Fails to leave a lasting impression.
Feeling pretty confident after completing the tutorial of twin-stick blast-’em-up Last Encounter, I loaded up my first run and was immediately killed. A cavalcade of enemies swarmed me instantly, breaking my shield and blowing my ship up as I hurtled around defencelessly. Huh. Must’ve just been bad luck – comes with the territory in roguelikes. So I tried again.
I was blown up again, just as quickly as the first time.
After several hours, I have gotten much better at surviving the harsh galaxies of Last Encounter. However, occasionally I will still enter a new area and be accosted by more lasers and missiles than I literally know what to do with. To me, Last Encounter demonstrates the perils of relying on roguelike elements to a fault instead of first focusing on designing a strong foundation to build the roguelike qualities atop of.
It’s understandable why I was confused upon starting up Last Encounter; both in screenshots and in action, the visuals can be difficult to parse. Gameplay is punctuated by bullet-hellish amounts of neon pellets and laser beams that would put Gratuitous Space Battles to shame. The sci-fi setting here feels very commonplace, as does the story – which, as far as I can tell, has been constructed from an assemblage of boilerplate sci-fi tropes. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but it’s a very uninspiring justification for the gameplay.
Last Encounter has you, a little pilot in a little spacecraft, fighting through procedurally generated galaxies. Galaxies are comprised of discrete sectors, which essentially act as rooms in a dungeon level. Keys are hidden throughout these sectors, all of which you must collect before heading to the gate and progressing to the next galaxy. Unconventionally, sectors are navigated by pressing the map screen button and selecting the sector you wish to teleport to, rather than simply moving through a door to another room. Hopping from sector-to-sector is snappy and ensures you’ll always be in the thick of the action, but it isn’t too drastic a change from simply moving to the next room.
Last Encounter’s hook is in its component-based weapon system. Players can completely switch up their weapons on the fly by combining different ammo types (lasers, bullets), weapon types (triple-bullet spread, alternating fire) and bullet qualities (freeze enemies, poison enemies) together for deadly effect. There are also a variety of different unlockable pilots and spacecrafts to choose from, each of which possesses different qualities such as base weapons, movement speed and shield regen cooldowns. While heavily customisable weapons is a strong idea, generally there is not much need for experimentation – you’ll likely find the one loadout that works for you very quickly and never really feel much of a need to switch from it.
However, Last Encounter’s real issue is in its procedural galaxies. Sectors are simply too similar. You will find that sectors will often be comprised of the same enemy formations and same few different obstacles, albeit placed slightly differently. Despite Last Encounter’s claim that you will likely never see the same sector twice, they quickly begin to look very familiar.
While dogfighting with the hordes of enemy spacecrafts can be frantically fun, there is rarely a need for any variance in strategy. I’ve found that approaching by cautiously shooting from a distance while backing up has been viable for most every firefight. Even if obstacles occasionally spice things up – a highlight being black holes that arch your bullets around their gravity belt – most often you’ll find yourself going through the same motions every run, over and over.
Last Encounter tries to encourage the player to take on a more reckless, aggressive approach by using enemy spawners and healing units that you’ll have to eliminate before anything else to make a dent to the enemy mob. However, I’ve found it easy enough to swoop in, quickly do away with the spawner or healer, and swoop back out at a safe distance to continue my boring-but-effective strategy. It helps that enemy AI is simple and easy to hook onto asteroids and walls. As fun as getting into the fray and weaving through enemy fire is, often it’s simply much too dangerous to risk doing given the limited amount of shield and health your spacecraft has.
I feel especially bad about criticising Last Encounter because I know there’s something there, deep inside it. Movement and shooting feels solid, its co-op multiplayer is an enjoyable addition and there are the workings of several interesting ideas in its customisable weapons and sector-hopping levels. Unfortunately, in this roguelike-ridden indie game landscape, Last Encounter doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd. As far as twin-stick/roguelike hybrids go, you could do a lot worse – but you could also do so much better.
Jace is a lover of games experimental and strange. He is always chasing after wholly new experiences.