Title: Frontier Pilot Simulator Released On: 30 January 2018 (Early Access) Genre: Simulation Reviewed On: PC Developer: RAZAR s.r.o. Publisher: RAZAR s.r.o. MSRP: £13.99 / $17.48 USD (currently)
It is relatively safe to assume that most people are accustomed with the idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, which of course is a metaphor for not prejudging the worth of something by its outward appearance alone. But what if the ‘cover’ of the book appears to be fabulous, so good in fact that you cannot wait to sit down and read the book from start to finish; only to find that the initial chapters leave you frustrated and disinterested? Many people would likely toss the book to one side and never pick it up again, never realising that they had in fact been holding on to a magnificent piece of literature, albeit with a frustrating beginning. My experience with Frontier Pilot Simulator is much akin to this metaphor, except that I decided to ‘pick the book back up’.
When RAZAR s.r.o contacted us back in April, I could not wait to get stuck into a game which was heralded as ‘Trucking in Space! Relaxing and addictive game for review!’ As I have somehow developed an affinity for simulations over the years, and I do indeed tend to find them relaxing and addictive, Frontier Pilot Simulator clearly had my name written all over it. It is worth stating that this is a title that is in Early Access — very Early Access in fact — so a certain amount of ‘jankiness’ is to be expected with a game that is fundamentally in Alpha. If the occasional crash or having to tweak the graphical settings in order to get it running just right are too much of a hassle for you, then you will be immediately put off. As I play at 1080p, I have become accustomed to being able to set my graphical settings to max in most games; this resulted in about 20fps in Frontier Pilot Simulator, yes it was a slide show, but what a beautiful slide show it was. After some tweaking I managed to get the game running over 60fps consistently enough (whilst still looking pretty good) that I could enable V-Sync and truly start enjoying my adventure.
Getting to Grips with Thrust
Frontier Pilot Simulator features a skill-based flying system with a story-driven economic progression system, set in an open world with dynamic weather and a physics system that will take a while to get accustomed with. Upon beginning the game you start out with a very basic cargo ship (pictured above) that has a very limited range and can only transport the lightest of loads. In fact, I highly recommend — at least initially — just flying around a little bit at first; as piloting a craft that is reliant on directional thrust takes quite a bit of time to get accustomed to. During this initial experimentation, you will most likely delete your save and start from scratch. I can almost guarantee you will find your bank balance so far into in the negatives that any attempt to make money will be futile.
This early playtime is all about getting to grips with the thrust system, as well as learning to pay attention to environmental factors such as wind, geysers, and volcanoes. The physics in Frontier Pilot Simulator are excellent, albeit very challenging from the start. Through the use of thrust, you have to learn that movement will not necessarily be immediate, and that landing without damaging your cargo or your ship is an acquired skill. You also learn at this point that a heavy load of cargo will dramatically change the handling of your craft; in some cases resulting in your ship being unable to fully take off. During these early stages of the game, it would be very easy to become frustrated and just give up; and to be completely honest, that is exactly what I did.
Well, at least for a little while. I have never been one to back away from a challenge, so after a couple of small updates that the developers pushed out I jumped right back in.
I was initially a glorified taxi, merely transporting colonists between the different locations on the relatively small island where this adventure begins. The income was relatively meager, but performing these tasks allowed me to truly master piloting my ship. Whilst I keep threatening to purchased a decent HOTAS, it is still something I have not done yet. Assuming that Frontier Pilot Simulator will support them, I imagine that will be the preferred method of play. But using a controller works extremely well, as the triggers allow for varying degrees of thrust that precision flying relies upon. As I continued the grind, quests began to appear (signified by yellow text on-screen) instructing me to purchase various upgrades, and eventually a new ship.
This is when everything changed, and the game really opened up.
The World Just Got Bigger
Whilst the starting ship was unimpressive (limited range, limited cargo capacity), the OX is a completely different animal. This particular ship is a proper VTOL aircraft that allows you to convert to ‘plane mode’ once you reach a speed/altitude that is safe to do so. My adventure had instantly transformed from the tale of a low-altitude taxi driver to a long-haul cargo transporter. This is when the game became really interesting.
The story is still being developed, so admittedly there is not much to it currently; but the devs have teased where it is going: ‘What happens to this planet? Signs abound that something is not right. Who built the mysterious structures scattered around the planet?’ Ignoring the narrative for now (which has some interesting developments), the current world is fairly large and features several mining bases, research stations, trawlers, and space docks to challenge your landing skills. You also soon learn that Frontier Pilot Simulator features a supply and demand economy that will allow you to build up a healthy bank balance, provided your cargo ship is up to the task.
For example, I can purchase canned ‘cockscomb’ in own juice for $1000 from a handful of locations; it is fairly inexpensive, relatively light, and not too fragile. Provided I can successfully complete the journey, I can sell this questionably named item for a tidy $55K at a distant location. The initial configuration of the OX will not allow you to make this journey very easily, so you will have to make pit-stops along the way. These typically occur in one of two places: either at different bases or just by landing in the wild and calling in a repair drone, which will recharge your ship for a price. But if you succeed in this perilous journey, you will start earning enough money to start upgrading that ship of yours, which in itself is quite challenging.
The various upgrades: wings, engines, chassis, battery, and hold all have different features and characteristics that you need to pay attention to. I briefly mentioned the physics system, well this includes Newton’s Laws and Bernoulli’s Principle (as they apply to flight). Some of the upgrades appear to be amazing, and you may find yourself attempting to kit out your craft with what appears to be the best upgrades (most powerful engines, largest battery, biggest wing). You’ll soon find out however that with all that additional weight, your ship — whilst impressive looking, and apparently powerful — cannot overcome the force of gravity for very long.
I have found that the setup below works extremely well, but there are certainly other configurations that can work well also. Consider using my configuration as inspiration if you are having issues.
Simple Yet Sophisticated
It is worth reiterating that Frontier Pilot Simulator is considerably far from being a finished game; it currently only features 2 ships and the world is relatively empty aside from the different bases and of course the terrain and weather (watch out for those cyclones). You would be forgiven for thinking on holding off on purchasing this title until they add more into it, but I have a fairly strong counter-argument as to why you should consider investing now. Whilst value is relative, I feel the current price (the game is currently discounted as well) is justified, even if the current state of the game is a work in progress. I say this, because the team at RAZAR are planning to gradually increase the price as new content is added to the game. So by purchasing now — which I realise requires a fair amount of faith — you could potentially be buying a stellar game (once it is finished) for a fraction of what the final release will cost.
As it currently stands, the game is enjoyable once you get past the relatively steep learning curve. On the surface the premise of the game is fairly simple, but within the depths of the physics engine lies several sophisticated systems. The various cargoes have varying degrees of fragility, so just when you think you have mastered the art of taking off/flying/landing, you soon realise that you need to start working on how smooth you can execute these maneuvers; otherwise your cargo becomes damaged, and subsequently worthless. Trust me, if you can deliver the most fragile of items to a destination over 200 kilometres away without damaging it at all; then you have mastered the game. Well, what the game has to offer currently.
Development of the game is — from what I have seen — progressing steadily; in just the last few weeks there have been several small updates which have improved performance as well as fixing small bugs. When you look at the ‘Coming Soon’ area of their site, it is clear that the game will be a completely different package upon completion. The cockpit is being developed — as currently you only have an external view of the ship — which coincides with refinement of the HUD, and admittedly takes a little bit of getting used to. But when you look at the other upcoming features: traffic, fraction based economy, more locations, new ships, and multiplayer; Frontier Pilot Simulator is going to be one hell of a game when everything is said and done.
Early Access is a Good Thing
Frontier Pilot Simulator certainly aims high, the ability to toggle graphical representations of the wind speed and direction (pictured above), the advanced physics engine and dynamic weather clearly signify that RAZAR s.r.o want this title to be an impressive simulator. I have admittedly only managed to rake in 17 hours of game time at the time of writing, but that is more to do with my end of term exams. As soon as the summer break hits, I will be devoting a significant amount of time into this wonderful world they are creating; and hopefully participating in the development of the game by providing much-needed feedback.
I always thought Early Access was ridiculous; why should I pay good money for a potentially bug-ridden, poorly optimised, unfinished game? But having seen firsthand how some of the smaller developers are using Early Access as a way for the community to help shape the development of the game, I can wholeheartedly state I have been converted. The team behind Frontier Pilot Simulator are considerably transparent, posting regular updates about development. In fact they have just started a Friday Report, where they plan on sharing everything the have done that week as well as what they are working on for the week ahead. Just keep in mind that these wonderful people are based out of Praha (aka Prague), Czech Republic; so the Grammar Police out there can prostě si ponechte své hrubé komentáře k sobě prosím (apologies RAZAR s.r.o if I got that wrong, at least I tried!)
I was initially torn as to whether I should review this game, considering how early in its development it is. After my initial experience with it, I felt that a review would be a scathing tale of a game that has potential, but also has a long way to go. But I picked the metaphorical book that I spoke of back up, and I am certainly glad that I did. Yes, the game is far from perfect. Yes, you will experience the odd crash here and there. Yes, it is far from being fully optimised. And yes, it is difficult. But the potential of what this game will be — in addition to the actual fun you can have with it now — makes me comfortable recommending Frontier Pilot Simulator to simulator fans that enjoy a challenge.
And of course, once the multiplayer goes live, give me a shout.
You can be my wingman anytime!
Final Score: 7.5/10
Frontier Pilot Simulator has the makings of an exceptionally unique flight simulator, don’t let this one fly past you.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher and is based on an Early Access build of the game.