Review: Project Delta (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Project Delta
Developer: Danthekilla
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Shooter
Release Date: 04/04/2010

The rise of downloadable titles has allowed developers more and more room to innovate in game design and scope. Sometimes that innovation reaches back to mimic great games from history. Project Delta is one such game. Taking a top-down approach to interplanetary mercantilism, Project Delta gives us a nod to Wing Commander: Privateer. Do the results make it worth your time? Or is this game just digital space debris? Let’s find out.

1. Story/Modes

Project Delta combines a series of game models. You have the two-stick shooter model, where you can move in one direction and shoot in another. There is the exploration model, as you fly from planet to planet to learn the history of the Terran galaxy. Resource management also plays a role, as you must collect and harvest ore, crystals, and all the equipment that you can cram into your cargo bay. The contextual help bills this as a role-playing game, and Microsoft categorizes it as an Action and Adventure title, but ultimately it is a shooter. Project Delta is another in the recent string of games that allow you to create your own story as you play. There is some muttering about corporate and rebel planets, but nothing that really gets explored. If something had just come along and given you more of a mission structure or a reason to play, there might be some meat on these bones. As delivered though, the monotony of the game is rarely broken up by anything interesting happening.

Story/Modes: Poor

2. Graphics

Project Delta isn’t an ugly game, but it is bland. The nice graphics are reserved for tumbling asteroid fields and the stellar background, not for your tiny ship and weapon effects. Even the planets that you arrive at don’t feature much more than a skewed atmospheric effect surrounding a circle. Most of the ships are, as I mentioned, small, and that removes almost any detail that you can use to tell differences. There isn’t even an option to swap color palettes to add more uniqueness to your own vessel. On the plus side, there are a lot of different weapon effects that often fill the screen. If you equip a chain gun to your spaceship, the craft will spew bullets over a good quarter of the screen. There are hints of graphical splendor in here, but nothing that really hooks you.

Graphics: Mediocre

3. Sounds

Rarely have I encountered a game that embraces the “pew pew” sound effect so much. Almost every ship uses the same sound effect for the turrets. You can buy new guns for the main cannon, and they do sound different, but as most ships start with just the basic turret, you will be hearing the same shots fired a lot. Musically there are two tracks on a constant loop, with an occasional lull in the sound. I wish there was more going on to hear, but there just isn’t. Turning the sound off and putting the Star Trek or Star Wars soundtrack on repeat will probably make you happier.

Sounds: Poor

4. Control and Gameplay

There are quite a few resources to keep track of as you play Project Delta. Inside your ship is cargo weight, measured in tons. Once you fill up the hold, it is time to find a nearby planet and make some money. Your actual control for the ship has you keeping track of Shields, Hull, and Fuel. Shields and hull protect you from damage, obviously, and fuel keeps you going. You can lose all of your shields and keep fighting, but getting the hull knocked into the red shuts down your craft and allows you to be boarded. Or, obviously, if you shoot down the hull of an enemy into the red they can be boarded. There is also a quick-swap ability to change what your engines are putting the most juice into. Much like X-Wing or Tie-Fighter, you can prioritize speed, shields, weapons, or balance. In theory this adds a level of depth to the combat and exploration sections of the game. If you are just flying around, it is safe to dump it all into the engines to speed up the vast, boring areas of space. Once you hit combat though, the game becomes so chaotic that you probably won’t change from balanced.

Combat is simply bad. Your ships can be equipped with cannons in addition to the turret. The turret shoots all around you, but the cannons can only shoot forward. Whether done to imitate the chaos of space or just loose design, each weapon has a cone of effectiveness that randomly changes where your shots go. Even if you are sitting still and shooting straight forward, no two shots will follow the same vector. Once you add in the difficulty of chasing down an enemy ship and dodging return fire, you are left with a very unsatisfying space experience.

Due to this, you’re left with sci-fi accounting as your only joy in the game. Most of the resources you will be getting early are just ore and crystals found in the asteroid fields around the planets. To harvest them, you will shoot them until they are small enough to fit in your ship and then fly over them. There is no way to see how much cargo you are carrying unless you go three screens deep in the menu, making gathering a pain. That wouldn’t be an issue if there was some sort of idea as to what planets needed what resources. If I could buy medical supplies on Arakis and sell them on Imotep for three times what I purchased them for, then there would be some joy to be found. There isn’t a single thing in the game that would give you a clue to that trade balance though. Some planets don’t even have markets to buy goods, leaving you with a full hold and wasted time.

Control and Gamepaly: Below Average

5. Replayability:

Project Delta doesn’t have a lot going for it for one trip through hyperspace, let alone multiple. There are a lot of weapons and upgrades to buy for your ship, and a lot of ships you can buy once you get enough money. Getting that money is just a grind though. The pacing and length of time it takes to get enough capital to buy a better ship are put to shame by most games. To make matters worse, there isn’t really an option to break up the monotony of resource management with combat. Not only is the combat lacking, but the majority of other ships in the game are light-years ahead of where you start. Early on, your ship might have a hull rating of 300 and a shield rating of 450. The other ships you’ll encounter are rated about four times as high. The only way to consistently make money is to find a planet with a nearby asteroid field, grab what you can, sell it, and repeat. Doesn’t that sound great?

Replayability: Bad

6. Balance:
Danthekilla designed this game to utilize randomization in how the game is set up. However, that isn’t tempered with any type of restriction on enemies or world-placement. I already mentioned how the combat isn’t an exact science. Adding insult to injury, by the time I had saved up and bought a ship classed as a fighter and found a weaker ship to attack, a friend of the first guy showed up and blew me out of the sky. Fair? Not hardly. I also started a few games by spawning in the middle of a cluster of enemy ships. I was dead before I figured out which way was up. Planets tend to be arranged wherever, and navigation isn’t always easy. You can lock onto a planet with the shoulder button and you get a directional arrow at the edge of the screen. Then it becomes a game of “keep flying in this direction until you get there.” Project Delta lacks a steady progression of either fun or challenge, and that isn’t a good thing.

Balance: Poor

7. Originality:
Most of the inspiration for this game comes from the aforementioned Privateer. This isn’t a bad game to pull from, but the designers didn’t stop there with just the idea of space-trade. Naming planets in a science fiction game always walks a fine line between clever reference and direct rip-off. Dune is invoked, but instead of doing anything clever they just dropped an R from Arrakis. The description of the planet even mentions how it was covered in sand and rocks until terraformers found an underground supply of water around the equator. That is exactly what happens in the Dune series. Compounding this issue is the fact that all of the descriptions, whether planet, ship, weapon, or cargo, sound like they were written by someone who thinks that internet message boards are proper English.

Originality: Bad

8. Addictiveness:

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know by now that this isn’t a game that is going to keep you interested for a long time. I’ll admit to a certain degree of interest in the various ships and weapons that I could buy. That interest quickly waned when I looked at what I was earning compared to what the cool stuff cost. I would have to make a few hundred harvesting runs to afford the bigger ships, and then a few dozen more to outfit the ship with decent armor and shields. If there was a mission-based system with more rewards that I could do in the meantime I’d be a lot happier, but all seems to be here is pick up rocks, sell rocks. Even the addition of messages saying that Planet X wants forging equipment delivered from Planet Y would have been a huge help. That omission turns the game from a mildly entertaining diversion to a pointless exercise in time management.

Addictiveness: Bad

9. Appeal Factor:

I feel bad that Project Delta winds up being a disappointment. There is a strong market for this type of game, and if you go by the game description, you see some things that are worth investigating. I would jump at the chance to play Settlers of Catan in space, but with upgradeable ships and weapons. Instead of focusing on one or two gameplay ideas and really nailing them, Project Delta offers several things to do at once and mostly fails at all of them. The space combat/trade genre deserves exploration, but it also deserves better than this.

Appeal Factor: Below Average

10. Miscellaneous:

Project Delta starts off with a lot of things going against it, but instead of doing anything to smooth over the bumps, the developers seem to have just dropped it into the download section of Xbox Live. I could forgive bad controls for a great story. That’s not here though. I could forgive a resource grind if the game had been polished. No polish here, and no reason to even want to explore the world that has been created. Most of the description and history of the planets read like they hired a chatroom. Punctuation and grammar count. They especially count when you want to polish the presentation of a game that isn’t going to go very far on gameplay.

Miscellaneous: Very Bad

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Below Average
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Poor
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Very Bad
Pretty Poor Game

Short Attention Span Summary

Project Delta is a space exploration and trade game that highlights the shooter aspects of the genre. Graphics that are passable and sounds that are boring don’t save the game from bad controls and aggravating combat Despite a large amount of ship and weapon combinations, there isn’t much here to keep you playing once you’ve gone a few rounds. The story and planet descriptions read like they were written by someone who has failed remedial grammar twice. If you loved Privateer on the PC, find the discs and convince your system to run it instead of trying to relive those glory days on this indie title.

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