Exactly 3.8km away there is a man sitting in a cockpit. He is drinking bad coffee out of a pouch. It isn’t warm because if it was then the plastic would melt and he would scald himself. 3.8km away there is a man who has definitely killed people for money, but don’t we all, he thinks to himself. 3.8km away there is a man who believes that he is very smart, you see he has figured things out, he’s realized the whole system is bullshit — that by existing he naturally takes resources away from someone else. No one has any right to judge him for being a bit more direct about it. I hear a ding in my own cockpit, an indicator lights up on my display. RAILGUN PRIMED. I exhale and 3.8km away I see an iron flower, blooming.
The vetrical slice I played of Everspace 2 didn’t hand me that particular story, but it did give me the raw material I needed to tell it right. Though at this point, there isn’t much I can tell you about what’s actually in Everspace 2 that promotional material can’t. I can tell you its an open-ended space sim where you can be a mercenary, it has a trading system, there are fully voiced mission, there’s loot, the explosions look very good, and the dogfighting feels frantic. There is one thing that I can tell you that the promotional material hasn’t though, Everspace 2 really understands how a railgun strapped to a zero gravity death machine should feel.
I’ve always been a fan of weapons with charge time — I love a good windup before the pitch. If there’ s a bow in a game I’ll use it without question. Most weapons that work on a click, press, and pull provide immediate feedback to the player, a little tap on the shoulder that says “Look at what we did together.”
Charged weapons are a little different. They have an inherent tension, and not just what you put in the drawstring. There’s a little story they tell. The charge itself signifies a moment of recognition. I see someone or I feel like I will see someone. This is followed by a question: Will the shot be ready in time?
Then an answer. The gun clicks; the bow’s arms tremble; your cockpit dings. Exhale and then release. The shot hits or it doesn’t so the story gets its ending. This is the rhythm at the core of charged weapons. They’re great! And for me, the epitome of the charged weapon is the railgun, mostly because of the particular ways the weapons gets depicted in mass media. There’s the whining hum as electricity starts arching between two points. Which is usually followed by the sound of the magnetic field stabilizing, and then the boom. Railguns, because they shoot heavy objects very quickly, usually leave a trail in the sky. A violent line between two disparate points, an epilogue, a memorial.
All of this describes how it feels to fire a railgun in Everspace 2, but there’s another edge to this particular version of my favorite weapon. It’s all about distance and scale. It feels so good to land a shot at extreme range. For a majority of games that means a few hundred meters at most. Everspace 2 takes the story of the railgun and magnifies it through the liminal black of space.
An enemy 3.8km away (the railgun’s maximum effective range in Everspace 2) is either wholly unsuspecting or charging directly towards you with boosters roaring. Either way, the time feels longer and the story feels bigger. The ship shudders as the power surges. The lights dim, half a second passes, and a fireball erupts. That feels good.
I’m sure there’s something else I could write here about this glorified sniper rifle. I could talk you through the lack of intimacy and the ways in which this particular violence feels impersonal and lonely, but I don’t care about any of that right now. Because the shot landed. Because the railgun is doing its job.