X Rebirth is the latest in the long line of X space sims from Egosoft, but does it live up to expectations? For some time these games have been getting progressively more complicated and unwelcoming to newcomers; a state that â€˜rebirthâ€™ sought to rectify. To do this, the series has headed back towards its roots giving you control of only a single ship, as well as simplifying much of the flight control. Another thing that’s new for X Rebirth is the engine – since X2 each game has merely modified what’s gone before, so this entry into the series is really trying to stay true to the ‘Rebirth’ in the name.
One thing X Rebirth stays true to its predecessors is having a buggy launch.Â Many have found that the game simply doesnâ€™t work, although a flurry of patches have helped some of these players to access the game. Even if it does work, however, many are experiencing extreme performance problems, even with extremely high end systems. My fairly impressive gaming rig still sees regular performance issues, with just 12-15 frames per second in some areas (typically those with lots of asteroids). Egosoft have apologized for the state of the game at least, and have pledged to keep patching it until it works â€“ a promise I’m sure they’ll keep as former games in the series have received enormous amounts of patches.
X Rebirthâ€™s problems arenâ€™t limited to bugs and poor optimization however â€“ there are some major design issues which stop the game from being the great space sim it should be. While simplifying some of the absurdly complex mechanics from past titles is a laudable goal, many of the ways this has been attempted were misguided at best.
The simplification of the flight model is a great example of unnecessary simplification â€“ by default when you roll the ship it will automatically return to an arbitrary orientation as soon as you stop pressing the button, which effectively means the game imposes an â€˜upwardâ€™ direction on the inherently directionless vacuum of space. This, combined with an absurd â€˜boostâ€™ function whereby you hold down a button to go quickly with immediate deceleration back to your original speed, serve to make it feel like a game at all times, rather than giving the impression of actually flying a spaceship.
Another element of the game which destroys all sense of immersion are the space highways â€“ bright green ribbons ofâ€¦something which thread their way through sectors. In principle, these are fine, but when you enter one a strange minigame begins â€“ one in which you must literally tailgate other traffic in a number of discrete lanes you choose from in order to achieve the maximum speeds. It goes without saying that this is jarring to say the least, and thereâ€™s an even worse version with more lanes when navigating jump points between sectors.
The worst part is that the idea of slip-streaming behind other ships within these highways isnâ€™t really all that bad, but implementing it with specific lanes keeps it from being an integral part of the world. A simple way to make the space highways better would be to remove the lanes, allowing free movement across ‘road’ (including a risk of collision with other ships if you arenâ€™t careful) and a less extreme speed increase when slip-streaming other ship would make for a far more immersive experience. Coupling that with making the previously described â€˜autorollâ€™ function off by default, along with the automatic collision avoidance, would make flying a ship feel all the better.