This is Backlog Roulette, a series in which I randomly pick an unplayed game from my backlog and play it. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

On the last Backlog Roulette, about She Remembered Caterpillars, I was wrestling with how to handle random games picked from my terrifying spreadsheet of games I own, versus those acquired more recently in gigantic bundles from I decided to weight the spreadsheet games more heavily, because I’d owned them longer, and playing them was the original intention of this series. I’ve thought about it more since, and decided not to bother including the giant bundles at all. The spreadsheet games are the ones I want, why pretend otherwise?

And so, the digital dice selected XTHRUST, by eipaw ltd, martinez, and njb design llc. I have no memory of acquiring it. It’s just in my Steam library. I suspect it was a giveaway at some point.

From the 3D graphics with dramatic camera angles on the Steam page for XTHRUST, I was expecting something of a 3D tribute to classic “thruster” games like Lunar Lander. These games take the Newtonian physics of earlier arcade classics like Asteroids, but add gravity and limited fuel, tasking players with controlling the descent of a landing module with careful thruster burns, guiding it to a gentle landing instead of a horrible crash. Fortunately, they operate only in a 2D plane, making it slightly easier to save a lander that’s careened sideways due to some ill-advised rocketeering. The tricky controls are kind of the point of these games, and the thought of guiding a lander around in full 3D space was frankly rather terrifying. Fortunately, XTHRUST is not that. Despite its 3D graphics, it is played entirely on a 2D plane, just like the classic thruster games of yore. But XTHRUST does make another innovation: the player’s rocket drone doesn’t have one thruster, it has two.

In fact, XTHRUST removes the typical turning controls of Lander-likes, instead relying solely on these two thrusters. They’re on the left and right sides of the drone, see, so firing one at a time causes the drone to turn during its flight, and firing both at once makes it fly straight. That’s it. That’s the extent of the controls. Just two buttons to jet around with, and another to restart when players inevitably fly in the completely wrong direction.

This is actually pretty clever, and it looks nice in motion too. The drones are cubes, but made of metal scaffolding and fuel tanks (with different cosmetic options, I believe, not that I saw any of them). Rockets fire with pleasing plumes of flame. The tutorial and early single-player challenges were in closed rooms that didn’t leverage the 3D graphics too much, but later levels took me outdoors, to navigate a windy sky above a turbulent sea that looked pretty slick. Landing on a raft bobbing in the waves was a nice added challenge too. I sort of stumbled through these, without much skill in my rocket firing, but I could see that players who put in some time to learn the flight physics would be able to pull off some impressive maneuvers.

The focus of XTHRUST is clearly on multiplayer races, in fact. I finished the scant 15 singleplayer challenge levels (and that includes the tutorial levels!) in about as many minutes, and it was clear they are meant mostly to teach players some general flying principles, before letting them loose in multiplayer races. I imagine those could be fun, but the servers were completely empty when I played, so don’t expect to find any matches unless you organize them yourself with friends.

There are also some annoyances: a completely unnecessary progression system, in which players earn XP for their performance in the challenges that can eventually unlock cosmetics, seemed like a halfhearted attempt to entice players to keep playing over and over. I never needed to engage with it at all, and didn’t. Some mechanics are unclear too. I sometimes ran out of fuel, but had no idea how to check my remaining supply. I think that flying near walls earned some bonus points or maybe some extra speed, but this was never explained.

Mostly, though, I just wish there were more singleplayer challenges. I could have gone back to improve my performance, I guess, but I wasn’t particularly inclined to try. And without anyone to play online with, I quickly ran out of things to do in XTHRUST. On the plus side, that means it’s another game I can cross off my spreadsheet! I doubt I would have paid for XTHRUST, but since I’m pretty sure I got it for free, I’m OK with a few minutes of diversion from it. Onwards!