Wednesday, 29 August 2018 09:00

Ice Caves of Europa Review

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Ice Caves of Europa sets you in the mind of a sentient exploration drone venturing into the depths of the Jovian moon, Europa. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’d be like to explore dangerous caves of a frozen moon with a sentient drone, Ice Caves of Europa may be right up your alley. Australian developer Io Normaloffers a challenging gameplay twist by fusing flight simulator-style controls with side-scrolling level design.

After slogging through the multiple tutorials, you’ll hopefully have learned how to control your drone enough to not want to smash your keyboard against a wall. Controlling the drone is difficult, and it takes quite a bit of getting used to. The title probably works better with an Xbox controller, as evidenced by the UI having both keyboard and controller options for you to choose from. Your operators will guide you through the hard parts of getting acquainted with flying your drone, but they’ll also chat your ear off and bicker amongst themselves.


Your main task as the sentient drone is to collect mineral samples for your off-world operators, who seem innocent enough at first when they teach you how to control yourself in the dangerous world beneath the surface. This tone begins to shift, though, as the two operators begin bickering about the sentient nature of the drone and the other robots being used for their research. On the one hand, there’s the programmer who may be overly attached to his toys, and on the other, the stern and business-like operator who sees the drones as merely tools to accomplish a goal. While the story develops slowly, the premise and questions raised are fascinating and quite appropriate for a modern audience.

Gameplay mainly consists of flying your drone to designated waypoints, using your laser to melt mineral samples, collecting them, then returning to the surface to transmit the results. All in all, it’s pretty basic gameplay, but the difficulty arises through the strange and unintuitive controls of your drone. While original and probably as realistic as a game could get in terms of flight mechanics for an exploration drone, the gameplay suffers from redundant missions and tedious back-and-forth levels.


Level design feels repetitive, even if the graphics are engaging and atmospheric. The caves are full of glistening ice and ventilation shafts that will push your drone against the tunnel walls, potentially wrecking it. This motif is revisited again and again, but with slightly different textures and colors. Still, the darkness of the caves along with the simple sci-fi soundtrack create an atmosphere that is both immersive and foreign.

Ice Caves of Europa seeks to inspire and inform players on the growing use of technology and space exploration (and sentient AI). This goal is mostly achieved through the unique and compelling storyline (even if it takes some sweat and blood to get through it). Failing a mission feels catastrophic, since the difficulty of maneuvering your drone through tight tunnels full of gushing ventilation shafts requires precise guidance and deft finger movements.


On the flip side, accomplishing a mission does give a sense of personal reward, even if the game itself does not. There’s no score to feel good about in story mode, but there are time trials which let you compete with others to beat eight different predesigned levels, testing your speed and your ability to use your laser effectively.

If you’re looking for a totally new experience involving science and sci-fi, Ice Caves of Europa will give you a wonderful story to digest and wrap your mind around. With a unique mix of side-scrolling flight sim gameplay, you’ll have hours of learning to do before you master the art of using your drone. Luckily, the story is interesting enough to keep you going if you can get through the first half hour of tedious dialogue and hand-holding.


The Verdict: Average

Ice Caves of Europa is a challenging exploration simulator that may be more tedious to learn than the average gamer will have the patience for. Flight sim-style controls create a difficult and unintuitive experience that may have you pulling your hair out. Too many tutorials upfront keep the story from developing quickly, leaving you to wonder what the point of it all is. Despite this, there are moments of humor and a chilling, unique story that makes you feel like the isolated exploration bot you are. Lovers of sci-fi may find the challenge worth the time in order to experience the narrative.

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Shane Lynn

Shane's earliest memory of gaming was playing Contra on the original NES. Since then he has found a love for PC gaming, Pen and Paper Role playing, and Board games. His strongest passions are in the realms of fantasy and science fiction where he has developed countless worlds, stories, table top gaming systems, and an original board game. Outside of gaming, he'll be found dancing with crystals and talking with glowing nature spirits in his backyard.


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