Space fascinates humanity, as do space-themed games. And while space plays an important part in many titles, free-roaming simulators have been thin on the ground in the current era.
Deep Sixed, which is currently on Kickstarter, looks like it is trying to breathe some life into the waning genre. Players are put in command of a spacefaring vessel, and tasked with a number of objectives. How, and when, these are completed is up to the player.
I played a preview build of the game this past weekend. The tutorial and a limited portion of the single player were available. From what I could gather, the developers Little Red Dog Games are attempting to instil a tactile and considered experience into the game. I was tasked with moving from location to location on the ship, represented by a series of static screens, and interacting with mechanism like scanners and power sources.
This involved finding burnt our circuits and replacing them. Or selecting sectors to scan for objects of relevance. Everything on the ship is manually performed, which certainly gives you a good sense as to what is happening on the vessel.
My objective seemed simple enough, harvest an asteroid, locate a ship and retrieve information. It wasn’t quite so straight forward, though, as I wrestled with space creatures, radiation leaks and ship malfunctions.
Helpfully the player has a digital manual which lists common problems and how to resolve them. Want to change the laser configuration? Consult the instruction tree in the relevant portion of the manual. No power to an observation pod? Consult the manual.
The preview build didn’t take long to play through (especially when I kept dying of radiation poisoning during the tutorial). I spent a little over an hour with the game in the end, and I am left a little perplexed. Perhaps more so than when I went in.
On the one hand, Deep Sixed seems like it is on the way to being a great world-building experience. The ship is worn and used, brightly coloured but with an air of basic functionality not that dissimilar to vessels you would see in Alien or Star Wars. Players are given the opportunity to make their own decisions, and solve problems with their labour as they occur.
But it is these same experiences which seem to hamper the game. The ship seems to break down with alarming frequency, and neither you the sole human aboard nor the ships computer are really equipped to deal with the situation. True, the player has the manual. But you are faced with an almost impenetrable wall of instructions, dials and switches that make it likely for you to die in the cold vacuum of space before you have sorted out precisely what is wrong.
Deep Sixed appears to be extremely, extremely ambitious. Its cartoonish visuals belie a much deeper, intense game play experience. In a lot of ways it feels like it has much in common with retro simulation titles, which often threw players into the deep end and hoped they learnt how to swim. Fast.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Little Red Dog Games will have to be careful with the final implementation. Complexity like this can be great in games, but players need to be given a chance to understand what is happening before their ship is battered to pieces by psychotic space whales.
I, personally, won’t be backing this. My interest in intense simulations isn’t so high that I feel an absolute need to invest in the full experience. But if you are a player who enjoys learning about a set of systems, how they interact and get joy from micro-managing these systems then backing Deep Sixed may be worth considering.
Deep Sixed is on Kickstarter right now, and finishes 22 June.