X Rebirth sounds like a dream come true. All the depth and economy management of X3 but with nice things like ships to explore and a tutorial. It sounded like such a great idea, and in theory it is. But as ever with franchises like X, trying to become more user friendly often comes at the expense of core features of the franchise.
On its journey to become more user friendly X certainly had a lot of space to manoeuvre. I remember when I first jumped into X3 like a clueless fool. It’s a harsh game. Luckily there was enough community support otherwise I would never have been able to enjoy it. Well Rebirth actually comes with a tutorial. I was expecting a simple guide through the features to give me just enough to get started. Which certainly would’ve helped me on X3.
But I met characters and people and followed a simple string of objective based learning. I remember how desperately I wanted a tutorial on X3 but I don’t remember wanting lifeless characters with even more lifeless voice acting. The voice acting is so bad you will just want it to stop. It doesn’t matter who’s talking or what’s being said. Just please make it stop. Luckily you still have the option to start a free game with no campaign, but no longer have the option to start as different characters with different starting situations.
The ability to actually get off your ship and look around space stations was something I was very much looking forward to. But, just like with the NPC’s, the ship interiors have no sign of life. Stale corridor after stale corridor pointlessly lead you around and only very occasionally will you find an NPC to interact with. And even then you’ll wish you hadn’t. Opening countless lockers for minimal loot as you blunder around doesn’t feel right at all.
Back in your own ship things get a little better. There are still those moments where you stop and think ‘Wow, that’s impressive!’ but not as many as on X3. Considering the rather hefty specs required for Rebirth it’s difficult to see the improvements. Partly to blame is your ship interior. For travelling around it’s all fine, although it does cut into the screen quite heavily. But again it’s at the expense of other views. For example there’s no exterior view and although an exterior view isn’t all that helpful it’s nice to have the choice. I actually like the look of the cockpit and think it helps immerse you into X’s world but you lose far to much to make it worth it.
There’s not much to see on your ship but being able to walk around it does make it feel more like you’re actually in a ship rather than just floating in space with a blank first person view. And hopefully you’ll enjoy it because you’ll spend almost all your time in the elegantly named ‘Skunk’. Really cool name for a ship I know. The large HUD also makes tracking and engaging ships more difficult than it needs to be. Small drones are a nightmare to hit at the best of times but when locating them is difficult too combat can quickly become farcical. Having a pad (or a flight stick) helps, especially given that some of the key mapping is locked, but it’s still not all that fun.
Something I spent a lot of time doing on X3 was docking. To dock manually you would open comms with a ship to request landing permission and then follow a series of beacons leading you towards the docking bay. It’s one of the little features that I love about X3. That doesn’t happen with Rebirth. You float up to an icon and double click it. That’s it. After spending so much time making your ship feel like it has an actual presence making docking a simple double click seems a little silly. And it’s no fun either.
Admittedly docking automatically used to be even more simple. You could engage autopilot, or send another of your ships a command, and then docking would be handled for you. But the ships still went through the procedures. Well there isn’t any sign of autopilot in Rebirth meaning those long treks across the stars now need your constant input. I’m fairly certain that given the technology of the X universe someone could figure out some kind of autopilot.
Having said that, you won’t spend anyway near as long travelling as you did in X3. New space highways will carry you across a fixed path at high speeds allowing you to easily jump between the pockets of life that make up cities in Rebirth. There’s a rather lame mini-game that ‘challenges’ you with pressing the WASD keys to stay behind other ships to get into a slipstream and go faster. You just press to change lanes. Simple. And pointless, boring and frankly just a little lame.
A lot of the features I love on X3 are gone. A lot of new features that sounded great aren’t. Rebirth is a game of substitutions. There are no new features added that don’t in some way get negated by another feature being dropped. There are a few, very sparsely located, NPC’s to find along corridors that all look the same. My dream of docking with a space station and exploring it, interacting with the bustling crowds are shattered. Besides which the voice acting is way too bad to create believable characters that anyone actually cares about. It’s genuinely hard not to laugh when anyone speaks.
The visuals are on par with X3 but the hardware requirements for Rebirth are much higher. You’ll wonder where that power is going when you walk down the same corridor for the 50th time. Or when the HUD intrudes on what would otherwise (in X3) have been an impressive spectacle. There are some cool new features to Rebirth but they’re all implemented too badly to feel like part of the game. And they all hinder other features that made X3 so great. If your looking to buy a game in the X universe, X3 is still the one to get.
Reviewed on PC.