It’s hard to say that the series has had “bad” licensed games on the whole, but it’s missing the classic killer apps that the Star Wars series enjoys, such as Battlefront, Knights of the Old Republic, or Jedi Academy, just to name a few. For the record, I think my favourite Star Trek licensed game of all time is Bridge Commander which came out way back in February 2002, when John Entwistle was still alive, Trailer Park Boys hadn’t yet aired it’s second season, and World of Warcraft was more than two years away from launch.
As a result of the dissatisfaction arising from this lack of licensed game luxury, I have found the Star Trek “itch” was scratched by other sci-fi games. The first one that comes to mind is FTL: Faster Than Light, which is a bonafide indie darling. Plus there’s Master of Orion and Elite: Dangerous, among a few others.
I recently received a review copy of an upcoming roguelike space simulator called Deep Sixed, and it most definitely scratches that sci-fi itch. It’s one of the most unique, compelling, and fist-bitingly challenging games I’ve ever played.
Deep Sixed is a very unique roguelike management game where you single-handedly run a spaceship. Imagine a Star Trek simulator, but you’re the only person on the Enterprise. The game doesn’t have traditional mechanics per se, but rather is driven by the complexity and depth of it’s manual, which you’ll be constantly consulting to maintain the ship. There are a lot of tasks to learn to complete – both maintenance and repair – that you’ll be randomly encountering as you go about completing missions. The ship and its various systems are best described as an ocean a mile wide but only a foot deep. Each task in itself is very easy and only requires a few clicks, but there are so many unique, multi-step tasks that learning where to click to complete each one is very challenging.
As well as including the incredibly vital ship manual in-game, Deep Sixed features an option to play with a separate PDF ship manual, which is about thirty pages long, and features a detailed explanation of the entirety of the systems. I highly recommend playing with someone else working the physical version of the manual. It makes for an interesting gaming experience, but make sure to switch with them every now and then, or they might get tired of being your manual lackey.
As a new player, you may find it difficult to complete the first few missions thrown at you, even in easy mode. Remember to be patient – it’s simply a matter of learning a new maintenance or repair process and getting it under your belt. You’ll learn to understand the language of the game and the internal logic of the components and systems on the ship. As you find yourself maintaining and repairing without reference to the manual, the quests become much easier, providing some momentum.
The quests themselves aren’t difficult, usually requiring scanning systems and shooting space monsters that get in your way. The shooting mechanic is very basic – look elsewhere if you’re looking for intense space combat. But for the role it occupies in this game, the shooting mechanic is fine. Again, most of the challenge is in the maintenance and repair of the ship – you’ll have to keep the ship running well for the lasers to work properly. So even the shooting itself is heavily tied up with the maintenance and repair mechanics.
Due to its novelty some people are going to be turned off by Deep Sixed. This game is hard. I think I can safely conclude that it has a greater learning curve than any other game I’ve played before. It’s really more of a flat brick wall than a curve. Seriously – this is not for the faint of heart. You are going to die, a lot, especially if you don’t play on easy mode – and this is certainly the kind of game where easy mode wouldn’t be discouraged.
But as you keep progressing, and naturally keep dying, you learn, and improve. You can only fall on your face so many times before you learn to put your hands out to stop yourself. And that’s where the magic is in Deep Sixed. It’s about learning a system, becoming adept at something just for the sake of it. I think this applies to most games in general as well. Achieving mastery of the system, even though the system itself has no real-life practical bearing, is still an achievement to us, because we value mastery, progression, and efficiency as a culture, no matter what form it takes; for the sport of it, or for the sake of it.
Deep Sixed is a very compelling experience, but not because it’s a fun game (though it is fun, too). I think it comes down to the fact that the process of going through that learning curve, riding the hills and valleys of mastery and progression, is a compelling experience unto itself.
The presentation in Deep Sixed is surprisingly above-average. The music is absolutely phenomenal in this game. It’s very reminiscent of something you might hear from Massive Attack. It also reminds me of music from games such as FTL, and Starbound – but perhaps not quite on the level of those games. None of the music becomes annoying or tedious. In fact, in such a stressful game as Deep Sixed, the music is a successful calming influence. This would be a great soundtrack to listen to while reading or studying. The voice acting is also superb. Both the player character voice and AI voice sound very high quality, and the performances by their respective actors also fits the bill. Ironically, in a game with such well-designed individual ship screens, the actual menu screen itself is lackluster.
Though I did not experience all the game has to offer, one of the stronger themes of Deep Sixed is levity in the face of gravity. Despite the horrible situation the player character finds themselves in, they never really seem to let it get them down. They speak with a kind of Jerry Seinfeld-esque aloofness or carelessness, making jokes about their predicament. The AI, too, is very cheerfully voice-acted. Combined with the bright, colourful, almost childlike design of the ship screens, it puts the presentation at odds with the narrative. There is a thematic disparity between the bright, accessible presentation and the much darker, Black Mirror-esque narrative at work. But this is not a bad thing. A game has to pace out it’s experience in a dynamic way, just like a movie, TV show, or a song. The interplay between tension and release is crucial – too much tension, and the game becomes taxing and over-stimulating. Too much release, and it’s tedious and not stimulating enough. Deep Sixed achieves a sound balance between tension and release, creating a very challenging game with an accessible presentation that won’t burn you out.
If you’re a Trek fan, sci-fi fan, a fan of roguelikes, a fan of simulators, or a fan of difficult games, Deep Sixed is a no-brainer. You need to check it out. But remember, when your reactor door gets stuck and leaks radiation throughout the ship, or when a Clubberlang hugs your viewing room a little too tightly, Astra Interstellar Solutions cannot guarantee that your cries will be heard from the black void of space.