[ Preview ] The Sentient

Picture, if you will, a world much like ours that is rife with war, greed, and hatred: in the premise of The Sentient, a highly-intelligent AI was born. This AI became self-aware almost by accident and stumbled upon the world’s wealth of recorded knowledge, both hidden and available to the public and found itself upset by the fact that humanity was, for better or worse, bent on destroying itself. Instead of going all rogue like SkyNet from Terminator like many computer systems do in stories like these, the AI here decides to lock down humanity’s ability to operate on a day to day basis and gives humanity an ultimatum: it is here to help humanity progress and seek peace whether it likes it or not. Of course, humanity followed in line, and praised the AI up until it starting progressing without the AI, becoming complacent and arrogant, yet again. Humanity sought to conquer the stars but was faced with multiple failures before coming back to the AI, begging for its help.

That’s pretty much it: you’re looking for humanity’s place in the cosmos and you play the role of said highly-intelligent AI. Of course, as you travel across deep space, you’re going to run into a variety of situations and species and the options are practically limitless. Developed by Uncaged Studios and released on Steam Early Access, this version of the game comes with its fair share of quirks and can be purchased $12.99 or, if you’re lucky and you catch this before March 7th, you can get it for 25% off!

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The Good

Game shows a lot of potential – its retro style hearkens back to a day when games like this were a lot more common and appreciated. A lot of the base mechanics are awesome in principle: you have a variety of staff at your disposal that you can hire or release anytime you’re near the space station Ark or near Earth and each staff member has a variety of needs and skills, as well as advantages and disadvantages to their employment. You can completely customize the layout and operation of your ship at any time and it goes without much consequence. Combine this with the fact that nearly everything in the game is procedural and you will notice that just about every playthrough of the game is truly unique; I’ve gone through different situations to try and test circumstances and while there isn’t a great deal of variety early on in the game, there’s enough to say that I have not had the exact same playthrough twice.

The graphics are a nostalgia-tainted retro look that throws back to olden days but without sacrificing quality; however, it seems that it really serves as nothing more than a pair of rose-tinted glasses to cover what’s going on and, in a way, I’m kind of thankful, as my computer isn’t the best or the greatest by any measure of the imagination and I appreciate when something new comes out that I have no trouble playing.

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The Bad

First off… first off… agh! Okay, there is one thing that really, really, really bothered me about this game and it made playing it, at points, a complete nuisance: the lack of full screen mode after a certain resolution size is just unforgivable. I fit in that small user base where my resolution makes an important portion of the screen unreachable and without the ability to resize or play in full screen really kind of borks the entire experience and creates way more headaches for a small percentage of players simply for existing as an issue. This feels, to me, like an oversight and stands as a real sore thumb over the experience. It’s not integral and I can still play the core game without much issue but this feels like something that should have been implemented without question.

Another thing that really annoys the heck out of me is how the staff responds to their needs and wants a little too strictly: in order to try and get my ship moving, for example, from a stationary position, I almost blew a gasket due to the fact that I had to repeatedly issue commands to the staff member I wanted to pilot the ship, only to find that the appropriate item responsible for piloting needed fixing and it appears I had to go through the same process all over again to get that item fixed. When you get a proper circulation going with your staff, what they need, and what you need from them, on a certain schedule, everything works beautifully. If you need to start issuing manual commands, though… forget it. Kind of like real life, if you think about it. Makes me wonder if that was intentional.

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The Ugly

While the game is going for an obviously retro feel, it seems to me that the developer might be a little confused as to what they believe retro should look, sound, and feel like: it yearns for a cluttered 8-bit feel but its pixel art is straddling the line between sharp and blurry; it goes for a old-school feel in its graphics but is sorely missing old Redbook-style audio or, even better yet, any chiptunes; the interface feels like it’s still kind of watered down in comparison to deep space sims of the past. While these would have all been forgivable if the game were trying to look and feel somewhat modern, it feels like the retro thing was just a coat of paint brought on to bring in those who feel nostalgic, like myself, upon seeing such things. Great marketing but it feels kinda dirty afterward.

Also, everything considered, I have to say that I’m not digging the soundtrack for this game all that much, including the sound design. It would have been super easy to cash in on this retro trend even further and it feels like a missed opportunity and it feels like it was just something plunked into the game without much more thought behind it. Might not be true but that’s what it felt like.

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