Frontiers Reach: Initial Thoughts
Updated: Jan 23
I believe the term "more than meets the eye" might be the best way to describe my experience with Frontiers Reach so far.
There's more going on with this game than even its Steam page lets on. It has been in development for at least two years now by Blind Alien Productions. Following a massive project shake-up in December 2021, Frontiers Reach hit its second wind after multiple significant reworks to the project's gameplay, flight model, story, and overall scope. Following the game entering beta on October 29th, 2022, Skyward Flight Media got in contact with the game's development team to get more information on the project and help identify some gameplay bugs.
There are so many functions, customizations, plot points, weapons, galactic travel options, and other topics to discuss; I need more time with Frontiers Reach before attempting to summarize them all. I've been taking my time playing this game from beginning to end, but it's too early to write anything like a review. Instead, I'd like to discuss a few things that have caught my attention so far.
Responsive Development Team
An odd point to start on, sure, but highly important for any game at this phase of its development. Since I started playing Frontiers Reach, I've been surprised at how responsive the development team is to bug reports. Quick fixes to specific bugs or more overarching reworks are published within hours to a day or two after they are reported. Rather than hold off on creating massive quality-of-life updates every few weeks, a steady stream of updates has maintained the team's presence even among its beta testers and quality control team. There is plenty more work to do before the game can be considered complete, but seeing fixes and updates applied within such a short amount of time is heartening for any game in early access.
Unexpected Story, Expansive Campaigns
The initial story setting for this game is prime for the classic tale of the heroic fighter pilot singlehandedly winning the war. As mentioned in the introduction, in the year 2230, two human factions that control vast areas of space are preparing for all-out war. Here I assumed the player would take the role of a brave pilot bringing peace by skillfully defeating one side while flying for the other. But in Frontiers Reach, the player is not diving into danger for glory. Instead, they are attempting to save the lives of people living on the fringes of the known galaxy by avoiding the coming war. Here, victory is survival at any cost - even if it means stealing fuel, facilitating prison breaks, raiding mercenaries, or ambushing government patrol fleets. The ultimate goal is to flee to uncharted space before the war inevitably ravages entire star systems.
The overall feeling of the story is heavy. The vagrant nature of the crew with few loyalties to anything, coldhearted objectives that involve breaking laws to save lives, and the sometimes frenetic combat make the experience invoke memories of popular sci-fi series like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. This was a refreshing change from the tried and true hero formula. Destroying a heavily defended fuel depot to cause chaos so you can slip into a factory to steal supplies later isn't a standard mission set you'll find in most flight games from the past or present.
Surprisingly, this game has two single-player campaigns. The first campaign is linear and story-driven. It comprises 20 main missions with some side missions offered by allied characters between missions. This campaign introduces the setting and story while familiarizing the player with controls, game mechanics, managing resources, meeting the cast, and traveling across the galaxy. It is a complete campaign from start to finish, despite technically being the "introduction".
By the end of the 20th mission, a second, more dynamic campaign begins, putting all decision-making power in a galaxy-wide conflict into the player's control. With 37 nodes (planets, locations in deep space, etc.) being contested by different factions, the second campaign is worth an article all on its own. You can be sure that I'll write thoroughly about it for my next article on this game.
Advanced Controller Support
The list of supported controllers is still expanding, with more settings for controllers being added by the developer. Today, custom keybinds for keyboard-mouse, gamepads, and flight sticks have been included. Including multi-USB controllers like hands-on throttle and stick controllers are something I plan on testing with a variety of sticks I have on hand. More on this later.
The current flight model has been completely overhauled from its earlier build. Even while flying the most maneuverable spacecraft available at this time, the smooth turning characteristics are notable. Epic turning battles with half a dozen fighters are commonplace. Most of the combat happens within blaster range (gun range). Even with the few guided missiles equipped, the fighting style is more like World War II or the Korean War. Expect to turn and burn for superiority in each mission.
Depending on the throttle setting, a consistent turning radius can easily be maintained, letting players focus more on their maneuvers without getting too wrapped up in the finer points of flight you'd expect from a full-fidelity simulator. Turns can be enhanced by momentarily using the reaction control system to make course corrections or snap turns to catch adversaries off guard. With the reaction control system equally effective in the atmosphere and space, it's an ace in the hole for players under challenging situations.
There is a considerable feeling of momentum and weight with each spacecraft. That's more apparent in some than others. Those factors help smoothen out gameplay from becoming so fast-paced and twitchy it is unwieldy. But in low-speed, low-altitude situations, it's one of the most significant hazards to players. Landing, searching for resources, and the admittedly difficult segments that require flying through buildings, space stations, and underground tunnels are much more dangerous than being fired upon.
More than once did I find myself carefully flying slowly at 5+ degrees nose up in a system of caves to avoid early warning radars. Learning how to manage low throttle settings during low-altitude flight is a lesson learned through trial and error. Fortunately, the game allows players to respawn up to three times per mission without a checkpoint system that automatically saves progress.
With Frontiers Reach still undergoing development in its open beta phase, I look forward to continuing the process of getting to know a game I should have checked out much earlier.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.