By Ron Scopelliti
With the world of electronic gaming dominated more and more by online multi-player games, is there any place in the gaming world for a simple, single-player computer game that takes place strictly offline, and focuses more on game-play than flashy graphics and social interaction? If there isn’t, “Deep Sky Derelicts” proves that there should be.
Developed by Snowhound Games, the sci-fi strategy/role-playing game places players in the role of a deep-space salvager leading a team of mercenaries to scavenge the derelict spacecraft of the title, seeking both wealth, and clues to a deeper mystery.
Though the graphics are primarily static images, the style they’re painted in is distinctive and fun. I’d call it “retro-futurist,” but I’m not sure which era the “retro” would refer to – a little bit of 50s pulp fiction, a bit of Jules Verne… Whatever the case, the comic book style of the art and lettering give the game a quirky, unique personality.
Starting out at a space station, you rely on shuttles to ferry you and your crew to an ever-increasing number of derelict spaceships. The ship interiors are represented by a 2-D array of square tiles on the player’s scanner. Each move depletes some of the stored energy that powers the characters’ space suits, so you have to constantly be aware of your energy level, lest you run too low to return to your shuttle.
Naturally, exploration has its dangers. Enemies you’ll run into include everything from robot janitors to giant, quickly-multiplying worms, to other scavenging humans. There are also traps, debris, toxic leaks, radiation, and other dangers to keep you on your feet.
Combat is turn-based, and basically works like a table-top card game. In battle, your characters randomly draw from a collection of action cards that changes based on the equipment they’re using.
Despite the lack of animation, and the turn-based combat that lets you take time for a sip of coffee and a bite from your scone between combat moves, “Deep Sky Derelicts” manages to generate drama and tension through the balancing act of maintaining your crew’s energy level while trying to generate profit through exploration.
In fact, the pace reminds me of some of the classic dungeon-crawler games from the eighties, like the original Bard’s Tale trilogy. It requires enough thought to be challenging, but not enough to give you headaches and heartburn when you’re looking for an entertaining break from reality.
The main complaint I have with the game is the complete lack of drama in the flights from the space station to the derelict ships. Every trip requires just two mouse clicks before you effortlessly arrive at your destination without interference. Given the lawless nature of the characters you find on the derelicts, I’d expect more of the same in space.
Though I haven’t reached the end of the game yet, the variety of different crew members and the random nature of the shipboard encounters and combat offers significant replay potential. While my current crew consists of a leader, a medic, and a fighter, I’d be interested to see what a different combination of character classes could accomplish.
“Deep Sky Derelicts” is available for download from Steam and from GOG.com. Cost is $19.99. System requirements are low, and the game is available for Windows, Mac, or Linux.