Review: Dereliction08 Aug 2018 1
Released 12 Jul 2018
Space Hulk (the original DOS game) is a forgotten gem that by all rights should have inspired an entire genre of 'real-time tactical horror' clones. Based loosely on the Warhammer 40k board game (that also gave us the more-faithfully-adapted but less-critically-acclaimed Space Hulk: Ascension), Space Hulk was a masterclass in tension and tactics, with slow, powerful Terminator Space Marines stomping their way through abandoned corridors, and alien Genestealers doing their best to sneak around behind them and tear their hearts out through their armor.
Much like its venerable grandfather, Dereliction sees your squad of marines making their way slowly through a derelict vessel while fighting off swarms of alien bugs as they try to get from point A to point B and close the blast door behind them (ideally, for drama's sake, at the last possible second.) Dereliction's also played in real-time with time-slowing if it all gets too overwhelming. After the encounter you can buy upgrades including new weapons and are free to replay missions you've unlocked previously for more coin.
Unlike Space Hulk, in Dereliction you have perfect information about the map and enemy movements. Rather than carefully managing an unknown threat you must deal with an overwhelming threat: but that razor-edge sense of impending doom stays with you. You need to juggle several tasks--locking doors, picking up useful and necessary items, operating terminals--while also being on watch for a stream of bugs that could instantly mess up your whole game plan. Well-coordinated, your marines can easily hold back the horde, but if you let something slip through its game over, man, game over.
The setting is your typical military-style spaceship built of square rooms and unlikely corridors, lockers full of cash and ammo crates stuffed with grenades, all shadowy or sickly lit. Creepy ambient noises and music set the mood perfectly. The story text is even well-composed; just evocative enough without seeming too purple.
Dereliction is dripping with atmosphere, which unfortunately tends to smear all over every important element of gameplay. The interface is largely integrated into the game map, which is highly immersive, but difficult to use. To know what keycard you need for a given terminal you have to peer at the actual in game model. To lock a door you have to spin the camera until you can hold your finger on the keyhole. To look at the map, you have to zoom all the way out, which is elegant at first, but cumbersome when you are trying to get a quick overview of your tactical situation. The lurid acid green floor lighting is the same color as the discs you drag around to identify and control your marines.
These discs are also where you have info on health status, weapon and carried items. Since you are dragging this around to move the marines they can easily become separated from their vitals. There's no other way to know at a glance even how many marines are still alive, not to mention what they are carrying or armed with. What's more, without their discs around them troops gray-black armor blends into the gray-black bulkheads of the ship. If they are stuck somewhere away from their control spot, good luck trying to find them before they get eaten. You do have the ability to slow time while still handing out orders, but that doesn't help much if you can't figure out who's who, where they're going, and what they're supposed to be doing.
Controls are especially fiddly. If your soldiers are stacked up it can be tough to grab the one you want. Dragging to move takes precious extra seconds, and sometimes fails if you try to move the wrong way, leaving your finger hovering over the screen for far too long. Some destinations will grab your cursor like a magnet while others won't activate no matter how hard you try. It also takes a lot of wiggling to get the soldiers facing the right direction.
This is especially a big problem because units need so much handholding they won’t even turn around until the swarm is already devouring them. Pointed in the generally correct direction they will effectively defend their angle but turned too far one way and they'll stubbornly ignore approaching death. They will also happily wade out into danger if they think that is the most efficient path to where you want them to go.
There’s a good game in here about carefully managing the movement of the aliens and protecting your perimeter. Some features do have opportunities to make interesting gameplay choices. For instance, I loved how locking a door behind you had the potential to backfire if the bugs were able to break through, thus essentially turning the passage into a one way path for aliens only. It was cool how you had to be careful not to break batteries--but they could be used as electrical bombs.
As it is, Dereliction has some pretty fundamental design problems that prevent it from being recommendable. It's just plain hard to play for now, which is a shame since the atmosphere is so good and the genre is so under-served.