DROPSHIP – The SGN Review

DROPSHIP – The SGN Review

DROPSHIP is a game about sewing. It’s about trying to get the unwieldy thread that is your spaceship through a series of needle eyes, each tighter than the last. It’s an excruciating yet exhilarating experience, and one that I found myself begrudgingly enjoying after it smacked me around for the best part of my time with it.

DROPSHIP isn’t literally about sewing, of course; that was just a clever metaphor we’ll be returning to later. In actuality, DROPSHIP is about guiding a 60’s spacecraft, complete with era-appropriate UI, through a series of levels, largely set within twisting subterranean catacombs.

It’s the latest title from Scottish indie studio MINIGOLIATH, known for their short, experimental titles TERMINAL and The House in the Woods. The studio’s subversive spirit has well and truly carried over into DROPSHIP, with the game’s seemingly simple premise being the first cruel trick it plays on you. While it sounds easy on paper, and even looks easy as each level begins, showing a zoomed-out view of what appears to be comically simple level geometry, you’ll quickly realise that this isn’t the case. Not at all.

Ground Controls

The main reasons for this unexpected difficulty are twofold: the core setup of the player’s ship, and the controls with which they pilot it. In the latter case, rather than moving forwards, advancing up the screen by controlling your ship’s flight path, you instead control its descent. The ship is released at the start of each level, and will remain falling throughout. The player is tasked with controlling this fall, which is a disorienting break from tradition in terms of game navigation.

Complementing this feeling perfectly are the game’s controls; just like the era-appropriate aesthetics surrounding the dated craft, the way in which you control it is era-appropriate, too. This is no slick, modern spaceship, capable of speedy manoeuvres and daring escapes, but an old, cumbersome craft that begrudgingly accepts your input.

You can carry out three actions with the ship: you can strafe, moving slowly to the left or right (with inverted controls, of course); you can roll, spinning the ship up to 360 degrees to reorient your position; and you can thrust, briefly stabilising your ship’s otherwise erratic movement to navigate a tight space successfully.

Briefly is a key word here: thrust is a limited-use action, burning through your finite fuel supply with each use. This prevents you from playing it safe for the duration of entire levels, and forces you to take risks and engage with the use of gravity as an accelerant, something the game’s tooltips will remind you of periodically.

Hooked on a Feeling

While this control scheme will feel alien at first, with practice you’ll find the knack coming to you; you’ll be making small adjustments to strafe, roll and thrust as you squeeze your way through close-knit caverns, utilising the three inputs in sync in a way that feels different to any other game out there.

And it’s here that DROPSHIP really shines; in the unique way it feels to play. Backed up by 60’s visuals and old-school UI reports, the game transports you to another place in time. Unlike many games, however, the aesthetics here are more than aluminium-skin deep. The archaic controls pull the player themselves, not just the game, into the past, forcing them to wrestle with the now-abhorrent idea of inconvenience.

Immersing yourself fully in the world of a game only really happens when every aspect, from visuals to controls, from music to menu fonts, are all working together to the same experiential end. DROPSHIP achieves this beautifully, making its simple caves a joy to navigate. At least initially, anyway.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Because, beyond its incredible aesthetics, DROPSHIP’s other key characteristic is its brutal difficulty. While you’re growing accustomed to the unique control scheme, you’ll find your ship crashing and burning left and right like it’s test day at Tesla. Before you’ve mastered the idea of momentum, every surface in those simple cave layouts mentioned above will grant you an instant death as you careen off-course into it. You’re not even safe once you’ve mastered the thrust; the tiniest collision with the cave walls will tilt your ship, sending you spinning into an early grave.

Here’s where that sewing analogy comes in. DROPSHIP is the latest in what I’ve come to call ‘threading the needle’ games; titles with such precise demands on the player’s movement capabilities that they ultimately demand perfect executions of predetermined patterns. Games like Celeste and Super Meat Boy; notorious not just for their difficulty, but also for their inflexibility. DROPSHIP joins their hallowed ranks, and will absolutely demolish your resolve if you let it; this is a hard game that you’ll really need to persist with in order to see results.

It’s worth it, though. When you finally pull of that perfect run, letting your craft roll through a passage in free-fall before catching it last-second with the thrust, strafing ever so slightly to grab a stranded survivor off the beaten path, then calmly navigate your way over to the end-of-level landing pad, you’ll feel like a 60’s pilot prodigy; the moment shining all the brighter in the burning wreckage of the 43 ships you lost in order to finally make it there. Then you’ll sigh with relief, hit the ‘Next Level’ button, and the cycle of beautiful destruction will start all over again.

You can check out DROPSHIP for yourself on Steam here.

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