Indie Spotlight: X Rebirth

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A long long time ago, in a part of town far far away there used to be a computer store called CompuSmart. From time to time they would give away a free boxed computer game after a mail-in-rebate. You would go to the store and grab a boxed copy of the game off the shelf (Steam didn’t really exist yet), hand them the $5-10 they wanted for the game and they would hand you two copies of your receipt and a mail-in-rebate form for you to fill out to get all but your postage and tax money back. It was a pretty sweet deal at the time. Thanks to CompuSmart I was introduced to a number of the more obscure game titles of my childhood. One of the titles I got through this wonderful promotion was a game I had never heard of before it was advertised as free after mail-in-rebate. The Internet wasn’t as commercialized as it is today, plus being on a dial-up connection that let me use only 60 hours of Internet per month while at the same time tying up the only phone line, perhaps I just didn’t surf as much back then to encounter these things. This obscure game was simply titled X: Beyond the Frontier. It starred a space test pilot who had a bit of an accident and ends up far away from home with his ship about to explode. Luckily, someone was nearby to save him from an explosive death and patch his ship up. Of course, this help didn’t come free and not having any of the local currency, our hero is forced to start working to pay off his debt. The game was further expanded with a cleverly named expansion pack called X-tension. Later while traveling I found X2: The Threat for sale and eventually I picked up X3: Terran Conflict and X3: Albion Prelude. All of these were on physical media. Along came Steam, and I eventually rebought the titles all on Steam. This was in order to be able to play them again since sadly my physical media no longer wanted to work in modern operating systems. Having enjoyed all of the X series to date, I was excited for X Rebirth coming out. Sadly the game picked up a ton of bad reviews when it first launched and I ended up delaying my purchase. Now that X Rebirth has had four major revisions and two expansions, I figured it was finally time to suit up, hop into my space ship and take to the space highways in search of adventure and profits. Look over there! That isn’t the light from a Jumpgate ahead, it’s the Indie Spotlight.

X Rebirth is an Action, Space Simulation game from Egosoft. There are many ways to describe the game, but I think that Egosoft actually said it best so I will quote them. “Trade, Fight, Build, Think… in the X Universe – the biggest sandbox this side of the galaxy.” That pretty much sums up what you will be getting yourself into if you pick up any of the X series of games. There are story elements shared between the games, but you can easily pick up any of the games and start playing it from there. If you were to start with X Rebirth, you might not understand some of the references it makes, but that doesn’t hinder the game at all as the in-game encyclopedia does an excellent job filling in any gaps or questions you may have. The story starts out with man watching an encyclopedia entry about the derelict ship he had just recently found floating in space. While he was attempting to make the ship spaceworthy again, his soon to be co-pilot arrived in style and changes the course of his life forever. Turns out she is a bit of a fugitive since she is a member of the Rebel Alliance… I mean Heart of Albion, which just so happens to be trying to overthrow an evil business Empire… the Plutarch Mining Corporation. Not wanting to get caught, she drags you into the thick of things and turns you into a fugitive on the run as well… I won’t go into the story any further because I don’t want to spoil anything, but here is the thing, the X series isn’t exactly about the stories. The story is just there to help you progress through the game in a logical fashion and gives you a little taste of almost everything the game has to offer. The story you could say is simply the tutorial for the game. It’s a long tutorial that will probably take you a decently long time to finish but it really is just the beginning of the game. To really feature this game properly in the Indie Spotlight, I am going to go back to how Egosoft described the game “Fight, Trade, Build, Think” and talk more about each of those features.

Fight: All the fighting in this game is in space. You control your ship and get into dogfights on a three dimensional plane. You need to pay attention to the X, Y and Z axis as you fly and strafe around trying to blow the enemies up before they do the very same to you. Alternatively you could pull a Brave Sir Robin and run away. Now you might be thinking, why fight when I can bravely boost out of there and live to see another day? There are many reasons to fight! The first is the fact they are your sworn enemy and will hunt you down, possibly with reinforcements, long before you can make it to the highway to get out of the area. Secondly, it’s a great way to get stuff. You blew up an enemy near a friendly station? That station thanks you for it by boosting your reputation with their faction and pays you some credits. Not only that, often when they explode they dump their cargo for you to claim. That cargo might contain items you can sell or craft into something useful. More on crafting later when we talk about building. Additionally, you could “borrow” their ship if you do it right. You can hail someone and order them to surrender. At other times, they might bail out of their ship after you rocked it with your lasers. If it is a larger ship, you can launch a boarding raid against it if you have the right crew members. Once the ship is unoccupied you can commit grand theft spaceship and add it to your armada. That’s right; you are not alone in space! You can build up your own fleet of bought, stolen or salvaged ships. There is power in numbers, so having your own personal security force flying in formation with you will likely tip the scales of fortune in your favour.

Fighting involves using two styles of weapons: energy based and kinetic based. Energy weapons will overheat if used too much but, assuming they are not damaged, they will always be available for you to use. There are several versions of the energy weapon available and each typically has more than one revision of it. Which weapon you use will largely be based on your own personal preference and what the situation dictates. If you are going after something small and fast, a repeater might be a good choice as even if you miss a couple of shots, you just sent out a massive machine gun burst at them. For slower ships, you will want something that will pack more of a punch even if it fires much slower. Since you can equip multiple energy weapons at once, switching between weapons is a breeze. The kinetic or missile style weapons have a set amount of ammo. You can always buy more of them or find them in the wreckage of enemy ships but you can’t just fire them willy-nilly like you can your energy weapons. Missiles also take a fair amount of practice to work effectively. I know I really put the miss in MISSiles when I first started using them but after a while they proved to be quite effective against harder foes.

Drones are another way you can do your fighting. There are a number of drones available that serve a variety of purposes. Some let you hack into enemy or friendly computers in order to benefit yourself, others let you scan stations to learn even more about them. Some will lay mines and others will aid in the defense of your ships from the enemy. You have the ability to manually control the drones remotely from the safety of your bridge or you can equip a Defense Officer to one of your ships and have that person control the Drones.

If you happen to be in command of a war fleet, you can issue individual commands to your armada or you can broadcast a general order to them all. You can even tell them to patrol sectors you are not in and they will hunt down any raiders that dare to enter the space they are guarding. This is really useful when you are doing another of the many facets of the X series, trading.

Trade: Trading is one of the ways you can earn your hard earned credits in this game. You go to one station, find goods you need and take them to another station that is willing to pay you more for them than what you paid for it. You could just fly your own ship from place to place but that would be highly ineffective. Trade ships, especially a nice fleet of trade ships, is the most effective way to trade. You can have your trade fleet follow you or you may just order them to go to a station and collect the goods you want. Then if you like, you could have them go to another station to unload the cargo while you are off questing or looking for hidden treasures. Since the game can handle the inner workings of each of the sectors even when you are not in the area it makes the game far more interesting. You cannot just randomly send out a small or even an extra-large unarmed trade ship and assume it will make it to its destination in one piece. You might be able to avoid the pirates this time but nothing says you will be so lucky next time. You likely should send some fighters with them to help them survive their journey.  Luckily, in a similar fashion to how you assign a ship to follow you, you can assign a ship to follow the orders of another ship or station. This allows you to make fleets of trade ships fly safely along surrounded by the armed escorts.

Buying and selling goods is a decent way to earn a living, however that involves you basically buying something to sell it for a small profit elsewhere. You might not earn that much, but in bulk it tends to be more worth your while. However, what if you didn’t have to buy the goods you are selling? That would definitely pad your profits! There are two ways to go about doing this: The nice way and the “fun” way. The nice way involves you acquiring yourself a mining ship (I won’t judge you how you go about doing that). Once you have your mining ship (I renamed my first one Red Dwarf), you can set it to mining the asteroids for their precious bounty. You can then load this bounty into your trading ship and send it off to sell the goods while the mining ship goes back to work getting you more natural resources or just have the mining ship drop it off somewhere itself. The “fun” way is piracy. Find a cargo ship that is already loaded full out with goods and take it for your own. Blast a few holes in its hull and collect the loot, scare the pilot out of the ship or board it and kill your way to ship ownership. If you want a slightly less evil, but still interesting way to pirate goods, you can hack the ship or even stations and have it dump its cargo for you to quickly acquire and scamper off before the authorities take an interest in you.

Build: I’ve touched on this already, but let’s talk about it properly now. Building is an interesting and painful element of the game. You can build ships at shipyards if you can’t find another more creative way to acquire the exact ship design you are looking for. This will take time and a whole pile of credits, but in the end you will get a sparkling new ship that isn’t figuratively full of weld marks and laser burns. However why just build another ship for your fleet when you could easily just take someone else’s ship? You know what would be far more interesting to build? That’s right, your very own space station! You can build a wide variety of space stations in this game. Each one requires you to have a construction ship. You probably will actually need to buy a construction ship because I never did encounter any flying around in space just begging me to take the burden of ownership away from the former captain. Not only can you build the space stations you can also customize them as well. During the initial build you can opt to arm the station so if any pesky pirates or other enemies come too close the station can defend itself, but even after it is already completed you can still expand its capabilities. Expanding the base adds new modules to it and allows the station to be even more effective. Here is where the painful part comes in. When the story told me to build a station, I opted to arm it to the teeth… sadly the construction ship provided only had the materials to build the basic station without the add-ons. Luckily you can tell the architect to buy the items they need to finish the station and just hand them a bunch of credits… at least that was the theory. Approximately four days of playing the game later, I had progressed to the point where I needed to add an add-on module to my station…. my station which was still not built because the architect still had not purchased any of the goods it needed. I went searching for the goods it needed and after a few more days of playing I resorted to just hijacking every ship I seen and hacking every station I seen that had even a hint of having what I needed. I then told my trade ship to give the items to the architect and went about my business. Two days later, my station was still not completed so I flew back to the system it was in to see what was wrong. My trade ship was there, the partially built station was still there but nothing was happening. I told the ship again to unload but it just sat there doing nothing. Turns out that there was a giant asteroid blocking the landing pad and I thought perhaps the game was smart enough to know the construction ship couldn’t take the cargo without a suitable transfer dock. I blasted the rock out of the way… and the transfer started working….not. Turns out you don’t do the normal transfer of goods if you told the architect to handle it, you have to sell the goods to the architect through the little popup selling points on the architect’s ship. Finally my station completed! I was able to transfer the goods needed for the expansion to the architect and then proceeded to upgrade the station as the quest defined. I later went on to build multiple more stations much more quickly for having learned from my mistake.

Crafting can also be done on the fly. As you play though the game and loot or otherwise acquire treasures, sometimes you will get components of larger things. The crafting system means you need to be careful what you sell for a quick buck because you could easily be doing yourself out of a really good item. For example, if you collect enough rare parts you can upgrade parts of your ship beyond just what the merchants will sell you. You can even add new features to your ship like the SETA device which makes space travel much faster simply by compressing time. You can even craft your very own jump drive if you are lucky enough to find all the components needed. Crafting definitely adds a fun element to the game that really makes you think about what you should sell right away or keep for a while.

Think/Explore: Think is what Egosoft said, but I think I will use a little creative license here and say Explore instead. The reason why they went with Think is because you don’t have to main quest run your way to the end of the game even if the story really makes you want to see what happens next due to the rich lore intertwined into it. There are plenty of things for you to do instead, and thankfully the game doesn’t actually force you to progress. You can take the jumpgates, highways and super highways to explore all the different sectors of the galaxy. Doing so will let you discover new stations and opportunities for yourself to make a profit or to upgrade your ships/stations. While you are exploring you will also encounter lockboxes that you can carefully open to release their precious cargo, or if you are really lucky you may even find some derelict ships floating out in space that you can take for your own. Using your ships scanners will help you spot things you may have otherwise missed by adding a ping mark to anything that falls in range of your scanners.

Another interesting thing about exploration is the fact that if you had previously explored an area and happen to have a larger ship that has a landing pad and a jump drive on it, you can actually use it to take shortcuts through space. Rather than taking the long highway route between areas, you can simply tell the ship to take you to that sector then all you have to do is sit back and relax as you are carried there safely like the precious cargo you really are.

Speaking of precious, the campaign isn’t the only way to play the game. If you don’t feel like going through the story again, you can always just free play. Free play comes in a variety of styles depending on how much of the downloadable content you have. There is the generic “Free Play” which starts you out in a similar fashion to how the game starts in the campaign. There are also themed free play “game starts” you can choose from as well that give you different starting equipment and money. Aspiring Merchant sets you nicely to play the game as a trading simulator by giving you trading ships at the start. Argon Mercenary sets you up to be a bounty hunter or pirate with better weapons and equipment and Empire builder starts you off with a station with the intention you will use your profits to expand your business empire with more stations.

The paid DLCs add things to the game in two ways: One, they add new sectors to the campaign with new places to explore as well as new station designs and ships to acquire. The new areas offer their own unique twists, challenges and flare to the game that go beyond just copy pasting a few more sectors to the game for a quick buck. The other thing the DLC adds to the game is additional free play modes. The Teladi Outpost free play option gives a different merchant/trading style game start. With the other DLC, Home of Light, you get the free play modes of Home of Light (corporate warfare/alliance theme) and Verge Explorer (explore a dangerous area and beyond style). While the DLC offer no new story other than basic cut scene at the start of each one, they still expand the game enough that they are probably worth getting especially if you are trying to get the most out of the game you can. The new areas are worth exploring and you likely can find quite a few interesting things there if you poke around enough!

Now that we got the preliminary information out of the way, let’s get into the gameplay. I’ve already talked about the campaign, but I overlooked talking about a feature that came about in 4.0 and is common to both the campaign and the Free Play modes: the bulletin board mission system. Whenever you are near a station, you can check to see if there are any missions available. There are usually several available at any given time, but they will expire and change fairly quickly so if you want a mission you see, grab it while you can, if you see nothing that interests you, just wait a while and see if something new comes up. The bulletin board is a place where people post jobs they want done as well as sell things they no longer want or need. The jobs range from transporting someone/something from one place to another to bounty hunting/protecting all the way to building a specialized base. You can buy used ships and treasure locations from there as well, but you really need to watch the prices, just like in real life, some people will definitely try to rip you off! These bulletin boards will be your bread and butter until you start getting some infrastructure going for you. Once you can get things going, you likely will pay less attention to these bulletin boards, but I still like doing the build ones, especially if I wanted that kind of station anyway.

You can hail stations and have them send whatever you want to your ship, or you can actually dock at a station or on other large ships. You can even leave your pilot seat and go to the crew quarters of your own ship to stretch your legs. Exploring a station on foot can be interesting. If something isn’t nailed down, you can just take it if you want to. If you feel like being sneaky, you can even hack your way into an air vent or sabotage a key system in order for you to steal cargo with impunity later. A really interesting thing though is the fact that you can engage in small talk with the various personnel around the station. Engaging in small talk doesn’t just make it feel like the people are alive; it also lets you have a chance to learn new information about discounts, trade offers or other important things such as how skilled the person claiming to be a pilot/captain/engineer/etc. actually is. That way you can save yourself the expense of hiring and firing someone underqualified for the job they were meant for. The small talk uses the same mini-game as the hacking so I will discuss both of those things here. Basically what happens is a sinewave shows up on your screen and a bar starts to slide back and forth, you must press the button when the bar lines up with the wave near its peak in the blue zone in order to be successful. Depending on the difficulty, the bar might move very quickly so you have to be extra vigilant to avoid failing and alerting security to your presence (if hacking) or offending the person you are chatting up.

The Factions system in the game really forces you to think about the consequences of your actions. Sure there might be a nice undefended cargo hauler nearby, or maybe that capital ship would look nice in your personal fleet but attacking an ally will lead them to no longer wanting to be your ally, in fact they just might hate you and try to kill you on sight in the future! Luckily once the campaign is over you can easily mend any bridges you burned in the past just by doing nice things for the upset factions. Another reason why you want to keep in their good books is because depending on how high your reputation is affects the prices at that faction’s station as well as what the stations can offer you.

Graphically the game looks great. Even on my old hardware, this game runs smoothly at maxed out settings. Each of the systems has their own unique feeling to them. For example, you can easily tell if you are in an Albion system or DeVrises system without even checking the map simply by taking note of how bright the area looks. DeVrise is pretty much hugging a sun so everything is very well lit in comparison to the more normal Albion system or the highly populated Omicron Lyrae system or even the cold and ominous Maelstrom system. The sound effects in the game work very well, none of it seems like the forced. Such as the sounds of the hull of your ship creaking and scraping as you are bombarded with enemy missiles and weapon fire or the dull echoing thud when you manage to crash your ship into a space station because you were too busy checking out that juicy looking cargo ship rather than paying attention to where you were going. Even the soundtrack really fits this game and you never really get tired of any of it. Almost everything in the game is voice acted and they all do a pretty decent job of it, there are a few little odd sounding lines here and there, but all in all considering it was made by a German company and translated to English, they did an excellent job.

If you read other reviews/comments about this game, a lot of them were likely written when the game first launched a few years ago. Most of those complaints have likely been addressed by now, but there are still a number of bugs present in the game. A patch was recently announced that will be coming soon so we can easily see even after all these years the Developer is still active in their attempts to squash any remaining bugs. One thing that currently happens far too frequently is clipping into a station or capital ship then getting stuck inside of it. Once stuck inside it is virtually impossible to get back out again as the hole you passed through to get in there seems to seal up again moments later leaving you forced to reload your last save. The game also randomly hung up a few times especially when I was in the Home of Light systems, basically the game just stopped responding and it felt like I was just looking at an epic screenshot until I forced the game to close. The game also takes a fairly large amount of time to launch or even to load a save game but this could just be related to the fact my computer is starting to get a little old. Most of the other bugs in the game are mostly harmless and not that annoying. If you consider how much stuff this game has going on for it, it is understandable and somewhat forgivable that a few bugs can slip through the cracks. Some of the missions are a little silly and some of them can be a bit painful but in general, I enjoyed my experience with this game.

Should you get this game? Well if you have played the previous games in the series, then I would say yes you should pick it up. It is a worthy addition to the X series especially now that it is in version 4 and most of the former complaints have been dealt with. If I could only play one of the X games again, I would probably choose X3 over X Rebirth, but I would be doing myself a bit of a disservice by limiting myself in that way. If you are looking for a space exploration game, you should pick it up as the visuals in the game are rather stunning and you will enjoy yourself whether you are exploring the galaxy looking for hidden treasures or just cruising about. If you want a trading simulator, then again I would suggest you get the game and launch one of the free play modes to get yourself set for trading, or play the campaign to get a good feel for the game then play the post-game free play to set up your trading empire. If you like playing as a pirate but are afraid of or just tired of the ocean, then you should definitely pick it up as well as it can be quite a bit of fun plundering ships and booty. If you tend to get frustrated easily or prefer a game where you don’t have to think too much maybe you might want something a little easier, but since the game does offer multiple difficulty levels, you could always just play it on easy and get through the game that way. For those of you that played it and hated it in the past, I believe you should give X Rebirth another chance now that it has been patched up. You never know, you might just get hooked on it now like you were on the previous games. With the Steam Workshop feature being included in the game, X Rebirth will likely be seeing plenty of new content for the foreseeable future that will help enhance your experience and even tweak some of the nagging issues that may still be in the game. Overall, I enjoyed X Rebirth and am now eagerly looking forward to X4!

From the Steam Store page:
ABOUT THIS GAME

In the distant future, the X universe faces a period of profound and irrevocable change. While the universe stumbles towards an uncertain future, countless adventures await as new enemies rise in search of power. Enter a young adventurer and his unlikely female ally traveling in an old, battered ship with a glorious past – two people alone against the galaxy, playing a key part in the events to come. The fate of the universe rests in the hands of the player…

X Rebirth represents a spectacular new beginning for the X series, offering loyal fans and newcomers alike a vast, vivid and extremely detailed universe to explore throughout the game. Varied gameplay elements such as action-packed space combat, detailed trading mechanics and high-speed space exploration with fast travel allow players to experience a truly unique space saga that will keep them hooked for dozens of hours. X Rebirth features a whole new user experience – it is easier than ever to start with, and remains as deep as fans expect it.

FEATURES

TRADE! A fully simulated economy that means your actions really do matter. Travel the space highways to find profit in gigantic space cities, swarming with ships and drones.

++ Every ship you see has a task. Stop a freighter from reaching its destination and its cargo will be stopped too, causing prices to rise. ++

FIGHT! From small scale skirmishes to epic fleet encounters, battles in the X Universe know no limits. Choose to fight for the military, work for the police or be a lawless pirate, or if you prefer just fight when you need to defend yourself – it’s up to you.

++ Take the action right into massive structures. Target turrets and shield generators to weaken your enemy, damage engines and jump drives to prevent their ships from escaping, or stop their factories producing to cripple their economy. ++

BUILD! Create your own empire! From trading stations to large factories, farms to hightech military complexes, everything can belong to you. Build for trade and profit or to strengthen your military presence and dominate your enemies.

++ Extend and upgrade your stations to make them operate more efficiently, with every element visible in glorious animated detail. Harvest your own resources to keep your empire running smoothly. ++

THINK! A rich, detailed history and a deep complex plot await you, but you are free to decide when and where to take part. Explore the universe at your own pace – choose your own path and create your own destiny.

++ Get up-close and personal with aliens and humans alike. Land on stations, meet people, then accept missions from them or hire them as crew members for your ships. ++

TRADE, FIGHT, BUILD, THINK… in the X Universe – the biggest sandbox this side of the galaxy.