An empty station, floating through space, a once thriving community filled with doctors, miners and even bartenders. Now it’s just an empty husk, a barren building with nothing, but lights and blood stains on the ground This is the result of many games on Spacebase DF-9 and,despite the grim outcome, usually find myself laughing at the result. Usually brought on by a space parasite or just a dozen raiders who happened to stumbled across my humble abode, death can come quick to those who find themselves in the world of Double Fine Productions’ strange simulation, but it’s the company’s signature charm that keeps it from being over-bearing and frustrating.
If you’re at all familiar with Spacebase DF-9 then you’re probably aware of its complicated history. Double Fine intended the project to be on a somewhat constant development cycle, like Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress. However the project didn’t sell to the team’s expectation and project was polished and sold as a final project with many promised features missing. Despite the game receiving many patches since its release (6 to be exact), it still feels somewhat messy and basic. Many areas for the base (i.e: Reactors, Infirmaries) only have one item to build in them, leaving you to create something basic, but not really stretch your imagination. The only area that invokes any kind of wonder is the pub, which has 3 decoration items. Otherwise, you’ll likely to create the same base every time you play, which can make the process a little tedious and repetitive. That’s not including a number of bugs, including citizens that are supposed to be dead still walking around and characters unable to use doors that,while not breaking your game,will cause a number of pointless deaths and decrease the efficiency of your base.
The game starts out with you picking the location of your base; this will determine how many asteroids there are in the area (which you mine to create more objects and rooms), the threat factor (the number of raiders, killbots and parasites) and the likelihood of abandoned bases and passenger ships appearing near you. Then you have eight in-game minutes to have a small, but functional base built, and you grow your base from there. Despite me typically choosing areas with extremely low threat factors, I tended to have an ungodly number of raiders pop into my game after I have a somewhat established base. There’s also no reward for fending off these raiders, you simply kill them after they board your base and their ship moves on. The raider themselves don’t even drop anything worthwhile, making the risk of settling in higher threat factor areas seem all too pointless.
What keeps this game from being a true mess is Double Fine’s signature humor and style, the game often delivers hilarious dialogue upon meeting a passenger ship. DF-9 really nails the addicting quality of building a bigger and bigger base and trying new techniques to get a bigger and bigger base with each playthrough. Every time my base was destroyed by one thing or another, I was always eager to start over again due to how much I wanted to push further and further. The citizens themselves often have quirky personalities such as often goofing off to play handheld games or someone that always go to the pub just to start a fight. It’s a true delight to stand back at times and just watch your people just interact with one another. However even they have their unsavory traits. Citizens will constantly beg for shelves. No food? Shelves will fix that. No place to work out and let out stress? Shelves will fix that. None of the crew have any beds to sleep on? Shelves will fix that. That citizen you just accepted onto your ship really wants to be a doctor but you made him into security? Buy that man a shelf. Why do these shelves magically fix everything? Because your citizens can display stuff on them. Yes, Lola may not be happy being a miner when her true dream is being a botanist, but man is she happy the world can finally see her record collection.
The graphics are acceptable, even if at times they leave you with a lacking perspective of your world. The game uses sprites; therefore only one angle of the ship is visible. Yes, you can make walls invisible, but it’s hard to get a decent perspective on building new rooms because of your awkward view. The character models themselves are nothing to grip or commend, the animations are simple enough and at a fairly large size to help you tell which one is your miner or doctor. The music is pure sci-fi, you’ve likely heard similar somewhere else, it’s inoffensive but doesn’t stand out in anyway.
Despite the game’s apparent number of flaws and troubled development cycle clearly telling of its result, I had a lot of fun with Spacebase DF-9. The joy of building a functioning base is nailed here, even if there isn’t anything particularly original or innovative here.. Double Fine has managed to use their charm in the best way, keeping it lighthearted and joyful rather than frustrating. While the game’s flaws range from confusing to just plain unforgivable, at the center is something worth experiencing. Far from Double Fine’s best and probably capable of better, Spacebase DF-9 is still a great way to kill a couple hours if you’re into simulation games.