There’s been a dearth of space sims in recent years. This once grand genre of open ended, ambitious sandbox RPGs has been almost entirely neglected by most companies. It’s Egosoft to the rescue! X Rebirth is released and suddenly we have what appears to be a great new space sim. Does X Rebirth live up to expectations, or is it just a disappointment waiting to happen?
X Rebirth is certainly an ambitious game and the time you spend in space is full of truly beautiful sights, sadly this is about all the game has going for it. Bugs have rendered the game nearly unplayable, with the HUD not loading on some saves leading to the controls being completely unresponsive – when this happens the only recourse is to go back to the main menu and start a new game – and with player characters getting stuck between locker doors with no way of freeing them, again leading to restarts. As of the time of writing I have 14 saves which are completely unplayable due to several game breaking bugs.
There are a host of other bugs and performance issues that aren’t necessarily game breaking, but make the core experience unenjoyable. I have a fairly high end PC and I started with framerates approaching 120FPS though I very quickly found that many areas caused my framerate to drop to sub 20FPS levels, on occasion even reaching single digit territory. X Rebirth is a pretty game – at least in space; the space stations are pretty ugly – but it’s not that pretty.
The choppy animations do not help make the case for the space stations of which there is only a handful of level blueprints, filled with an equally limited selection of NPCs who have some of the strangest animations I’ve seen in a while. Voices seem to be randomly mixed and matched between NPCs, some NPCs are wearing full space suits or armour that bends like rubber when they turn their heads to address you, and there was some strange obsession among the designers that led to them filling the space stations with creepy holograms of pole dancers and large neon-orange signs depicting a woman’s bare backside. This is all on top of your companion having a heart-shaped cut-out in her armour that serves to ensure her cleavage is always on display. At first I was a little taken aback at these crude attempts to insert sex appeal into the game, later I just found the absurdity to be hilarious. I would not be at all surprised to discover that X Rebirth contained the space sim equivalent of the ‘Hot Coffee’ incident, but maybe I’m just being uncharitable.
Unfortunately bugs and strange design decisions aren’t the only issue with X Rebirth. Combat is mostly a bland affair, lacking in any real sense of danger or speed. Larger capital ships pose little threat as most have large ‘blind-spots’ which are completely unprotected and it’s a fairly simple task to match their velocity whilst in one of these blind-spots and pummel the ship to oblivion. Smaller fighters have the manoeuvrability to keep their weapons trained on you, but they are so fragile that one or two bursts with the starter cannon is usually enough to bring them down and only large swarms even come close to presenting a tangible challenge. In short, you start with the greatest ship ever produced by human hands and most upgrades to this ship are for convenience only.
The other aspects of X’s gameplay are all needlessly difficult and confusing, with all of this difficulty coming from the appalling menu design. Just setting up a simple trade feels cumbersome and not worth the time. Managing more complex trades or multiple trades can take quite some time with options hidden in submenu after submenu. Ultimately the trading in X Rebirth will likely only appeal to the hardest of hardcore traders who absolutely must scratch their need to trade in a recently released space sim and even they may find their mercantile desires swiftly wane in the face of X’s convoluted menu system.
X Rebirth does have a very basic story mode that is supposed to be a tutorial but beyond giving a few simple goals it doesn’t do much to actually teach new players how to play the game. Newcomers to the X series will have to spend a lot of time on forums and Wikis and even veteran players may find themselves struggling to navigate the obtuse menus. The story itself is not worth the time taken to listen to the dialogue options and frankly the free-play mode is just a vast improvement on the story mode.
There are a few nice touches to X Rebirth. If you dock aboard a large ship, or a space station with an open hangar, you can still see what’s going on outside of the space station including any space battles that were happening as you docked. In addition to this, the sense of scale inside larger ship docking bays is quite impressive, though you can only explore a very small area. Space as a whole is rather pretty in X. Sunlight reflects off solar arrays and ships alike, while capital ships have a nice level of detail and the way they explode upon destruction is suitably awe inspiring.
Those few aesthetic points aside, X Rebirth is a deeply flawed game. Riddled with bugs, poor design choices, weak core mechanics, and a shallow world, X Rebirth is not a game that I can recommend.
2 out of 10
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.