The Sentient is what I believe is termed a roguelike game. Currently under development by Uncaged Studios, it is available on Steam Early Access. In this game you take the role of an Artificial Intelligence tasked with guiding humanity’s conquest of the stars. You are able to design starships, allocate facilities to those ships, recruit crew members, even direct their actions as they explore the vastness of space. And if something unthinkable happens and they die, you can start again with a new ship!
The Sentient opens with a lengthy exposition about how the AI came about. Surprisingly it wasn’t created by a government project or private enterprise, instead it evolved from a single programmers forays into the field of artificial intelligence and the mistakes he made. The AI was originally given the job of caring for the elderly and providing them with companionship, however once it was given access to the Internet it decided to preserve world peace by first sabotaging weapons and then through popular uprising.
After world peace was achieved the human race turned their attention to the stars, and asked the AI to once again lead them. This is where you come in. As the AI – the Sentient – you have the job of shepherding humanity and guiding them through their journey. The first game takes the form of a tutorial, teaching you the basics under instruction of a very nice female AI called Eve. What follows here are my first attempts at leading mankind into the final frontier.
I have to say that I had a bit of trouble getting started. The tutorial is presented as a series of objectives, but sometimes it doesn’t really tell you what you need to do. The initial stages are clear enough – build a command centre, engineering, crew quarters, bathroom, bar, cafeteria, then add equipment for each, including a shower and toilet. Then comes recruitment. Each potential crew member has skills, perks and traits, which can range from being lazy to having a weak bladder! Prime candidate material for such a momentous mission!
Where I started to come unstuck was assigning crew to jobs. I floundered around for a bit until I finally found the problem – I had paused time. Once I restarted the flow of time the crew members I had chosen wandered aimlessly around the ship. From there I was able to follow the tutorial’s instructions and then it was off into the unknown! At least until my pilot’s bladder gave out under the pressure and she had to pay a quick visit. Then off to the cafeteria for some food. Then off to bed. At midday. Well I was warned she was lazy!
The goal of the game is to explore the outer reaches of space and bring back information and research so that I, as the all-powerful AI overlord of Earth, can improve humanity’s chances of survival. The navigation screen allows you to choose which sector of the galaxy you want to explore. Once you arrive there – via a rather effective hyperspace jump sequence viewed side-on – you can choose which anomalies to investigate. These can include ships to assist you, enemies to fight, data to gather, etc. After a lengthy journey – which was partly my fault because I didn’t set my crew’s afternoon and evening shifts and partly due to my pilot’s incontinence – I reached my first anomaly. And, of course, it was an enemy ship.
Now, being the first available ship of the game, I was armed with what essentially were pea-shooters. One of the early tutorial objectives had been to generate a certain amount of shield and weapon energy. That was used up very quickly and my engineer decided to aid the situation by standing around doing nothing while my pilot played with the flight controls. As you may expect, my first voyage into the unknown ended with my ship in bits, my crew dead and no research to show for it. Not to worry! My ever-caring assistant Eve told me that I could build another ship back at the Ark – the main space station where I apparently reside – and I could have another go. It’s nice to see that we all have such a concern for the lives of our loyal subjects.
The Sentient, by its very nature, will invite comparisons to games like FTL, and indeed they have a similar gameplay structure. But this game appears to have a bigger emphasis on micromanagement – you can set each crew member’s routine for each part of the day, and then you can decide to override that as needed, even if it involves going to the toilet. There is also a lot of planning required for the layout of the ship. After I had launched I noticed that I could have put in another crew quarters and gained another couple of crew members, but by then it was too late.
One other difference between this game and FTL is the way the campaigns are presented. In FTL each game is distinct – a separate mission across the galaxy. In The Sentient, each campaign is just a part of the ongoing story. Eventually you’ll be sending out larger ships with more powerful weapons and defenses and exploring further and further. Like I said, the game is still in early access and the developers have listed a number of features that they are planning to include in the full release.
This is the sort of game that requires time, patience, and a willingness to put up with failure. I wanted to get into FTL but I never had the patience required, and I think the same might be the case with this. However, I know that there are people out there – even among my fellow FBF’ers – who will give this game the attention it deserves. And, who knows, maybe someone will even build a better toilet! Or at least put it right next to the command centre so the pilot doesn’t have to walk for miles, leaving the ship drifting aimlessly while she does so.