Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux
That’s right – I bought the game that Cracked.com ranked number one in their list of Early Access games that screwed over the customer. It was less than a dollar during the Summer Sale, and I was surprised, considering how much I’ve enjoyed some of DoubleFine’s other titles, that I’d never heard of this one, but I guess when you have a game that’s this much of a PR nightmare, you tend not to advertise it.
Spacebase DF-9 has enough bad reviews that it’s considered Mostly Negative. But if you take the time to read some of those reviews, you may realize that mostly people are angry because DoubleFine really over-promised and under-delivered, not because the game, as it exists, is terrible. On the plus side, when they abandoned the project, they released the source code, and Derelict Games is actively patching the game and providing updates for free (although they do accept donations).
The thing that drew me to Spacebase DF-9 in the first place, before I even knew it was a DoubleFine game, was the similarity to Space Colony, an older outer space city builder that I have played to death over the years. However, instead of having a limited cast of characters, all of your colonists are completely randomized, and as it’s entirely a sandbox game, all the events are also random, theoretically opening it up for a heck of a lot more replay value since you never know what you’re going to end up with. A city-building rogue-like, if you will.
It sounds better in theory than it actually is in practice. There’s a lot of things that just aren’t that intuitive, and the tutorial is as bare bones as it can be and still be called a tutorial. While randomly clicking on things trying to figure it all out, I saw a menu called “Goals” and had to check it out. Disappointingly, goals seems to be super secret code for achievements here. Not that I don’t love achievements, I just was hoping for a little more guidance.
So far, I’m doing an absolutely awful job of colony management. I just don’t have the resources early on to keep my people happy and productive, and I might have overloaded my base, leading to people freaking the hell out about a lack of oxygen (okay, valid) and asphyxiating most of the base while my builders oh-so-slowly built a second room to house oxygen recyclers. Oops. That, of course, led to the embarrassing delight when I discovered that janitors will throw dead people into the matter reactor, and you actually get resources from recycling your dead.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Maybe it’s an unplayable mess without the fan patch – I wouldn’t know, I didn’t try. But with unofficial patch v1.08, it runs just fine – played for well over an hour and didn’t notice a single glitch, never mind a game-breaking bug. It’s got an offbeat sense of humor about it – signature DoubleFine – and when I took the time to look through the building and research trees, it looks like there’ll be plenty to motivate me to keep playing, if I can ever get my base stable, that is.
As far as the debate goes over just how badly DoubleFine screwed up this time, well, I have mixed feelings. They didn’t get to make the game they wanted (and they knew up front that this was a risky proposition and outlined all their plans in a “maybe we will, maybe we won’t” format), and the people who paid an even higher price during EA certainly didn’t get to play the game they wanted. It’s a shame, really, but I don’t think it’s nearly as awful and immoral as people claim. Even successful developers don’t have unlimited resources, and sometimes things don’t work out the way they’d hoped.
Personally, I have no regrets. I’ve already gotten more than a dollar’s worth of fun out of SpaceBase DF-9, and I don’t think I’m nearly done with it. However, I went in with very low expectations, and paid a low cost for entry. That said, I don’t think it’s a bad game at $10 either, I just wish there was the option to funnel that cash directly to Derelict Games instead.