You’ll spend half of your time in Deep Sixed looking at the in-game manual, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game requires patience and precision to play. It offers all of the tedium associated with the flight simulator genre minus the piloting. Failure after catastrophic failure make Deep Sixed a frustrating experience. However, the delicious sense of victory when you manage to pull things off might make the frustration worth it.

Deep Sixed puts you in the role of an AI technician deep in debt to a space megacorporation. To pay off her debts, she’s sentenced to skilled labor, charting the galaxy and collecting valuable resources along the way. She’s a black woman who’s essentially a slave, and the game isn’t afraid to use that word. It’s frightening stuff.

Deep Sixed
It’s a lot to handle.

Deep Sixed never fully explores this charged political subtext. Most of the story actually focuses on your AI partner, URSA, who becomes self-aware and gradually goes rogue. As one of the few people I know who loved Her, I can appreciate a good sentient AI story, but URSA’s storyline sticks to the usual genre beats. The corporate slavery element feels fresher and more incisive, but there’s no follow-through on that potential.

Beautiful Disasters and Glorious Catastrophies

The missions, resources, and enemy placement in Deep Sixed are entirely randomized. While this gives the game some replayability, most of the missions feel the same. It makes little difference whether you’re hunting Tarbats or Clubberlangs, or whether you’re mining Lycanium or Koruscite. The work is more or less identical.

Because of this, any given objective becomes tangential to keeping the ship from exploding. Your spacecraft is a piece of crap that is actively falling apart, fast. The lasers need recalibrating, the BIOS needs rebooting, the power needs rewiring, and sometimes shit just bursts into flames.

Problems pile up quickly, too. Deep Sixed‘s best moments have a sense of glorious catastrophe, like a sudden lava flood in Dwarf Fortress or a three-front war in Civilization. At one point in my playthrough a third of my ship had no air, and that was low on my list of priorities. Fighting off killer space whales while dodging in and out of your sole functional laser turret to gulp oxygen and chug radiation pills feels amazing, especially when you pull it off.

Intergalactic Busy Work

Deep Sixed is at its worst when things don’t go wrong enough. Sometimes the space whales don’t show up right away, or the malfunctions come in slowly. You spend a lot of time in Deep Sixed waiting for things to happen. This feels tedious without challenging the player, more akin to fishing in a leaky boat than piloting the Millennium Falcon. When the ship’s problems come in all at once, they feel exciting and dangerous. When they come one by one, they feel like chores.

Troubleshooting in Deep Sixed

Permadeath is brutal. Games that tread similar ground as Deep Sixed, most notably FTL, compensate for the frustration of losing all your progress by making it quick and easy to restart. Deep Sixed is so slow-paced, however, that restarting is a long process even with time speed options.

Deep Sixed is a little buggy, including infrequent crashes and some ship malfunctions that don’t go away even when you repair them. This would be more forgivable in a less difficult game, but given so much player responsibility it’s infuriating when something goes wrong that’s not your fault. Fortunately, the developers are active on the Steam Discussion boards, and have steadily updated the game since its launch. This includes the welcome addition of an “easy” mode without permadeath, which is the best way to learn how the game works.


Pros

  • Satisfying if frustrating difficulty
  • Beautiful integration of 3D and 2D graphics
  • Believable, high-quality voice acting

Cons

  • Incredibly steep learning curve
  • Slow, occasionally dull gameplay
  • Mission objectives lack variety
  • Occasional crashes and bugs are infurating

Conclusion

Deep Sixed‘s heightened difficulty and focus on simulation over fun make it a niche game. I played Deep Sixed for about twelve hours and hated it for the first four. Once I got the hang of maintaining the ship’s breakdowns, I started enjoying myself. Your enjoyment will depend on your patience and willingness to stomach through the learning curve.

John Klingle

John Klingle

John Klingle is a critic, musician and actor living in Chicago. Growing up in Kentucky, he first played video games on his older cousin’s hand-me-down NES. Games like Super Mario Bros. 2, Kirby’s Adventure, and Simon’s Quest gave him a deep love for 2D exploration-based gameplay that continues to this day. John came into indie games with Japanese titles like La Mulana, Cave Story and Yume Nikki as well as the works of Western developers such as Matt Thorson, Terry Cavanaugh and Cactus. He thinks the best games tell stories with environments as well as words.
John Klingle

@glamfrancis

warped, frustrated young man
John Klingle