If you know where to look you can find a fair amount of recently released (in the last 5 years) space combat games about, but not many of them are actually any good. I'm pleased to say Eterium is not one of those and is a fun game which holds your interest long enough to get through the campaign, which would probably take up at least 8 hours of your time if you go through all the pilot dialogue's in between missions.
I was disappointed that I could not name my pilot, given that all dialogue is text based, they attempt to flesh out our character with a back story and is far from a silent protagonist. I was also surprised to see that you could not gain rank, after being demoted early on in the game I expected a way to actually recover and improve upon my rank during the campaign. I also found it hard to make my way up the kill board, may be my piloting skills were just not up to scratch and found myself consistently sitting at the bottom of the rankings.
Eterium supports Joystick, Xbox 360 Pad, and keyboard and mouse controls. I played with the 360 pad and found that all controls needed to play where accessible solely through the pad's buttons. The default layout worked well with the exception of the afterburner key, which to pop some enemies required you to after burn and fire at the same time and felt cumbersome - I'd recommend you reassign you afterburner key, which thankfully you can do. Controlling your ship with the pad is easy and some space vets will be pleased to know you can roll your ship.
If you have played Wing Commander 1, then it's a similar experience to how the game plays out. Before and in between missions you can go around the ship (between the bar and flight deck) where you can talk to some of the other pilots and crew which play out the story. You are given a fairly generic briefing each time you fly out, in a similar style to the Wing Commander: Prophecy briefing screen and are able to choose the load out for your ship before heading out.
There is Newtonian style physics at play. Fly forward at full speed, change direction and it will take several seconds for your ship to fly on the new intended course. This makes flying asteroid and mine fields a little challenging at times, which break up the: Fly to Nav. point, kill anything that moves, move to next; though they are not particularly exciting to fly though. You must be careful with mine fields as if you get hit the explosion force will change your trajectory and could push you in to another mine. Thankfully, they are easier to navigate than those found in Wing Commander!
Combat can be annoying early on when you are in the weaker starter ships and requires some practice to get the hand of lining up your guns to take out the enemy. Enemies are always faster than you, especially the light fighters (S'tra) which zip by before you can score enough hits to pop them. Thankfully they can be countered, wait till they attack then break off, on the break turn to face them and hit the afterburners, then blast them with your guns, as they generally fly straight for several seconds before re-engaging. If you don't after burn they leave your guns range very quickly, leaving the only other choice of head-to-head conflict. Missile's are more of the primary weapon hear, a bit like in aviation combat of today, which can either 1 hit kill lighter craft or soften up harder targets to be finished off with your main guns.
Take hull damage and your ships systems will start to fail, ranging from guns to engines. Your display screens will also shatter making it difficult or impossible to read them. Your ship has a repair system, which will slowly repair systems to a point. It does not appear to repair all damage, based on the overall damage amount, i.e. if you shield generator is damage by 26% if will only be repaired down to 20%. Take too much damage and key systems will barely function as they cannot be repaired enough to keep them functional.
The graphics are pretty basic, you could argue Starlancer/Freelancer have better graphics than this game and ship designs are hardly inspiring. Explosions appear generic and unexciting, mostly lots of smoke and no fireworks, and large ships disappear in a small explosion which disappoints when seen.
Character art is done well, though only the one stance/pose is provided for each character making them come across emotionless when paired up with their dialogue. It's anime but more western style than Japanese and feels a bit odd when they fit in backgrounds which have been pre-rendered in 3D.
Sound effects are plenty from your engines burning to the overzealous eject warning alarm. There is a dynamic music track, just like in Wing Commander, which changes based on events during flight. This varies based on enemies present, a friendly taking damage or returning from a successful mission. I also have to say, that in all the time I played the game didn't crash once and there are no game breaking bugs either!
Overall Eterium is a fun game and the worth picking up. The 8+ hours from the main campaign full justifies its price tag and is a well put together game. If the idea or reading lot's of dialogue does not appeal to you, skip it and jump straight in to the briefings, or just practice your skills in the simulator. Highly recommended if you enjoy similar games, otherwise try the demo first.