Ah, Jumpdrive. Or Paragon. Or Pioneer. Or whatever it is you're calling yourself these days. What the devil happened? You started off with a mighty roar and a grandiose vision, only to expire ignobly with a sort of embarrassing farty sound. And now everyone on Steam hates you, and you're subject to torrents of vitriol so corrosive anyone even vaguely associated with the game has probably become an emotionally traumatised recluse. How did it all go so very wrong? Welcome to another depressing tale of what happens to indie developers when their ambition outstrips their resources.
Jumpdrive, previously known as Paragon, started out as a fork of the free, open-source space-sim, Pioneer. Meteoric Games' plan was to take the existing code base and basic premise - that of space exploration/trading/combat in a vast procedurally generated universe governed by realistic Newtonian physics - tart it up a bit, add a few new and interesting features, and then charge money for it. What you'd end up with, if all went according to plan, was a new and improved version of 1993's Frontier - Elite II, probably the yardstick by which all similar games are measured. Sadly, due to staffing issues and a river of money that rapidly evaporated, things did not go according to plan, and we're left with... an alpha version released as a completed product. For which you're expected to pay actual money. Something that technically functions (though frequently not as intended) and doesn't look too shabby all things considered, but is most definitely not what supporters of the project were promised.
Jumpdrive's demise as a viable product is apparent from the moment you first load the game. The title screen informs you the version you're playing is ‘Alpha 12.4’. Clicking on ‘New Game’ takes you to a wall of text that still refers to the game as Paragon, states once again it's in alpha and there will be bugs (they're not kidding), and provides you with a quick and dirty tutorial on how to pilot your ship. Then, without further ado, you're unceremoniously plopped on a landing pad in the Firedrake system. The rest is up to you. No manual, no hand-holding, just tooltips and an overwhelming feeling of WTF?
Fortunately, despite the primitive interface, Jumpdrive's controls are fairly easy to decipher. You have your lidar (it's basically a radar) in the centre console, icons governing autopilot and engines on the right, and more icons giving you access to external views, ship information, the star map, and communications on the left. Flying the ship is accomplished via the WASD keys. Mouse control can be toggled on or off with a simple right-click. You'll quickly find that flight controls are something of a non-issue given your ship comes with an autopilot which is quite happy to manage the tedious business of flitting about the galaxy for you. Manual flight is limited and can prove both awkward and disorientating. Then there's the waiting. Waiting to leave the gravity of a planet before you can engage your jump drive. Waiting to traverse the vast distance between a jumping off point and a space station. Just... waiting. The autopilot, when it works correctly, helps to mitigate a lot of the monotony.
When the autopilot doesn't work correctly, things tend to get both weird and hilarious in equal measure. I've had it plunge me directly into the surface of a planet, merrily propelling the ship through solid rock without a care in the world. I've had it perform truly arcane docking manoeuvres as it attempted to guide me safely into a space station hangar. And I've had it send me careening off into the void for no apparent reason. It's quite possible Jumpdrive's autopilot modules are possessed by agents of Lucifer. Other bugs encountered were contacts appearing on the lidar, but not on the contact list; missions failing to complete despite meeting the predefined criteria; settings on the options screen that have no discernible effect; and missions being offered after the time limit to complete them had already expired. It also likes to beep at you and then crash. The game is a veritable festival of glitches, and while nothing is broken so irreparably it renders the game unplayable, it does make for something of an unpredictable experience.
So, what about combat then? Yeah... about that. You start the game in a tiny unarmed shuttle carrying five tonnes of hydrogen fuel for the jump drive, and little else. Not exactly an advantageous position from which to start picking fights. During my travels, no one seemed inclined to start shooting great holes in me with laser cannons. There was no sign of either pirates or trigger-happy law enforcement, and everyone seemed content to go about their business in as peaceful a fashion as possible. Given the price of a new ship was an extortionate $25,000, in order to afford it I'd have to spend hours trundling back and forth between outposts for meagre reward ($25.65 for a local courier run - do they know how much it costs to charter a bus, let alone a spaceship?). I simply wasn't prepared to invest so much time in a game that's about as stable as a bucketful of nitroglycerine on a merry-go-round. The general consensus on Steam is that there IS combat... but it's horribly broken and the game is prone to crashing when you successfully destroy an enemy ship. In Jumpdrive, even when you win, you lose.
Graphically, Jumpdrive looks a bit better than Pioneer, though it still consists primarily of various geometric shapes and bog-standard starfields. The screens where you conduct most of your trading, navigation and repairs are all the same blinding shade of blue, and you get the impression the game is very much a work in progress. (Except it isn't. It's abandoned.) The ship you start out with resembles a flying shoe, and most of the planetary settlements look as though someone upended a bucket of Lego over a muddy field. Your ship's cockpit, though simple, is nicely modelled, and the galaxy itself is full of colourful nebulae and orbiting space stations with blinking lights. It's not about to win any awards for aesthetics, but it's not going to have you regurgitating your last meal either.
Soundwise, Jumpdrive is a mixed bag. The sound effects are nothing to write home about - the dull roar of the ship's thrusters, and some feeble weapon effects (if you're prepared to play the game long enough to actually acquire weapons) - it's all very basic stuff. Musically, Jumpdrive is surprisingly competent. The game features some stonking retro synth tunes that really help to enhance the sci-fi ambience and make the interminable waiting during travel more bearable. Granted, they do grow repetitive after an hour or so, but if the rest of the game achieved a similar standard this would be a very different review. Unsurprisingly, Jumpdrive does not incorporate multiplayer. Even if it did, I suspect it wouldn't work.
So, after this litany of failure, would I recommend Jumpdrive? No. Even if your notion of what constitutes a functional game has been utterly eroded by nostalgia for the glory days of Frontier - Elite II, there's really no cogent argument to be made for purchasing this buggy, crash-prone, half-finished digital abortion. Especially when you can get what amounts to the same game for free elsewhere. What Meteoric Games have done with Jumpdrive is wallpaper some wooden framing and call it a house. It's not. It's dull. It's broken. It's not fun. And the last of these should be the death knell of any game.
If you're really tweaking for a space-sim fix, you have two options. Pioneer is free, open-source and continually updated. It's not particularly attractive to look at, and the mechanics remain a work in progress, but if you're jonesing for some Frontier style intergalactic shenanigans free-of-charge, Pioneer's your best bet. If, on the other hand, you expect your games to look a bit sexier in the eye-candy department and subject to more stringent quality assurance, then your drug of choice is probably Elite Dangerous. Which actually works properly.
Jumpdrive (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is unenjoyable, but it works.
Some brilliant 80s inspired synth tunes ruined by an abysmal game badly disguised as a commercial release. Glitchy and riddled with bugs. Recommended for masochists and nostalgia-addled Frontier fan-boys only.