Derelict Fleet Review
A space battle not worth fighting
With the recent resurgence of classic games – be it simple ports, or entire HD remakes – there is clearly appetite for some of the more basic gameplay designs to make a comeback. Most indie studios choose to go this route, and often pair it with pixelated, but still well drawn visuals to help elevate the experience. But one such new release completely misses the mark, and instead of imitating or re-imaging an action game from the 2000's with some modern upgrades, it feels exactly like it actually warped in from the last millennium.
Derelict Fleet is a third person space combat game where you pilot a ship around an open 3D environment. You’re in space, guarding a fleet or large transport ships. The story is fairly barebones, as you’re given a task of defending a series of large refugee ships, as they travel across space in search of a new planet to call home. The reason the story is rather thin is because each mission is largely the same – you’re literally just defending the fleet of ships from incoming attackers, for most of the game’s 15 or so missions. Each mission has a target goal for how many times you can die, and if any of the fleet ships are lost, it’s game over. You may assume there’s some strategy to defending the fleet, but there really isn’t – the attacking AI seemingly targets all ships in the fleet with about even ferocity, and thus they lose health at about the same pace. There is an icon that represents how much health each ship in the fleet has remaining, helping you stay focused. Over the course of the game, there are some unlocks for new ships and upgrades, but it’s largely basic.
Every mission begins with you choosing between a couple of different space vessels – having different stats such as speed, rate of fire, shields, and health – though the differences are negligible during the gameplay. The refugee fleet is always moving forward, so you need to stay with them as well as deal with incoming enemy forces. Though, because the action is taking place in outer space, there’s little indication from the backgrounds that you’re actually going anywhere, other than the fact that if you hover in place, the fleet will move away from you. In a sense, it’s a scrolling shooter. The control options include simply hovering in place, flying normally or accelerating forward. Using a keyboard/mouse or a controller, you can turn your ship and fly in any direction. This is very much an arcade game – your ship turns instantly, you can’t collide with enemies (though you can crash into the large friendly fleet), and your ship/the fleet remains on the same plane so you’ve always got a sense of which way is down (you can’t truly fly free-form, for example as in the COD Infinite Warfare space combat).
Enemies soon begin to spawn and attack the fleet. They don’t seem to focus too much on the player, and the AI is very basic, simply flying in the area and taking shots at the nearest ship. There are a few different enemy ship types, but they are largely the same in function, much like your own ship selection. So, you fly around in the vicinity of your friendly fleet and try to take out enemies. The action isn’t particularly fast, but in the largely dark outer space (and poor quality visuals, that we’ll touch on later) it’s not always easy to see where the foes are – thankfully there is a radar that helps orient you. You’ve also got a few friendly AI ships, but they are seemingly just as shallow as the enemy AI. You can even command them to either guard the fleet or cover your flank, but there was no noticeable gameplay difference from either option.
The shooting doesn’t feel particularly satisfying – you’ve got limited lock-on missiles that take time to reload but are highly effective, and a set of typical laser cannons on the front that have a much faster rate of fire and need to be manually aimed. Somewhat confusingly there are two reticules – perhaps one is for closed range combat while another for long range? Either way, neither really satisfies because shooting enemies is very imprecise and ineffective with the cannons. When flying close to enemy ships, you can still miss them at point blank range since you have to aim somewhat under them to score a hit. There's a third person and a cockpit view, which can at least be somewhat cool.
As such, the space combat is unsatisfying and awkward to control, and the game itself is a series of escort missions. There is not a lot of content, fun or depth, especially for a $10 game. Along with the bland gameplay you must also deal with very dated presentation. Let’s just say this is a game that would have looked dated in the early 2000's, let alone in 2017. The developers opted for realistic style of visuals which leads to the game looking like an old Windows XP 3D title. Some of the space backgrounds may look nice, but the low resolution textures are unable to render their artistic potential. The sounds of the guns, missiles and explosions are basic and the same every time. All of the text, such as tutorial and story bits, is read aloud by a text-to-speech program. It’s seriously baffling and makes you feel like you’re playing a cheaply made mod or a joke project. The entire game runs at a low resolution and in a 4:3 aspect ratio, really making you feel like you’re playing something from the previous century. While the mouse is supported to operate your ship, there is no cursor in the menus, and the options list is very short. You can’t even quit or bring up a menu in the midst of a mission – the Escape key seemingly does nothing – you can only pause.
Derelict Fleet is unfortunately a game with pretty much no redeeming qualities. It functions as a space combat arcade game, but it’s neither fun nor satisfying, nor do the controls work overly well. The extremely dated visuals, effects and audio design completely crumble when combined with a laughable resolution limitation and odd text-to-speech voice. To say that you can get better experiences in a sub $5 mobile game wouldn’t be too farfetched. Derelict Fleet is truly a game from a different era, and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it was developed 20+ years ago but for some reason only made it to release now due to some strange complications.