From the Hip: The Last Federation

Definitely a different spin to 4X strategy, this game will be a hit or miss based on whether you find that spin interesting or not, but it's worth trying to find out.  It's a game where a lot of care has been taken with it's development and mechanics, and it shows.
From the Hip: The Last Federation
Date published: Apr 24, 2014
2 / 3 stars

The Last Federation is a hybrid 4X strategy game developed and published by Arcen Games, most notably known for their AI War series.  It also serves as something of a counterpart to AI wars in concept: whereas AI wars was about carefully dismantling a much superior foe, The Last Federation is centered around you playing as the lone survivor of a race that subjugated the entire sector before one of the subjugated races uses a superweapon to wipe you out.  The central concept of The Last Federation is that while you otherwise have all the typical elements of a 4X strategy game, you don't directly control the civilisations involved - instead you must use diplomacy, manipulation, intimidation, your superior technology, or your superior firepower to manipulate the course of events.

In essence, you go to different worlds in your super-starship, deciding which races to uplift with spacefaring technology, how you want to help the ones you want to ally with, how to undermine your enemies, and so forth.  This takes the place of going to different worlds and stations and having several options of what you can do presented to you.  You can do all the standard 4X stuff, but instead of it being for you, rather, when you're helping research a technology, build an improvement, or do one of the many other tasks at the planet, you're doing that for the other race.  The benefit is furthering along a race you want as an ally, giving them better tools to succeed, with the ultimate goal of uniting the galaxy, by hook or by crook.

It's a different spin on that 4X genre, and to Arcen Games' credit, they've obviously put a lot of thought into how these mechanics will work in that context.  Tutorials are provided and go into just enough depth without the amount of babying hand-holding most AAA games do.  Most everything feels intuitive and easy once you get into the game.  If there's anything that's a little rough around the edges as regards that, its that sometimes the data pertinent to the given task at hand isn't presented in the clearest fashion.  There is a metric tonne of different things being simulated for each armada (unit), each planet, and each race at any given time, so it's a very dense amount of information to digest.  For the most part the game does an admirable job of giving you the directly pertinent information but sometimes there's related data that doesn't get displayed.  To give one example at time of writing, one of the tasks you can perform at a world is cleaning up space junk from battles, which clearly outlines what you get for doing so quite well, but what it doesn't tell you is how much space junk is up there - for that you have to go into the extended information of the planet and through dozens of detail fields to find the one that tells you how much junk is in orbit.  It's not a game-breaker by any means, but it makes more work for a player that wants to play optimally than is strictly necessary.

The tactical combat when you get into direct combat is reminiscent of a sort of turn-based SPAZ.  It works pretty well, although I would recommend if you want a challenge you kick up the difficulty.  I played on the normal setting and once you got into the tech progression it pretty much became a cakewalk.  One presumes, however, its more challenging on the harder difficulty levels.  Especially so since you can enable a "permadeath" mode whereby if that ship of yours gets blown up its game over.  (As opposed to otherwise, the game forcing you to flee if you get critically damaged.)

Production values of the game are good to high; as said prior there's a lot of thought that's been put into the game and that extends to the design as well.  Sound design is good, the soundtrack is very melodic and is something I'd even listen to outside the game as something ambient, and the graphics while 2D are pretty neat, especially the world background graphics which has hand-painted scenes.

Definitely a different spin to 4X strategy, this game will be a hit or miss based on whether you find that spin interesting or not, but it's worth trying to find out.  It's a game where a lot of care has been taken with it's development and mechanics, and it shows.