Posted on November 18, 2013, Dominic Tarason X Rebirth Forums Explode: Bugs, Frame Rate Issues Plague Launch
It’s usually best not to read too deeply into things when review code isn’t immediately forthcoming. While some might assume that developers and publishers intend to keep the game away from the prying eyes of the press, it can just as easily be chalked up to a failure in communication at some point down the chain of command. When you do receive an official review copy, only to have it remain safely locked behind a Steam preload until launch day, it’s usually safe to assume that it’s just an oversight. Usually.
When Egosoft‘s long-anticipated space sandbox X Rebirth launched last Friday, forums exploded with chatter and discussion, and almost none of it good. Demands for refunds, accusations that the game was released unfinished, and even claims that Rebirth is an aborted Xbox 360 spinoff title reworked into a PC release have filled both the official and Steam forums for the game. It’s bad mojo all round, with the occasional positive voice in amidst a lot of pretty serious complaints. While we’re not entirely convinced by the console port theory, the game does lack full joystick support (a standard feature in all previous Egosoft titles), while Xbox 360 gamepads are fully compatible.
We had planned to review the game this week, but extreme performance problems have prevented us from getting far enough to pass fair judgement. Despite our review machine (Nvidia 660ti Overclocked, i5-3570k @3.4ghz, 8gb RAM) being on par with or exceeding the official Recommended system specs for the game, Rebirth consistently runs at 10-15fps even with most detail options set to near-zero, sometimes dipping as low as 6fps during non-combat gameplay. Needless to say, this has rendered the game effectively unplayable for us. Most puzzling are reports that people on far weaker hardware are running the game fine at medium/high settings.
When we contacted Egosoft for guidance or comment after providing our system specs, diagnostic files and more, we were informed that for all our hardware, we should never expect to see ‘FPS-like’ framerates on the game, and that 20fps average (which we only achieved by looking directly into the blank, featureless void of space) is perhaps to be expected. Shortly thereafter, they released an official FAQ/statement on the issue, confirming that there are some hardware-specific problems at work, but also that the game is designed to such futuristic standards that even modern CPUs should be expected to struggle with it. A questionable claim, considering that the previous X game only ran on a single CPU core and offered far higher performance even in the most crowded areas of space.
From what we have played of the game so far, the issues extend far beyond optimization and hardware incompatibilities. The game is currently rife with bugs, with no shortage of crashes reported, some early story quests failing to flag themselves and complete. A patch released today addresses one of the more common game-breaking bugs, which caused the space-highways connecting the various sectors of the game to spit players out tens of thousands of miles from their intended destination. Without time compression or autopilot features to fall back on, players were left with just two options: Load their last saved game or spend hours trying to fly their way back home.
There is some amusement to be drawn from the litany of glitches, however. The biggest new feature of Rebirth is the ability to land your spaceship and wander around stations in FPS fashion, interacting with story characters as well as NPC traders, recruitable crewmates and more. Unfortunately, this part of the game seems a little half-baked, with almost all the environments being near-identical to one another and populated with a cast of interchangeable, stony-faced clones that repeat the same handful of stilted lines eternally. They’re a strange lot, too, often accompanying every single line of dialogue with a squat-thrust. While I’d like to chalk this up to attempts to prevent muscle atrophy in low gravity, it seems more likely to be an animation hiccup causing them to crouch and stand each and every time they’re spoken to.
The problems with the game seem to run deeper than just glitches and performance problems, too. Some of the newer additions to the game – such as the new industrial trading system – just don’t seem to work as intended, with freighters getting stuck or confused or apparently forgetting orders. Commanding a personal fleet is just as difficult as ever (if not moreso) due to a pared-down UI that seems to make the process more difficult to carry out simple tasks, rather than simpler. Even the much-vaunted upgradeable player ship seems to be surprisingly limited in how much it can be customized, offering fewer equipment choices than many interchangeable rank-and-file craft from previous games in the series.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The X series has built up an astonishingly driven and industrious fanbase over the years, and they’re already trying to clean up some of the more glaring problems with the game. So far, it’s generally small aesthetic changes, such as greatly reducing the amount of random metal clutter on your ship’s cockpit (which normally takes up almost a third of the screen, doing nothing), or patching up a deeply questionable boob-window on your co-pilot’s spacesuit. It’s not all visual tweaks, either; one modder has already restored the lost technology of the telephone to the spaceways by allowing you to communicate with people aboard stations without actually addressing them face to face. That this wasn’t an option by default is one of the many questionable design decisions that we’ve encountered so far.
There’s every chance that patches and mods will seal up the worst of the yawning hull-breaches in X Rebirth over the coming weeks and months, but even avid series fans might want to avoid this one for now. We’ll be revisiting X Rebirth once it’s looking a little more ship-shape and sailing a little smoother, but until such time, keep your eyes on Game Front for further news on this story as it develops.