Deserted by Zebik Media Interactive
In Deserted, you are the lone survivor of a crashed deep space expedition, struggling to learn the rules of an alien planet.
From classics like Out of this World (cited by developers as a major influence) to more recent games like Edge of Space or Capsized, it’s a classic premise for games (and for that matter, science fiction novels and movies).
Crystals and Creepers
Developers Zebik Media Interactive nail the look and feel perfectly, with softly lit, low-poly art that pays homage to the aforementioned Out of This World without slavishly aping its style.
Jagged crystals and weirdly glowing flora and fauna highlight the alien nature of the world, while rushing rivers, roaring waterfalls, jagged cliffs, and even the occasional sun-dappled meadow evoke a sense of wilderness analogous to our earth enough to make our protagonist, Captain Lewan, feel a little homesick, we might imagine.
And while the premise overall leans more toward the hard sci-fi of Arthur C. Clarke and company, Deserted has some room for space opera fun, too, with the likes of hovering speeder bikes and an energy sword that isn’t quite a lightsaber but certainly sounds like one being clear nods to everyone’s favorite Lucasfilm franchise.
Use the Force (Field)
If Deserted succeeds in creating a believable and compelling world, it fails, alas, at making that world fun to explore.
I get that surviving on an alien planet is going to be difficult by definition, but the combat, loosely comparable to the Dark Souls games and their many clones, is too punishing to enjoy and far too dependent on the timed use of an energy shield that half the time seems to have no effect regardless of how well you time your button-presses.
Grenades (which are hard to aim), a pistol (which has extremely limited battery life), and limited healing tools – both via your drone (which has a seemingly interminable cool-down) and crafted materials (for which there are too few ingredients to gather) – are of some help. But not enough.
Based on the look of the game, from its lighting effects and isometric perspective, I was hoping for something like Unsighted or Hyper Light Drifter, something where combat contributes to exhilaration and joy of movement. I wanted to spend time exploring the world the Deserted has built, but the fighting sucked any excitement right out of the experience.
The joyless nature of combat is the most glaring issue here, but it’s not the only one.
The environments, stunning though they often are, are tough to navigate, with the admittedly impressive-looking trees and rocky outcroppings blocking visual access to important game elements like entrances to new areas.
Interactive elements, typically indicated via exclamation points, can be tough to spot and even tougher to utilize, thanks to fiddly positioning and detection. An early foreshadowing: it took me far longer than it should have to move my character to the right space on the Z-axis to exit the cockpit of the ship during the introductory sequence.
Interstellar Transmission Garbled
The interface and even in-game instructions are frequently opaque and occasionally outright incorrect. Press the left Alt. key, Deserted instructs players, to put away your energy sword, but through trial-and-error, you’ll eventually discover it’s actually Ctrl. that sheathes your weapon.
Nor does the game inform you why you need to put it away in the first place – to move faster, to harvest items, to interact with the environment – or how to craft items in the crafting interface (unlike everything else, you can’t just click but have to click and hold), or any number of other crucial actions.
It’s a shame because all of these unnecessary UX and mechanical flaws get in the way of what does seem to be a compelling experience and a classic sci-fi mystery about a missing scientific expedition.
Of course, it’s going to be hard to survive on a hostile planet light-years from Earth, that’s pretty self-evident. Deserted makes it hard to even want to.
Deserted is available via the Microsoft Store and Steam.
Watch the trailer for Deserted below: