PAX East 15: Failing Miserably at Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
There are few things in life truer than death, taxes, and my inability to be a competent co-pilot. I take too many risks, don't really pay attention to what my partner is up to, and I'm easily distracted by all the shinies. That was especially true when playing a bit of Asteroid Base's Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. I couldn't help it; there was just too much cool stuff on-screen to take in.
The premise driving Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is simple enough. There's an alien robot menace threatening the solar system, and it's up to you (and a human or AI friend) to stave off the invasion and rescue all the captured species from the invader's clutches. The controls are simpler still, making use of both analog sticks and just two buttons to pilot your spaceship. However, it's all in how those easy-to-learn controls are used that makes LIDS a much deeper twin-stick, co-op experience than it first appears on the surface.
Using the "beginner" spaceship, Asteroid Base's Adam Winkels and I entered the water-themed region of LIDS' solar system. Though randomly generated, each of the areas is still themed around a particular real constellation, which in this case was Cetus. No two play experiences will be exactly the same, but you will encounter similar enemies and planetoids based in the concept behind the constellation in question. Additionally, the celestial beings will also serve as boss characters for a given area, provided you can actually complete enough objectives to unlock the encounter. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to my atrocious piloting skills, we didn't quite make it that far.
Each ship has multiple stations, which you and your co-pilot must manage accordingly based on the situation. The particular model of ship we used included four turrets, a shield station, a cockpit and a special weapon station. Both players must do their best to use the correct station when necessary, and while it might not sound all that complicated, once the enemies start flooding the screen, hectic does not begin to describe the mood. Do you try to fly your way out of trouble, while deflecting danger with the shield? Do you try to blast your way out, manning nothing but the weapon systems and throwing the hull's integrity to the wind? There's no such thing as a bad strategy, as long as it works. Sadly, the strategy of panic, panic, panic didn't really go our way.
When you do manage to work together as a team, the results are splendid. There are few things as satisfying as finding yourselves outnumbered by the robot enemy, and settling into a groove of shielding, shooting and evasion the likes of which just can't be stopped. The synchronicity is important, especially if you want to earn some coveted customization gems, which allow you to upgrade any aspect of the ship with a mere button press. These gems can add offensive features to things like your propulsion system, or improve the ferocity of your existing weapons systems. Best of all, you can drop and pop them from any station as needed, with up to two locked into any single spot. It adds a nice element of depth to the combat, and allows you to strategize where best to use the important resource.
As all of the action is unfolding on screen, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the impressive visual display. Despite being an incredibly dangerous time (ooooooooooh) for the system, LIDS makes use of some rather cutesy characters and whimsical world design. It provides an interesting dichotomy, and one that's very hard to pull your eyes away from while playing. The palette is disarming, but when the bullets start flying, the aesthetic is an oddly hypnotic ballet of carnage and color. It does take some time with LIDS to fully gain an appreciation of what elements to focus on when in a firefight, but even in death, the game is wonderful to watch.
Though there's no concrete release date in sight for Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Asteroid Base has certainly created an experience I can't wait to share with others. It's a pretty game with a surprising amount of strategy involved, and I can certainly see losing hours to exploring the depths of space with a co-op buddy. Maybe next time I'll just let someone else do the flying.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is due out eventually for the Xbox One and PC.