Deadnaut

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re reviewing Deadnaut, made by Screwfly Studios and released in November of 2014.

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Deadnaut is a squad-based survival horror game set in the future, where mankind sets out for the stars and finds… an awful lot of derelict ships full of unspeakable horrors. Enter the Deadnauts, expendable troopers tasked with clearing the ships, hence the name. From your little command center back on the home ship, you kit out your team and monitor their progress as they sweep these abandoned vessels, four per campaign, with each campaign centered around a particular theme and resulting enemies. Your entire interface is a series of three screens: one for examining your troops, one for checking mission intel, and the main screen that shows a rough blueprint of the ship layout, kinda like the mapping screens in Armored Core. I have to say the game is very minimalist. Your troops and your opponents don’t even get character models, instead being represented with colored circles in missions and static images for their profile pictures.

“So,” you may say “I sit in a completely safe pod away from the action and watch some labelled dots jump around the screen? Doesn’t sound scary.” I didn’t think so either at first, but Deadnaut is great at building up the tension. The ambiance is great, with indecipherable noises echoing through the ship and no music to speak of. Occasionally the defense systems will attempt to jam your transmission, forcing you to route more power to, say, the audio feed. On top of this, your Deadnauts are extremely likely to make a mistake at the worst possible time.

And sometimes this happens.

And sometimes this happens.

And the thing is, you’re the reason they’re making these mistakes. You make the troop roster yourself before starting any campaigns. It uses a basic point-build system that takes points away for positive traits such as a higher innate Vigor score, but then grants more for giving your characters flaws. It is entirely possible to make a character without any weaknesses, but if you want any sort of above-average stats, you’ll have to give your soldiers some penalties to compensate. Better yet, many of these flaws are intermittent in their manifestation, so you can’t plan for when they’ll go off. I had one Deadnaut spontaneously stop taking orders right as I was trying to evacuate the squad from a damaged section of the ship. Another example is that a Deadnaut that keeps drawing attention to himself will make the entire squad feel more stressed and less happy to be around them, resulting in your crew not working at full capacity. They’ll chatter about stresses like that, objects in the environment like corpses, and thank each other or coyly ask for favors after surviving close calls.

In between runs, you trade the knowledge you’ve gathered from investigating corpses and downloading ship logs for new blueprints from Earth, allowing you to give your ‘nauts new suits to wield more powerful tools and weapons. You can also clone any ‘nauts that fell in battle so you still have a full squad, but their stats will shift and their genetic integrity will take a dive each time this happens.

The missions, layouts, enemy types employed, and logs all appear to be generated rather than custom built. This goes aways to keep the gameplay fresh, but the results don’t always make sense, like when I read a Captain’s Log entry about cutting off access to the sentinels to thwart potential saboteurs, and then the next entry was about bringing more of them online to protect the ship.

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Alright, you know the drill by now: time to complain.

In theory, you learn about the enemies in your campaign through combat with them then equip your troops as needed, but the campaigns are so short that you’ll have a hard time gathering enough data to see the weaknesses of more than one or two. Upgrading equipment is also obnoxious because better weapons and tools require better suits to power them, which sucks when you have enough to get one but not the other. Occasionally, you’ll have a hard time clicking the drop-down menu to interact with an object in the environment, and this is the last thing you want when you’re trying to tweak the life support systems to weaken the dozen shambling horrors sitting outside the door. Last of all, there aren’t even all that many options for customizing your troops. You’ll have to take a good 2 or 3 flaws to get any decent stats, with many popping up repeatedly in your squad because the list of available traits is so short. And the only positive trait with some actual character is “Likeable” whereas the rest are generic stat bonuses.

I hesitate to call Deadnaut a great game, but the concept is new to me and I quite liked the grim setting and intentionally clunky mechanics (at least when they were intentionally clunky). Deadnaut is available on Steam for $10 if you’re interested. 2015-08-10_00001

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