Earth and Beyond Review

Westwood Studios is best known for their strategy games, but they've decided to take a chance with an entirely different animal in Earth & Beyond.  The game is a MMOG set in Earth's stellar neighborhood, with a heavy emphasis on role-playing and space action and nary a resource gatherer or production structure in sight.  When game companies try to take on a project outside of their usual specialty, the result is often disastrous.  This is not the case with Earth & Beyond, though.  Even though it does have its share of shortcomings, it can be a surprisingly fun and addicting game to play.

Before jumping into the game, you'll need to create your in-game character.  There are three playable races to choose from: Terrans, Progen, and Jenqui.  Terrans are from Earth and excel at trade.  Progen are descended from Martian colonists, and have been genetically engineered to be the ultimate warriors.  The Jenqui's ancestors were Earth colonists that established large space-based stations around Jupiter.  They prize knowledge above all else and are intrepid explorers.  By aligning the three playable races along combat, exploration, and trade specialties, Westwood has identified the three major facets of space-based games and provided a playable race for gamers that enjoy each of these aspects of play.  Choosing to play a Progen certainly does not preclude you from running trade routes, but if you enjoy the buy low-sell high style of play, then you'd be better off playing as a Terran and benefiting from their larger cargo bays.

Once you have selected a race, you have your choice of profession.  Each race has two possible professions, and they can be thought of as one 'pure' profession and one hybrid.  For example, you can choose to be a Terran Trader or Progen Warrior, or if you want to be an explorer that can hold his/her own in a fight, you can select a Jenqui Warrior.  If you have trouble deciding on a race and profession, then you'll be pleased to know that the game allows you to have up to five characters in the game.  The real choice that you'll need to make is which one of the six race/profession combinations that you won't play.

After you've made your choice, you can customize your avatar and ship.  There are a set of hairstyles, clothing, tattoos, and face structures to work with, and you can customize the color of any of them.  For ships, each profession can mix and match one of three hull styles with one of three wing styles, and then apply custom colors to their ships.  The result of the customization is that you end up with a unique ship and avatar, but one that resembles others in the game - kind of like an extended family.

Once in the game, you'll be taken through a short tutorial to help you get familiar with your ship and its controls.  The tutorial is short because it doesn't need to be long; control of ships is quite easy.  You hold the right mouse button down to thrust and point the cursor in the direction that you want to fly.  Clicking on another ship tracks it automatically, and pressing the number keys will fire your weapons at the target.  This simplistic control makes the game accessible to more players, but will come as a disappointment to sim fans.  The physics and flight models are simple, and maneuver and flight skills play little role in combat.  The deciding factor is whether or not you have higher level weapons and a higher combat level than your opponent.