There is something tremendously compelling about saving up for virtual things. Whether it be for the purchase of weapons, armour or new vehicles, saving credits is undeniably a huge pull that keeps us gamers revisiting titles that have nailed the virtual commerce. Fish Labs' space shooter Galaxy on Fire may at first seem like a no brains shooter, but allow yourself a few hours of play it soon becomes apparent that the skill lies not in how well you fight but more on how well you spend.
Galaxy on Fire's (GoF) story puts you in the role of Keith Maxwell, a discharged military pilot making a living as a mercenary. For the structured segment of the game Keith finds himself working for the Terran, a species of human like aliens embroiled in an intergalactic conflict with the Vossk. The characters are weak and easily forgettable and whilst the plot serves as an adequate vessel to carry the 13 story missions, it won't fill you with any kind of emotional attachment to the protagonist. The single moment of forced narrative empathy comes and goes with the climax of the story and will probably leave most gamers wondering why they should care.
GoF truly comes into its own when the story is over and done with and Keith is given the freedom of the galaxy. Being able to move from planet to planet not only gives you control over the factions you work for but also the money you earn. There is a real sense of economy involved as you buy and sell weapons and ships, as well as loot won from completing certain missions.
The biggest problem with GoF is the radical hike in difficulty that happens midway through the story mode. If you haven't spent your money wisely you will most probably find yourself swarmed by a superior enemy that often seems immune to your attacks. It feels unnatural that the far more user-friendly galaxy mode should come after the linear story missions. Gamers who are easily perturbed by steep learning curves are unlikely to see GoF's finer offerings and miss out on the virtual spending that really makes it such an enjoyable title.
If you can forgive Galaxy on Fire for its overly ambitious (both in terms of plot and difficulty hike) first segment then you'll find yourself graced with a clever little shooter that inspires a real sense of 'play it until you can afford it' gameplay.
Galaxy on Fire was reviewed with version 1.0.
Update: Fishlabs has released an auto-update that allows players to adjust the difficulty level from the beginning. The update also fixes some minor graphical and control glitches.