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This Week's Been Deep Sixed

Tough old week for me, I seem to have some kind of squirrelly bug busily giving me body aches, fatigue, and ongoing gastrointestinal misfortune.  If it's this year's brutal H3N2, I dearly hope I am simply taking it mildly, and not that this entire bizarro weekend has been the warmup act to a truly bad time.

However, that's not all that's been poaching my development focus, as I ended up getting romanced by Deep Sixed with a probable dalliance with Kingdom Come: Deliverance just around the corner.

Alas, it seems that's precisely the overshadowing that Deep Sixed is facing right now, as the games were released only a day apart, but Kingdom Come: Deliverance is looking to be almost as big of a deal as a new Elder Scrolls game (being a similar game of threateningly similar stature).  However, the games deserve their own entries, and I will primarily talk about Deep Sixed now, on this little-visited blog, doing what little I can to address the disparity of their popularity.

On the surface, Deep Sixed is a bit of a 90s CD-Rom era throwback, but looks can be deceiving. It is a game with interesting pedigree, a mix of point and click adventure, manual-consulting Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes-style troubleshooting, FTL-style power management, and (remarkably) an open universe exploring game. Comparisons have been made with VGA-era Sierra games as well as classics such as Psi-5 Trading Company, but I would say that's reaching: Deep Sixed is very much its own thing.

The basic gameplay is a cycle of survival and expansion. You start at the space station, where you can pick a mission, order parts, and upgrade your ship. Then you deploy in your ship, choosing one of the sectors you scanned in the past, and the game begins in earnest.  Your ship is a literal space jalopy, and things will inevitably go wrong. At that point, you need to crack open the PDA and navigate the in-game manual to learn how to fix it.  I hope you like routine active maintenance, you'll be doing a lot of it.   Successful mission completion earns you some nice requisition tokens that can be used to upgrade your ship or replenish your ever-dwindling supplies.  There is only one save slot, and death is permanent, so there is a certain roguelike quality to it.
Although I regret to say anything negative about an underdog, I also regret anything less than a proper critical assessment.  Fortunately, Deep Sixed has a shorter list of flaws than many games:
  • I have encountered the rare minor real bug.  A couple of times, my retrieval drone got stuck, and this was fixed by quitting out and reloading.  Once, my character's sixth personal inventory slot stopped working, limiting me to carrying five things at once.  Bugs like this are extra awkward when the game is about debugging, as you halfway wonder if they are deliberate.
  • My character can't seem to resist running to viewing room 1 every time I hit the hyperdrive so they can get a gander.  That's usually fine but, if said room is suffering an atmospheric failure, or about to be bitten off by a particularly vicious space monster, then our protagonist's lookie lou ways can be run ender.
  • It has a failed kickstarter in its past, and this may have parred it down from a grander design.  Perhaps this explains why the process to repair the radiation scrubber and the primary battery, two separate devices, is completely identical.  The relative dearth of content leads to repetition and contempt as that damn thermostat coil or universal motherboard burns out again, but to some extent this lends well to the space jalopy setting.
  • There's not much to the game in the long term.  Once you get the ropes of keeping your ship up and running, you hardly need to consult the PDA anymore at all.  If you know what you are doing (and are moderately lucky) you can probably beat the game in under a dozen hours.
These issues are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things and the developer seems to be actively patching it.  What minor flaws Deep Sixed has are somewhat vindicated by its low price tag, about $10.

Overall Deep Sixed may be small, but scrappy, and more importantly: unique.  It's a novel experience that itches a number of nice places related to simulation, immersion, and adventure. In a sea of clones, a well-crafted novel experience is invaluable. I hope this is not the last I see of this developer.
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