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Deadnaut (Steam)
Game Reviews

Deadnaut (Steam)

A sci-fi squad death simulator that’s a tough nut to crack, but patient players are sure to find it rewarding.

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My crew’s first attempt to clear out a derelict space vessel ended in failure. I’m pretty sure that’s the case for most new commanders, really. A friend who was watching asked what killed them: “Uh…the data says that they’re basically the zombies from Dead Space.”

“Oh.”

That got the point across. A commander doesn’t join his crew on expeditions, so all the visuals they get consist of little grey and red blips and bloops. The small amount of available data made it clear enough; these were parasitic entities that modified the host’s body and took control of it. The hosts had firearms, as it turned out. And teeth. We weren’t prepared, so that was that.

Things tend to go that way in Deadnaut, Screwfly Studios’ space/horror/strategy/etcetera squad death simulator. They tend to go that way for quite some time, actually. Much like their last title, the zombie-themed Zafehouse: Diaries, this is a game about things going wrong and how you deal with that. Until you’ve got a handle on your options and when they’re most appropriate, you’re going to have some problems.

In Deadnaut, you play as a commander leading a squad of the titular space scavengers. In this universe, humanity’s made it to the stars…but they got there a little late, so most everyone else has already been blasted, eaten, irradiated, possessed or what have you. The important part is that they left their ships behind, and those ships are packed with valuable knowledge that can be used to advance the human race. Deadnauts are tasked with exploring those vessels and recovering what they can. The name stems from their usual fate. You’ve got your work cut out for you; a campaign consists of four missions, and most missions involve entering a ship, killing every hostile inside or looting a particular object, then making your way out.

This is not a friendly game. It has more in common with something like Dark Souls than X-Com, though there’s elements of both present. You’re not given a huge amount of information on how the game’s mechanics work and you’re generally just going to have to muddle through as best you can; at heart, it’s something akin to a real-time strategy game with roguelike elements,  but there’s a lot going on. There’s a fairly standard manual available, but it seems to intentionally obscure a lot of the underlying detail that makes the game tick. You have to learn as you go, in other words.

What’s more, your Deadnauts aren’t necessarily going to obey; if you’ve failed to manage their interpersonal relationships or if you’ve just made a squad of unlikable jerks, it’s entirely possible their lack of team cohesion will cause issues when it counts. Character generation allows you to distribute stats and adjust skill allocations as you’d like, but the relationships between squad members are fairly random. While it’s possible to make a stable, grounded Deadnaut, this will come at the expense of other capabilities, so you’ll need to get used to commanding the cast of Degrassi and dealing with the resultant drama.

And sometimes, well, your comm systems just plain fail. The ships you’ll explore have automated defense systems installed that range from AI annoyances to deadly turrets. The former are common on every ship and they love to disrupt your squad’s communications; you’ll need a hacker to deal with that. There will be points where it just comes down to how well you’ve prepared your guys to handle whatever nasties they end up battling; Deadnauts can be equipped with a variety of weapons, armor, devices and consumables and you’ll want to tailor your equipment to match your foes.

There’s plenty of those foes, by the way. You’re not going to get a good look at the space terrors devouring your squad, but that’s probably for the best. Foes my various teams encountered ranged from the above-mentioned Dead Space stand-ins to heat-blasting ghosts to space pirates wielding sonic knives. A member of that third group chopped one of my Deadnauts in half. It was messy. Your first encounter with a hostile force is always an exciting moment, largely because you’ll have no data on them and no idea how to fight them. By “exciting” I mean “lethal.” Cautious play is a must.

Deadnaut is a tough nut to crack, but patient players are sure to find it rewarding. Difficult games like this provide a great sense of accomplishment when you finally manage to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into, you can’t go wrong with Deadnaut.

About the Author: Cory Galliher