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Deep Sixed makes you captain of the worst spaceship

Boldly going forward ('Cos we can't find reverse)

You've got an alien space-whale apparently humping your ship, there's a hole in your hull that you can only patch over with copious application of duct tape, your current laser frequency is useless against the creature and even if you do remember what panel the laser configuration controls are behind, you still need to manually swap out an energy conduit that just burnt out, and that'll probably mean cannibalizing one from elsewhere as you forgot to bring spares.

Picard you ain't. Is this what life was like for Miles O'Brien? Poor bastard.

Deep Sixed (from Rogue State studio Little Red Dog Games) is a unique space exploration game that feels like a hybrid of FTL and Jalopy, latest in the new sub-genre of Shitty Vehicle Adventures. The game is out today, and the launch trailer and my initial thoughts on the game lie within.

Playing as an AI engineer found guilty of criminal negligence (some of your AI charges went rogue and caused some property damage), Deep Sixed finds you paying off your debt to your amoral corporate masters through indentured servitude. You're locked in a small and rickety spaceship, pointed towards an uncharted nebula packed dense with ship-devouring alien life and are assigned a laundry list of objectives to complete.

So far I've played a couple hours of Deep Sixed, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface of this fascinating little game. Your ship is divided up into 8 single-screen rooms, which you can helpfully hop between via hotkeys. A ring of observation/gunnery positions running round the outside of the craft, and a central stack of engine, reactor and scanner rooms, each packed dense with interactive panels and doodads. It feels like a craft that should have triple the crew, but working solo you can just about keep it flying, assuming nothing damages it. And you will get damaged. And sometimes things will just break anyway.

In almost any other space sim, repairs are a matter of waiting for a hull health bar to refill or, at worst, hopping back to base and getting your health restored. In Deep Sixed, you'll have to improvise. Resources like hull plating and additional glass panels for your observation windows are expensive, and can only be paid for with precious requisition tokens as rewards for completing objectives. Until you can get this major work done, you need to bodge it, and that means whacking malfunctioning life support systems with a wrench, putting out fires by hand and just plain duct-taping over holes that are venting your precious air into space.

Cover image for YouTube video

That's just the obvious problems, of course. Other times, your systems will spit out an error code number, or a warning light with a strange symbol will flash up, and here's where you turn to the reference manual. You can view this in-game, but I can imagine it being fun playing with a friend and handing them a printed copy of it (a printable version is included) so that they can decode your problems and tell you how to fix them. Before long, it really does feel like this is your spaceship, and as shitty as it is, you're keeping it going so that it can keep you alive with it.

The developers cite Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes as an inspiration, and I can see the similarities in places. It's stressful stuff. Lonely, potentially frustrating and hard, but it feels so good to pull off a mission successfully against the odds, hopping between ship rooms at just the right moment, remembering where important components are (to minimize pixel-hunting, the middle mouse button reveals what panels are interactive, but doesn't say what they do until moused over) in order to activate systems, avoid hazards and fight back as required.

While this shouldn't be considered a full review - there may be bugs, difficulty spikes or unfair randomness I've yet to see, and there is a vein of roguelike unpredictability at play - I'm having a good time so far, and will definitely be playing more of Deep Sixed as time allows. It's quite unlike any space sim I've ever played, and that's interesting enough in itself.

Deep Sixed is out today on Steam for £10.29/$12, minus a hefty 25% discount for its first week on sale.

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Dominic Tarason