Supernatural spaceship shooter Underspace shows admirable ambition in its Next Fest demo

I respect a game with wild ambition. Declaring your game “the spiritual successor to Freelancer” is bold and ambitious, considering how the spaceship sim is still so beloved after 20 years that our readers voted it your 16th favourite space game of all time. This ambition is wild when the tiny development team is led by someone best known for replacing Skyrim’s dragons with Thomas The Tank Engine. So while I’m not much of a spaceship sort, I had to check out the demo for Underspace, which aims to combine Freelancer shoot-o-trading space action with a dash of Lovecraftian horror.

Cover image for YouTube videoUnderspace Early Access Release Date Announcement Trailer

While the Steam Next Fest ended on Monday, you can still download Underspace’s demo from Steam (or if you’d rather not get Steamy, an older demo is on Itch).

I am instantly delighted that, while it’s visibly made by a tiny team, it’s introduced with cinematics and a first-person scripted sequence. I like that we’re dropped into the universe an existent person with a history and friends. I really like that I can walk around a handful of areas on the space station which could functionally be menus but wouldn’t be the same if they were. I like how this feels like a teeny, low-fi version of Mass Effect’s Citadel, with weird species of bug and crystal and robot casually hanging out. I like that it let me spend my meagre starting cash at a bar on a photograph whose use I do not remotely know. It’s the best kind of ambition: for more than it can perhaps achieve, reaching to be more, a plucky game you want to root for.

Spooky space action in an Underspace screenshot from the Steam Next Fest demo.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Pastaspace Interactive

Singleplayer spaceship shoot-o-traders aren’t really my sort so I can’t really judge what folks might make of it against other games (including Freelancer). Flight controls and combat are definitely arcade-y and scrappy; it’s certainly not spacewitch shooter Chorus. I was bumbling on, not sure I was digging it, then a spacestorm hit and the flashes illuminated impossibly vast octopoid tendrils beneath the fabric of reality and I had to fight a giant skeletal snake to kill the storm and oh, okay, I’m in.

I later bumbled through a side-mission, ended up between layers of space, saved someone, accidentally picked a fight with spacecops and fled (I say accidentally; I radioed them and threatened them), bought a new ship, bought new weapons, bought pornography I might sell elsewhere for a profit, flew through a shoal of spacejellyfish and felt bad for accidentally killing one, lost a fight with pirates who jumped me at a jumpgate after I declined to pay them off, realised my last save was ages ago and decided I was done with the demo, but yeah, yeah, okay, I’d like to see more of this when the full game hits.

Spooky space action in an Underspace screenshot from the Steam Next Fest demo.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Pastaspace Interactive

Numbers planned for the full game include: 70 “handcrafted” star systems; over 60 flyable ships; 150 pieces of equipment; 150 stations; 40 factions; 50 cargo types; over 20 bosses; and so on. From the hints I’ve seen on the loading screen, there are some fun weird things out there in space. I’m excited by the prospect of fighting what sound like sentient Space Hulks.

Underspace is due to launch into early access on the 10th of April, hoping to launch in full after a year of polishing and fleshing out. It’ll be on Steam, GOG, and the Epic Games Store. Early development was supported by a Kickstarter in 2019, and it’s since picked up a publisher, Camlann Games.

While the Steam Next Fest has ended, you can still download loads of other demos too. Check out our recommendations for everything from roguelikelike poker to a typing dungeon-crawler with a delightfully daffy companion.

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