the gameplay is Strike Mode. This ability to transform parts of the spacecraft and change its flight characteristics is only available on the Firefly-MKII for the demo. When activated, Strike Mode cancels the constant forward movement of Flight Mode and brings the craft to a hover. Movement is restricted to moving directly forward, back and strafing left and right with quick bursts of thrust to evade attacks. This seems like a big tip of the hat to Strike Suit Zero's Strike Mode, which could transform a craft from Pursuit Mode to Strike Mode as well.
In D.E.E.P Battle of Jove, Strike Mode is introduced as a way to investigate areas but is especially effective at concentrating fire on a group of enemies or larger enemies while avoiding overshooting them.
This is a preview of the full-fledged system being developed, which will include engine upgrades and cosmetic upgrades that are unlocked by completing achievements and finishing missions.
The spacecraft in the demo are open for weapons customization before each mission after the tutorial mission. Weapons are unlocked using credits gained by destroying enemies and completing missions and can be mounted in two weapons slots with a third slot reserved for guided missiles or unguided rockets.
Thus far, there are 12 weapons total, though not all can be used in the demo. The weapons are classified between energy and kinetic classes. Included are of various types of lasers, Gatling guns, railguns, homing missiles, unguided rockets, and even scatterguns. Some weapons have additional unique abilities. For example, the Coil Laser BN fires projectiles that guide themselves onto targets if they pass close enough to them.
Enemies with shielding can significantly minimize the effectiveness of some weapons. It will take more ammunition than usual to strip away their shields, depending on the weapon they are being attacked with. Understanding the pros and cons of the different weapons and how they are affected by energy shielding is important in combat. Carrying both energy and kinetic weapons during a mission is recommended.
While each craft can carry three weapons, the built-in fourth weapon is the EMP Storm. This is an electromagnetic pulse with a limited range capable of destroying smaller fighter enemies and causing damage to larger units. The EMP begins recharging after each use with no set ammunition limit. Enemies destroyed by this weapon are often close enough for their dropped armor, shield, and ammo resources are immediately picked up by the player. This makes the EMP Storm a great tool to eliminate groups of enemies while quickly repairing and rearming in dire situations.
At this point, there is little that distinguishes the three (technically four) demo spacecraft from one another in terms of performance. While their descriptions and status bars state what the differences are, the flight characteristics of the Falcon, Firefly, and Flying Ape are all very similar sans Strike Mode. Each of the designs are visually pleasing, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts their strengths and weaknesses don't stand out in a meaningful way.
There is a small selection of enemies present in the demo ranging from fighter size, which could be described as "large fighter" size with energy barriers and a full-size dreadnought.
Enemies of the smaller scale are fast and can pursue players with immensely destructive lasers that can eat through shields and hull armor within seconds if ignored. Some pursue close enough to perform ramming attacks. They are also the most common source of replenishing ammo and armor during missions.
The "large fighters" are roughly three times the size of the player's craft. They carry heavy laser weaponry suited for attacking space stations and warships. They are also able to deploy visible energy shielding to block attacks.
The dreadnought seen prominently in the trailers for the game acted more like a traditional boss fight than what appeared to be a capital ship style engagement. Eventually, the player is pitted in a 1 on 1 battle with the dreadnought that forces them to rush the dreadnought head-on. While evading missiles, escort fighters, and high power lasers, the damage inflicted by players caused the dreadnought to change forms and unleash new attacks. What a twist! While fleet vs. fleet combat is a possibility for D.E.E.P. Battle of Jove, more boss style fights may be better for its overall identity and match its high-speed arcade playstyle.
Critiques and Suggestions
For a demonstrator, it's starting with a strong foot forward and a lot of potentials. Our critiques and suggestions are:
The missile alert can be unreliable at times. Slightly increasing the time the missile alert prompt appears would provide at least one or two extra seconds to realistically be able to dodge consistently. Perhaps a way to tie this variable to difficulty level would be good.
Weapons Information: a better explanation of the in-game differences between energy and kinetic weapons. Which type of weapon is more or less effective against shielded enemies, more suited for engagements at long range, etc.
Exchange bar graphs on performance descriptions for weapons and vehicles from bar graphs to exact numbers. This would clearly define damage output, rates of fire, maximum weapon range, speed, hull armor, shield armor, etc.
Further adjustments to spacecraft to better distinguish them. Widen performance differences in baseline capabilities to give each craft clear weaknesses and strengths. Examples: Eidos craft better have increased kinetic weapon ammo, craft with captured DEEP technology more energy weapon ammo, Light Fighters carry more missiles than other classes of fighters, etc.
Add target height indicator on radar to better understand where enemies are.
Reduce EMP recharge rate by a few seconds to make it more of a ‘clutch’ weapon. Keep its range, damage output and ability to gather resources the same. A slower recharge makes it more of a precious weapon to be used less often.
Strike Mode offers little in the way of advantages aside from lingering next to large enemies as a stable firing platform. Consider adding specific abilities only available in Strike Mode. Examples: fire both primary weapons at once, shield damage reduction, slightly faster EMP recharge rate.
Look into adding full Six degrees of freedom to the game.
Options to remap controls on both KBM and gamepad.
Slightly enlarge the weapons lock indicator on the HUD. Maybe increase the size of the indicator or change its color so it is more noticeable. Similar changes suggested to lead indicator for kinetic weapons when tracking moving targets.
Scroll wheel on mouse to change weapon should work in both directions instead of just up.
Skyward Flight Media would like to thank the Thinking Stars team for the opportunity to put the demo for D.E.E.P. Battle of Jove through its paces during this time. Next week we will be following up with them to discuss their experience with the festival, future plans for the game and get to know their team better. I personally would like to thank to Santiago 'Cubeboy' Cuberos and 'Prov' from the Skyward team for playing the demo early and collaborating to create this first look.
Steam Game Festival: Summer Edition is active between June 16th and June 22nd, 2020. Alongside this game, other flight experiences await. Stay tuned for more first impressions in the coming days.
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza is the Director of Operations for Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |