Space has never been so pointless
X4 Foundations is a game I wanted to truly love. The scale is impressive, you can build entire space stations, you can commands fleets of ships, you can travel anywhere your heart desires, discover more new things and ultimately not care about any of it.
X4 Foundations starts with you choosing an origin story, do you want to be an Explorer, a Fighter or the role I chose, Young Gun. I went this way because it promised a tutorial and there appeared to be very little difference other than the starting ship choice.
I began getting to know the game again. It has been some years since I played an X game and I think my sense of nostalgia had changed my memories of the series.
I think the biggest issue that X4 Foundations has is time. Time has passed since the series was relevant and in the world of the previous titles they were essentially the only modern choice. It was a post Elite Frontier Era, after Freelancer and the games that I loved. It was the only choice for the first part of the 2000s and when you are the only option, you are the best option.
Today we have Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen on the Horizon, and whilst at first glance, they may seem like competitors to a game like X4 Foundations there are some excellent titles in space that can offer a varied mix of what you need. Pulsar the Lost Colony or Star Trek Bridge Crew, Starpoint Gemini, Executive Assault, Empyrion Galactic Survival, Star Trek Online and so on. There are so many titles in or around the genre, games that do what X4 Foundations does that it’s hard to judge it on its own merits.
My disappointment started the moment I began playing. The aforementioned “tutorials” were about as much fun as skidding on tarmac in a bikini and I really felt like giving up. Luckily YouTube came to the rescue and there are some excellent videos with help. I wont go into which ones I watched because lets face it, you are on the internet reading this and if you can’t be bothered to search YouTube you are not going to get very far in X4 Foundations.
After an hour or two of frustration I got an idea together about what to do, and so decided, for a while at least, I was going to shoot the bad guys to get the money to become a trader. I spent a fair amount of time skulking around space stations waiting for someone to skip out on a bill or commit some minor infraction so I could blast them out of existence, take that father of two children, death is your punishment for mildly bumping into the station.
I have to say, the space battles are very dull, there is no sense of real threat and I was able to take on pretty much anyone I wanted in my starter ship.
There is an awful lot going on in X4 Foundations and I don’t just mean in the menus, I mean in space there are hundreds of ships going about their business and quite incredibly, any ship that has a docking space can be docked at, traded with and not only that, you can exit your ship and wonder about on the surface of all of them. Some even have insides.
The issue again is, why would you? Every ship has the same drab look and feel, the stations are pretty much the same. Its like the universe was made by one person and they didn’t have a great imagination.
The number of ships to trade and interact with at least gives you something to do as you aimlessly wander space like some sort of violent tramp with a penchant for helping the establishment but even when you fall foul of the law there is no real danger.
I happened to destroy a ship for a minor infraction and stole their cargo by bumping the nose of my ship into it. I was still in the starter ship with no upgrades and had picked up some illegal goods, maybe it was slaves but either way the police demanded I jettison them. I shouted at the screen that I would not kill people by jettisoning them into space and had actually intended to let them go on a planet of their choice. Forgetting that you cannot land on planets for a moment this act, outside of the game should have sufficed but in the end I was in a shoot out with the law. It lasted a few moments, I was victorious and within a short period of time, was a criminal but hero of the people.
A little later I did jettison the cargo to make room for a cargo run to make a few pounds so if it was slaves they are dead and I am sorry.
Before I finish talking about stations I should also let you know that docking is not as fun as it sounds and after playing Elite Dangerous for a few years it feels numbingly dull and cumbersome in comparison. I quickly installed a docking computer and this meant something I usually enjoy was now mildly automated.
So once you have amassed some moolah, which in all honesty seems to be what the game is about, you can buy new ships. This is something I always love in games of this ilk, seeing the ship I want next, upgrading to it and that is not at all how it works in X4 Foundations.
I am not going to complain about the ships in X4 Foundations, how I do not covet anything, how the only reason I want a new ship is so that I can carry more cargo or add a bigger gun. Instead I will focus on the positive. When you order a large ship from a ship yard, they may not have all the items required to make it and you have to wait for the stuff to be delivered OR you could go and source the items needed directly and make loads of cargo runs delivering what they need.
That might sound like fun but when docking, trading and selling feel like you are playing in an engineers’ “spreadsheet wet dream” it can become as tedious as the rest of the game. Then when you get your big ship, the one you have spent an age waiting for, what do you do? Well actually more of the same thing as before and again, I question why?
X4 Foundations is a wide as the night sky and as deep as a puddle. There is no reason to do anything, amassing a fortune so you can build a space station of your own so that you can amass a fortune. Trading forever so that you can afford a larger trade ship so that you can trade forever and amass a fortune. Trading and fighting and mining should be fun and exciting, they should be their own reward but in X4 Foundations it feels like Egosoft focussed on one aspect of the game, amassing a fortune but spent no time thinking about
You could construct an entire fleet of ships, hire lots of crew and promote them to captains to go forth and multiply your income but doing this left me feeling hollow, there was no sense of progression. Yes, I had a large fleet of ships and I could have started to think about building a space station but what would be the point, to make more money, to buy more ships that left me feeling numb.
I was walking around a station, I wanted to see what was there, I wanted to find out if it was the same as all the other stations I had been to. I looked above me and saw some ships having a fight. It looked like security was taking down a criminal and I felt really sad. X4 Foundations could have been so much more.
There is no feeling of joy when playing, the ships feel the same, it’s like you’re piloting on rails, big ships are the same but slower, smaller ships the same but faster. I wanted to love X4 Foundations but it has left me thinking that an engineer built this, an engineer who loves maths and spreadsheets, and ultimately, there is nothing here to keep me coming back.
Really, that's a lot of menus
- Gameplay - 58%58%
- Graphics - 73%73%
- Sound - 74%74%
- Longevity - 54%54%
- Value - 65%65%
If you like maths, spreadsheets and a feeling of empty numbness, then this is the game for you.