Back in 2013 I reviewed a small game called CAPSULE by Adam Saltsman and Robin Arnott, and I praised it heavily on the atmosphere that it managed to draw from a control panel and sound effects, and Deadnaut shares some of this. The underwater claustrophobic tension that CAPSULE elicited has been replaced in this case with the space claustrophobic tension, but to much the same effect. Deadnaut describes itself as “a tactical, squad-based, sci-fi horror game”, and whilst that’s a fine and dandy description I’d happily add rogue-lite to that.
Your screen is not a clean and dandy transcendental view of the battlefield, instead you are given what is essentially a virtual control panel with a 3D representation of what’s going on on the central panel, team member information and such being available on another panel and finally information on the target vessel on another. The game is centred around tactically controlling your team-members on the target vessel and completing the given objective without having all of your team killed. I have not managed this yet, and I’m not sure it’s because I’m really bad or if the game is hard as nails… probably both. I managed to survive a solid 15 minutes in one run, carefully picking through the ship with the team, avoiding open contact and maintaining control of those engagement that did happen. There is another aspect, let’s say, layer, to the game which is based around the computer and power distribution systems. These must be secured by Deadnauts as you move through the ship in order to avoid having the ship AI from undoing whatever you’ve done, say open doors, increase light levels, hack a turret etc. On this particular 15min run I was doing well, moving slowly and carefully however upon entering a corridor the firewall holding the ship AI back from the door access in the area broke and from nowhere swarmed large numbers of very angry aliens (red dots) which swarmed my Deadnaut team, killing them all. In addition to causing problems with ship systems, the enemy ship AI can disrupted communications, making it difficult to give order to the Deadnauts or even see what’s going on. There is a system through which signal boosting can be used to counteract this effect, however you’ll have to be quick. In addition to the general in game experience there is a whole host of character attributes which act as modifiers to how they will behave in stressful situations or even in each others company. This can be random or can be created manually through the allocation of points to skills, professions, traits and negative traits (giving back points). In addition to this, the team need equipping according to their skills and the requirements of the mission.
All of this adds up to quite a significant degree of multilayered complexity ultimately affecting the manner in which the real-time aspect of the game plays out and boy oh boy does it take some mastering. Having everything working together, at all layers with team members losing their nerves, appearing from nowhere and that last firewall dropping knocking down comms bandwidth and blinding your console. There’s a reason that I brought up the rogue-lite/like label as this has many of the required aspects, including a dynamically generated world, random character stats and importantly, being really really bloody hard. The first few attempts will probably see your team wiped out without warning or recourse before you can respond, after that you’ll go slower and more carefully, after which your team will get flanked and thrashed by countless red dots of alien death as you sit staring helplessly at your static filled console. I’m a massive fan of all of this and combined with that CAPSULE-esque feeling control panel there’s a good atmosphere to the game, building tension whilst avoiding the risk of insulating the player from what is happening. That really is the danger in the virtual control panel method, generating additional distance between the player and the game world. CAPSULE circumvented this problem with immersive sound and visuals that represented the virtual physical form of the player suffering for failure in much the same way a first person game builds atmosphere. Deadnaut doesn’t quite go this far however there is something very isolating about the manner in which the alien vessel can affect your console, which follows the Alien/Ridley Scott school of dilapidated neo-industrial space-faring. The culmination of these aspects produces a game that feels appropriately grim and draws the player in, I just wish I could survive long enough to get properly immersed.
The system requirements are not excessive and I’m tempted to give this at least a preliminary toaster game certificate. Playing the game on my reference toaster (Thinkpad X220 running Debian Jessie) the laptop certainly heated up some but despite that the game was completely smooth and playable at the laptop’s native resolution. As was alluded to just then, Deadnaut has a Linux native version, in fact it is available natively on Windows, Mac and Linux which is a pretty cool thing indeed. Currently the game will set you back $10.00 (about £6.45), available on Steam or direct from the Deadnaut website via Fastspring. It this seems like something you may be interested in but you’re on the fence sill then I’ recommend the Deadnaut series of blog posts by Lord Custard Smingleigh. In short, Deadnaut is really very cool and isn’t as big as it should be, by a long shot. (Oh and there’s a demo! I know right, how rare/cool is that?!)
Deadnaut Website (inc. Demo!):
Deadnaut on Steam:
Lord Custard Smingleigh’s Deadnaut ventures: