FREE GAMES REVIEW: Deep Town
A novel sci-fi mining simulator that ultimately lacks depth
Ever walked into a room and completely forgotten why you’re there? Rockbite Games has finally managed to covert this into a mobile gaming experience and, like checking in on elderly people you’re not even related to, a quick visit is okay but you won’t want to stay too long.
But first, let’s talk about what makes Deep Town a game worth playing — at least initially. Most obviously, it looks great: the cutesy steampunk style animations are charming, the mining bots seem to have personality and the monsters you unearth (and have to defeat with a variety of tools and spells) are fascinating and sinister. All this makes for a very atmospheric game and the little details, like rain dripping into the mine shaft, are beautifully done. This is all paired with a soundtrack which complements it brilliantly. Future, subterranean Brian Eno droid would be proud.
There are also story elements that do encourage you on. As your robots mine deeper, explore caves and find inter-dimensional portals (as you do), they dig up relics of now-extinct mankind’s former existence. As such the story of human civilisation’s demise is a clever angle and almost provides you with enough motivation to dig down yet another layer. Further, as you build more levels above ground, the addition of buildings such as a greenhouse, jewel crafting shop and chemistry lab unlock more challenges and features.
As you tunnel deeper, you can build different types of mining stations on the layers you’ve already excavated and these will return a variety of raw materials. At first, you’ll find yourself manually collecting these resources but, in time, you’ll order drones to go and do it for you. Once you discover that the whole operation will work fine in your absence, you’ll find yourself increasingly absent.
And this is the game’s main problem. Early on, building and upgrading work is cheap and quick. But, as you upgrade further and make more income, budgets and building times start to resemble actual British builders’ level of extortion and delay. Now, I don’t blame the makers of Deep Town. Jacking up waiting times is a standard operating procedure for monetising free games. Presumably, kids get so frustrated with the production time for that new Oil Pump that they’ll bug their parents for a few quid to grease the wheels of industry. But, in a game which is good enough to at least hint at an internal, coherent universe, this impediment to play is never satisfactorily accounted for.
Why, for example, should a simple Mining Station suddenly cost 2 million credits to build when the first one cost thousands? Why do I have to wait 2 days for its construction when before they were done in minutes? Given that the games studio behind this title isn’t based in France, there can be no real justification for such long waiting times and prohibitive labour costs.
The net result is that since nothing can be achieved in real-time, there’s no reason to hang around. You might pop in once a day for 5 minutes to check that the drones are harvesting materials and that there is enough wire being produced which can then be turned into insulated wire which is one part of a green laser which are required in mining. The cat’s fed is it? Nothing going off in the fridge? Right. That’s me off then.
Quests don’t really compensate for this jam in the fun supply line either. Certainly, there are some quite good story-based ones (recreating a human rocket ship for example) which almost feel worth doing, but then the generic “Make 1000 Lamps. Let’s see how much Lamp you can build” (or words to that effect) feels lazy and certainly doesn’t really inspire further activity.
Surely there would be better ways to justify the mark up. For example, the “Galactic Federation” are in a war and so resupplies are more expensive. Trade embargoes work wonders for the plot of Phantom Menace after all…okay. Maybe forget that one.
Or perhaps the creatures you unearth could actually try to attack and sabotage the mining operation, so the ramped up costs come from repairs or having to build security drones. There are many ways Deep Town could have achieved their aim in a story-sensitive way without just saying “err…give us some money or we’ll make this game interminably tedious.”
Anyone who plays a game like this know the score: build to level up to build to level up, but this basic structure can be forgiven if developers present us with something novel and original from the casual player’s perspective. With good looks, a novel approach and a sci-fi story line, Deep Town has a lot going for it but, because the story element is too inconsistent, this mining game only ever scratches the surface.