Wednesday 8 March 2023

IXION Review (Steam)


Written Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 I’ve seen a lot of coverage of IXION courting comparisons such as Frostpunk in space. This is true to the same degree that I could describe this as a vacuum ensconced Tropico. There’s a whole fleet of rafts of stuff going on in IXION, which is why I was so keen to try it. It seemed to harken back to games like Fragile Allegiance, and even Ascendancy, but with a colony-sim-management thing going on. Chuck a linear story over the top like a cheap throw (it is a fairly standard story set-up) and I’ve got something hard sci-fi to chew on until Falling Frontier is finally birthed. The result was an ultimately uninspiringly executed set of management systems jostling for the chance to be meaningful, and few of them winning.

In recent years, I’ve read more sci-fi and, in my head, the aesthetic that is closest is stuff from The Expanse or Alien or IXION. I like this robust and lived-in vision than the clean lines and pearlescent wonder of a more magical cosmic design. IXION wants me to know that I’m at the coalface; the administrator of a colonising space ship called the Tiqqun. A big metal donut that is meant to be forging the path toward a new planet for humankind to ruin afresh. Before the big interstellar jump (that goes wrong and initiates the main thrust of the story), you are tutorialised by building structures on the ship. Why the Tiqqun was not constructed properly on Earth before launch seems to indicate to me some reasons why the jump engine caused a solar-system wide cataclysmic event. I do not need clumsy Greek names for menacing corporations to tell a cowboy builder.

Trying to draw on some of the social elements of things like The Expanse, perhaps, there is now a focus on keeping your workers happy in the new, changed, solar system where most life and planets have been reduced to devastated baubles. You require workshops, eateries, residential buildings, service ships, stock piles, and so on, and so on. A tech tree expands your building options, and prospects of occupying other parts of the Tiqqun (again, I have no clue why this ship was not finished before they sent it out as the vanguard of humankind’s final hope).

You settle very quickly into a whack-a-mole problem solving balancing act, which is (in my humble opinion) what a well designed colony-sim/management game should not feel like, even if it is. Frostpunk has an elegant groove it slots into and drives the point home to a crushing climax. Tropico is a careful nurturing of balances. Workers and Resources makes you enrol in Excel courses. IXION puts on a good show, throws a lot of moves, but in the end I felt little of the joy that I get from those other (similar-ish) titles. And I so desperately want to enjoy the gameplay more than I did, as the world looks and sounds so good (bar the pedestrian/robot traffic). It seeps and oozes atmosphere, dread and abandonment to the brutality of space. Sadly, I spent more of my time trying to wrestle with poor design choices that I made out of necessity and then am punished for. I ended up resenting the population of my little metal life raft for humanity.

My first impression was that this would be if some grand sci-fi opera writer did a version of Startopia, the criminally good space station sim. Some de-flabbing of the unfun gameplay systems would’ve served this beautiful looking, but slightly charmless, title better. Nearly a three out of five, so maybe I’ve some personal disappointment going on as I wanted to like it more. Not the worst space management, but unfortunately, not the best either.

Overall 4/10

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