This isn’t how I wanted to end my year. I was ready to sit down and get lost in X Rebirth for the rest of 2013, setting myself up as a one of the universe’s most dangerous pilots. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
When the game first released it was a bit rough, but Egosoft has a tendency to release some quick patches to bring things up to speed. A few weeks have passed, though, and X Rebirth is still damn near unplayable. What should have been one of my favorite games of the year will undoubtedly go down as the biggest disappointment for PC gamers in 2013.
X Rebirth is the latest in a long-running series of open-ended space exploration games. You’re offered a near unparalleled level of freedom as you’re able to truly craft the universe in your image by building up fleets, trading, creating stations or (my personal favorite) becoming some sort of galactic overlord. Traditionally, the series has had a very strong modding community that has helped to alleviate its extremely aggressive learning curve and smooth out some flaws. However, with X Rebirth, Egosoft attempted to handle some of this on their own by allowing you to enter the interior of ships, redefine the trading system and utilize a myriad of other options. On the surface, these seem like great changes, but considering the modding community has already taken it upon themselves to remove most of them, you can imagine how well they were done.
Visually, X Rebirth feels like it was two games mashed together with zero communication between the teams involved. The ships are impressively detailed, and flying close to some of the larger ones shows off the work put into them. I was able to escape a larger battle to hide away near a major system, and I was amazed to realize I could look around and still see the battle raging.
However, once you step off your ship, there is a drastic drop in quality in the visual department. The character models would have looked fine about a decade ago, and the interior design for the stations is outright atrocious. The animation for characters is extremely rigid and it is frankly a bit unsettling to see them twitch and jolt in an attempt to resemble something humanlike. You’ll encounter the same 10-15 character models for just about everyone you meet, leaving a horrible feeling of déjà vu. However, the worst part is the voice work. When you converse with any of the NPCs, they’ll crank their necks at impossible angles and speak to you with a voice that doesn’t seem like it could possibly be coming from their mouth. Not only is the voice usually wrong for the body, it just seems to emanate from the space around them as opposed to from the character themselves. It’s a bit terrifying, actually.
The interface doesn’t fare much better either. I’m honestly not sure what the thought process was here, but it seems to have failed on every possible level. Basic mechanics such as docking with a space system require you to double click on an icon that’s only a few pixels wide and only seems to work when it feels like it. You’re locked into one view when flying your ship, and with controls obscuring parts of the screen it’s damn near impossible to accurately know what’s going on around you at all times. Even trying to communicate with your crew requires no less than 4-7 key presses, most of which seem superfluous.
Basic things such as setting up trades are needlessly complex, too. There’s no simple way to do anything in this game it seems, and nothing is ever properly explained. The tutorial in the campaign stops at telling you that you need to do something without ever actually telling you how to do it, so you’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure things out through trial and error. Beyond that, you’re never actually told what you’re missing, so I spent most of my time aimlessly flying around hoping that I’d eventually stumble into whatever I was supposed to be doing.
Unlike the previous X games, you’re stuck flying one ship in X Rebirth, and the actual flight mechanics aren’t well implemented at all. There’s zero sense of momentum, and your ship starts and stops on a dime. As opposed to feeling like I was navigating the world around me, I almost felt as if I was in some sort of carnival ride where I watched a movie of what was happening around me.
There are a few new features in X Rebirth, but they range from mildly okay to absolutely useless. I personally liked the new highways that allow you to jet across the fairly massive universe faster, and I have to admit that I also enjoyed the silly little minigame of drafting behind faster crafts to speed things along. The new trading system, on the other hand, is an absolute mess. I’d love to go into more detail about it, but after spending more time than I probably should have with X Rebirth, I’m still not 100% sure how it works outside of knowing I have to fight the horrid menu system to send my ships out to complete deals. I can take solace in knowing that it’s not just me who’s having these issues, and that the modding community has already started to remove these elements from the game.
Perhaps the most glaring of failures is just how poorly this game runs. The rig we tested X Rebirth on isn’t top of the line anymore, but it’s not far behind that mark, and to be gentle, the game ran like shit. Egosoft stated in their forums that they didn’t bother to test the game on high-end systems, and the lack of optimization is telling. Even when loaded from a SSD, the game would randomly stutter and drag the frame rate down to a crawl for no apparent reason. Frankly, it’s just embarrassing for a company to release a PC title in this form.
I can’t quite express how disappointed I am with X Rebirth. I was absolutely ecstatic to jump back into a classic PC franchise, and I thought a reboot would be exactly what this franchise needed to succeed. I was wrong, though. Everything I loved about this franchise is either gone or buried so far under a pile of bad features, poor optimizations, and a general experience that simply doesn’t feel finished. I know the X games usually have a rough start, so I’m holding out hope that in a year or so modders can turn this ugly mess into a game worth playing, but as it stands, there’s absolutely nothing here I can really recommend.
This review is based on a copy of the game given to us for review purposes.