The 1980s saw the birth of several much-loved franchises that have both stunned and amazed audiences in subsequent decades. The bright and colourful era of video games and movies that breathed life into so many childhoods remains as influential as ever. Games including Pac-Man, Q*bert, and Super Marios Bros. all share an inviting arcade aesthetic that instantly transports gamers back to a simpler time before season passes and yearly subscriptions. With ‘80s nostalgia running amok, 3030 Deathwar Redux seeks to capture the essence of old-school epics and neatly package it into a retro display. With clear influences from sci-fi and fantasy classics such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, the game delivers a welcome, but almost overwhelming, blast from the past.
Originally, 3030 Deathwar was developed in 2007 by Matt Griffiths and Mic Newsam at the indie studio Bird in Sky. After the full game became available in 2014, a re-released version subtitled Redux was made and first appeared in 2016 on Steam Early Access. Each revised release fleshed out some of the core gameplay mechanics and updated the graphical and audio quality. This decision to push the definitive edition back by over a decade has caused the game to become massive in scale, but lacking in substance. The idea of an amazing space adventure full of strange environments and intriguing characters is rooted deeply into the heart of 3030 Deathwar, but becomes lost in a sea of menial tasks and repetitive dialogue. The conversations between characters often feel as though they were written by an amped-up Joss Whedon, with every line including some quip or reference to an ‘80s property. At first, the call-backs can be read as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the inspirations behind the game, yet become increasingly endearing while progressing through the story.
Gamers take control of John Falcon, the captain of a band of space-exploring misfits. Falcon is the typical Harrison Ford-type anti-hero—complete with Indiana Jones hat and jacket—all too often found within games with sci-fi and adventure trappings. The character design of Falcon is among the biggest faults at the core of 3030 Deathwar; instead of using subtle or subtextual references for fans to pick up on, the game forces these character tropes. Each supporting character seems to share the same quip-obsessed personality as the protagonist, leaving many exchanges seemingly meaningless with the sense that they could have taken place within Falcon’s head. This tendency makes exploring the vastness of space for spare parts or hunting bounties feel lonely despite the numerous crew members on-board.
The first taste of gameplay comes in scavenging for scrap metal to sell while cruising in Falcon’s new ship. The aim is to jet around in a spacesuit picking up charred remains of destroyed or discarded vessels. Several bodies also float among the rubble. Mousing over these corpses reveals their names, but the bodies are otherwise immune to interaction. With the bleak environment of deep space accompanied by a sorrowful, yet dampened, soundtrack, the player becomes immersed in a dismal and intriguing new world through the promise of a dark, rewarding journey. Once Falcon arrives back on the ship, a crew member informs him that a body has been found in the cargo hold. This vision of a compelling and mysterious exploration is immediately quashed as the two characters begin discussing what to do with the surprise guest. Instead of investigating the matter further, both participants contemplate simply ejecting the corpse into space to avoid having their new ship impounded.
The main story begins when Falcon and his crew arrive at a space station to find that their vessel had been reported as stolen and is immediately taken away, along with all goods and previously-gathered scrap. As a replacement, Falcon is given a shuttle that pales in comparison until he can afford another new ship. Whilst roaming the space station, Falcon discovers that he is not the only one that had been sold a stolen vehicle by a shady mechanic named Frank. However, after uncovering this information, the player must complete a series of repetitive side missions to purchase a vehicle capable of reaching Frank.
Space stations act as small hub-worlds where Falcon can resupply and approach two consoles: Jobs and Trade. Jobs Consoles show missions available within a certain area and how much Falcon will get for completing them. These side missions are split into three core groups: delivering packages, ferrying clients, and combat. Unfortunately, the latter style of mission is initially inaccessible as Falcon’s first ship has no offensive capabilities. Having no weapons quickly becomes an issue when exploring the regions surrounding the station, as random encounters see players hunted mercilessly until they are destroyed. Adversaries can be taken down by the space station’s defences if the player is flying close enough, but the chances of the automated turrets hitting their target are slim, while enemies are deadly accurate during the pursuit. Falcon also has the opportunity to hunt bounties later in the game, although, curiously, bounties are found on the Trade Console rather than the job one. As well as reviewing bounties, Trade Consoles are used to sell cargo, refuel, purchase and upgrade new ships, and see the news. The layout for these consoles can, at first, be somewhat complicated, as their presentation is akin to a bad Microsoft Excel document. While navigating the menus can be burdensome, doing so provides new avenues of interaction.
The gameplay ranges from frustratingly complicated to overly simple depending on whether the player is piloting a ship or travelling on foot. While in deep space, various objects or other crafts can crash into the ship and cause massive amounts of damage. Collisions occur most often when approaching large stations, where traffic is much higher. These unwanted bumps become a constant drain on the player’s resources due to the need to repair the ship. Furthermore, the visual style of space debris makes judging which objects are drifting in the harmless background or in the immediate and dangerous foreground a task of its own. Meanwhile, one promising aspect of 3030 Deathwar is the expansive map that players are free to explore once acquiring an upgraded ship. Despite the universe being largely empty, the void between planets and systems creates a sense that each bit of scrap is valuable and should not be wasted.
While a visually and audibly well-rounded presentation, 3030 Deathwar Redux is another ‘80s-fuelled nostalgia trip that pays homage to great sci-fi properties. Unfortunately, the simplicity that made many classic games so appealing seems to have been lost somewhere throughout the lengthy development. More recent titles tend to be complex, where story depth and character building combine with complicated mechanics, and this project suffers from the same pitfalls as modern games, despite the ‘80s vibe. By including so many menial tasks, the game becomes overbearing and steers away from the simplistic design of the classics that the developers sought to emulate. 3030 Deathwar Redux serves as a prime example of an oversaturated attempt to pile too much into what should be a relatively simple package.
Reviewed on PC.