We tried to give X Rebirth a fair run, but even weeks after launch, the game is still broken, buggy, and boring.
By Alex Walker on December 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm
I’m done with this game. I’ve had enough. My reserves of willpower and my fortitude for being screwed over are spent. No more.
X Rebirth, despite graduating from release to version 1.18, is utter chaos — not of the colossal and awe-inspiring kind space-fans expected, but of an infuriating, hair-pulling, IQ-destroying nature. Every positive carries at least two negatives, both of which probably cause the game to crash or your save to be corrupted.
Ironically, I couldn’t have wanted this game more. James Pinnell, one of this site’s senior writers and a fine fellow, was aghast when I got in first for the review copy. It wasn’t luck: I sent an email to our glorious and benevolent overlord two months in advance. I even went as far as to make a pitch as to why you, the dear reader, might care about Rebirth, as if it wasn’t obvious already.
I wanted this badly and it didn’t arrive until the last hour – literally. Two hours before the game unlocked to the public at large, the review key still hadn’t arrived in our inbox. Reading the tweets of fellow journalists, Pinnell included, I very, very, nearly bought the game myself just so I could pre-load it in time; part of me was convinced that the key wasn’t going to arrive. But arrive it did — precisely 23 minutes before midnight.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
Nope, nope, nope
Shocking performance, corrupted saves, senseless gameplay — and that was for those who could play at all. I had to wait a solid fortnight. We even contact Egosoft for help; they kindly suggested I update the game to see if it resolved my issues. It didn’t. I ended up finding salvation in a solitary post on the Steam forums, with a user uploading a working version of an XML file that was permanently broken for me, despite downloading the cache from scratch three times.
In the spirit of paying it forward, I emailed the support team to let them know of my solution. The response: the bug was known and fixed in 1.15.
I was running 1.15. It wasn’t fixed. The patch notes for 1.16, released two days after my last email with Egosoft support, contained the following line: “Fixed several more crashes during start-up and in-game.” A full week after release I finally reached the menu screen, no thanks to any official support.
If only the problems ended there. The official workaround thread on the Egosoft forums sits at 36 pages at the time of writing. A post on November 16 from the developers apologising for the sorry state of the game — back in version 1.13 — has over 1200 posts. Another Steam thread full of angry Russians has over 1800 posts of its own.
Introducing Ren Otani
My personal gripes continued when I began exploring the life and times of Ren Otani, a spineless brat who by the grace of the cosmos happens to come across the Albion Skunk (probably because it emits an odour which mirrors the game’s overall quality) floating aimlessly and unoccupied. Too incompetent to fix things of his own accord, Otani enlists the help of Yisha Tarren who can most charitably be described as the whiny, lobotomised, aggravating cherry on top this faeces-riddled cake.
I’ll say no more about Tarren other than that she’s effectively Rebirth’s Jar-Jar Binks. Her voice acting is still better than Otani’s, although the standard is spectacularly low across the board. What’s even more staggering is the writing direction Egosoft went with for Otani. Tarren sounds like she’s goading Otani into being a space explorer, which is essentially half the reason why people are interested in space games in the first place. Is it really too much to ask that the protagonist wants to explore space and get involved in dangerous situations? Did the writer somehow become inspired by Karl Pilkington?
Tarren, on the run, asks for an escort, prompting a journey through several intergalactic highways. Here you’ll encounter one of the many, many depressing time wasting activities. Highways have nine lanes laid out in a 3×3 grid and if you switch lanes to a ship that’s travelling faster than you, the Skunk gains acceleration from the slipstream.
It’s not an unreasonable concept on paper, but in practice means your attention is constantly required if you want to cut down on travel time. It’s not always guaranteed either: upon my first travel through a jump gate, I found myself in an abandoned sector and had to wait a solid minute travelling through a highway because no other ships were around to piggy-back off.
I eventually gave up on the whole idea and just kept my iPad Mini nearby so I could play The World Ends With You in between highway jumps. It says a lot when I’d rather progress in a Japanese RPG than tolerate another second of brainless busy-work.
What does this all mean
The plot’s weakness is only matched by the sheer lack of care with which it treats the universe it occupies. I flew through about eight or nine highways at the game’s behest in the first hour, not understanding where I was going or anything about the places once I’d arrived. You can always see your exact path, of course, but Rebirth makes no attempt to build any kind of lasting connection.
Otani, for all intents and purposes, has no home. Even intrepid explorers have a base of operations, a place to refuel and rest. Surely Otani would have one too — the guy doesn’t even like exploring space that much. He abhors danger and, initially, recoils at Tarren the troublemaker. Am I expected to believe someone with that kind of personality wouldn’t have a one-bedroom unit on a planet somewhere?
Monotony, it seems, is the order of the day. Exploring space stations is a laborious process that involves you flying within a few hundred metres of objects until you’re allowed to interact. Eventually you’ll be able to trade remotely on space stations once you’ve earned enough money to make it worth it, but for the first, oh, ten hours, you’ll be kissing objects with the nose of the Albion, waiting for that outline to appear. God help me.
Docking, incidentally, is quite fun at first. Walking out of your ship seamlessly onto the landing platform has a sense of “this is the future” about it, or maybe that’s just because I remember wishing I could explore planets when I played Freelancer. Most of the stations have largely the same layout and look, although the sameness is balanced by the ability to land on all variety of capital ships, bases, freighters and so on.
Once you arrive though, you’ll encounter more busywork if you want to earn a buck. I found a simple method early on was to find two or three traders of the same type on one station and just simply sell their goods to each other. If you’re lucky, one of the traders will pipe up about how lonely and miserable life is, giving you an opportunity to impress yourself with the seller via a little timing mini-game. Anyone with a pulse can get a reasonably good result, although a couple of times I failed because — incredibly — Rebirth doesn’t lock the mouse cursor to the game window and I accidentally clicked on my second monitor’s desktop, alt-tabbing the game.
That aside, it’s fairly simple to start raking in a million or two. It’s a mundane process that requires extreme patience, given that Otani and the NPCs only know two or three lines each. The torture is necessary mind you: the missions and side-missions offered at various bases pay bugger all. Decent weapons will set you back over 100,000 credits; most missions only offer somewhere in the region of 15,000 to 35,000 at the beginning. Hiring crew members can be costly and systems upgrades – engines, shields, scanners and so forth – are exorbitant early on.
I just want to punch something
Luckily, the combat is reasonably fluid provided the frame rate holds up. The Skunk is the only craft you can fly throughout, so Egosoft had to make sure it was capable of fighting all comers. Four thrusters, an afterburner and the standard engine give you enough maneuverability to survive in combat, while an array of drones (the ones you aren’t hocking off, anyway) allows you to contribute to the fray without being directly involved.
Where the fun ends is with the lobotomised AI. While you can only fly the Skunk, you can issue commands to a fleet of your own; it’s just a shame they don’t seem to… do anything. Luckily you might not need them, because I came across multiple enemies floating happily in space, refusing to even acknowledge my presence until I’d unloaded a few rounds of plasma into their engines.
The worst part is the reputation algorithm underpinning the different factions. Completing missions or protecting a certain station from bandits will improve or harm your standing with the parties involved. Unfortunately, any action affects your standing. Neutrality isn’t acceptable. Self-defence isn’t recognised either, which makes the campaign an utterly infuriating experience.
After wedging you between the Heart of Albion and the Plutarch Mining Corporation, the plot forces you to back the former, despite Otani’s half-hearted objections to conflict of any kind. What’s frustrating is that the Plutarch ships are holding you in high regard while they’re jamming lasers down your throat.
The second you fight back, the Plutarch forces kick up a stink and “report” you to the local authorities. It’s an astonishingly poor design decision given the plot forces you to dock at a Plutarch station later, when you’ve thoroughly trashed your reputation with the mining corporation to the point where you’re not allowed to dock. My salvation came from dying and restarting enough times until Rebirth felt sympathetic enough to let me land. The plot wouldn’t progress otherwise.
It happens in the side-missions too. Occasionally I’d be warding bandits away from a station, when one would inextricably get stuck inside a wreckage somewhere. They never fired back, but any time I tried to find a small gap to squeeze a shot through, the shot registered against the friendly station, immediately trashing my reputation with the faction that issued the mission and prompting a restart — which subsequently failed because the save game was corrupted.
Do not buy this game
I could go on, but there are only so many bugs, poor design choices and frame rate drops one can withstand. I’ll keep persisting with Rebirth mind you: like the X3 games, Rebirth should be a completely different product after, oh, a year of updates. And that’s not factoring in the amount of mods that will be released (although it provides me with great amusement that in the first few weeks, most of the popular mods removed features because they were so buggy and broken).
The time the next Steam sales come around, Rebirth might actually mirror the kind of experience Egosoft originally envisioned. Right now, it’s a miserable, soul-crushing disappointment. It won’t stay that way forever, but until the situation improves, give this one a miss.
- Beautiful backdrops
- The Albion Skunk is fun to maneuver
- Enormous world to explore
- Can land on practically any station or ship (most of the time)
- Atrocious performance, with a frame rate that plunges into single digits
- Abysmal voice-acting
- Rubbish plot
- Too much busywork, like the highways and conversations with sellers
- Too many broken or poorly designed features, like fleet management, the AI, combat
- Fonts and icons too small and difficult to see in some sectors
- Doesn’t lock the mouse cursor to the game window
X Rebirth costs $49.99 on Steam. This review copy provided by Egosoft.
Screenshots in this review also provided by Egosoft.