X Rebirth Review: Sucking Vacuum

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Posted on November 20, 2013, Dominic Tarason X Rebirth Review: Sucking Vacuum

In our last look at Egosoft’s troubled launch of X Rebirth, we reported that we had been effectively unable to review the game due to a combination of crippling performance problems (single-figure framerates on our review machine, which stood in excess of the developers own recommended hardware) and bugs. Thankfully, due to a combination of official patches and suggested tweaks on various forums (we got the most mileage out of forcing VSync off in our video card settings panel), we’ve been able to run the game at a playable enough rate. While we’ve only just scratched the surface of what seems to be an extensive sandbox, given the issues that plague the game, we have dug deep enough to pass judgement, and so we present our findings.

X Rebirth
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Egosoft
Publisher: Egosoft (Digital) Deep Silver (Retail)
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2013
MSRP: $49.99/£39.99/€49.99
Available: Steam

For those fashionably late to the party, German studio Egosoft has been keeping the otherwise dormant space combat/trading/exploration sandbox genre ticking over since 1999 with the release of the original X: Beyond The Frontier, leading all the way up to the present day with X3 and its many re-releases and expansions. Essentially, they’ve been building upon the foundations set down by PC classics such as Elite and Freelancer, casting the player as a futuristic combat pilot-turned-entrepreneur – a jack of all cosmic trades, if you will. From your cockpit, you explore space, fight enemies, take on missions, trade goods between stations and upgrade your craft in first-person, realtime format.

The X series in particular is praised and skewered in equal measures for its overwhelming depth and complexity, shackled to an infamously complex and inaccessible user interface. While the core gameplay of flying around, shooting and trading is there, it expands to running merchant empires, establishing your own space stations, leading fleets and fighting wars all from the comfort of your personal ship. Over the course of the series, the X games almost play like a singleplayer take on Eve Online’s enormous capitalist sandbox, letting truly dedicated players carve out their own corner of the galaxy if they’ve the patience to learn the often-convoluted subtleties of the game.

Each successive release after X2: The Threat has built higher and higher atop an increasingly creaky engine, resulting in performance problems and bugs aplenty. Egosoft’s goal for X Rebirth was to provide a new starting point: a simpler, more accessible game that people can pick up and learn at their own pace, and an interface that’s accessible enough to map onto a widely available gamepad. It’s a lofty goal, but surely with almost 15 years of experience, it should be easy to identify what features are needless clutter, and which are core to the experience, right?

Apparently not. What would have been a fresh start for the franchise has been rushed out, as buggy and unpolished as any of its predecessors, but also built atop a fresh foundation of strange, mismatched ideas and half-baked concepts.

Most visible of all the changes is a new, prettier universe. It can’t be denied that the game looks gorgeous when every slider is cranked to full, but even high-end PCs are unlikely to see above 30fps in that case.

The smaller, denser universe of Rebirth plays host to a great number of city-like station complexes, with lanes of traffic, police patrols and massive advertising screens spread far and wide. It’s clearly inspired by Blade Runner, but it has a few of its own little visual twists, and quite a few animated details, such as the spraying machinery actually working on wheat farms. However, there’s not a huge amount to differentiate each station, so you might get a creeping sense of deja vu as you explore further afield.

That feeling extends to the biggest feature added to the usual range of spaceflight, combat, trading and profiteering. New to Rebirth is the ability to land your ship and use standard FPS controls to wander around both inside your craft and on the various stations you’ll be visiting. Unfortunately, there’s little of interest aboard your ship.

Outside, you’ll find that almost every part of every station is copy-pasted from the same handful of prefabricated building pieces, and populated with a cast of completely stationary NPCs. Those characters share the same few voices and have only a few dozen lines between them, and they often look ferociously ugly in addition to animating stiffly and (occasionally) glitching, to boot. There are also random boxes of loot scattered around every interior area, seemingly trying to entice players to explore and scavenge, but there’s nothing of any real value to be found.


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