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Heat wants to be Red Dead Online for the PC, but the developer has a troubled history

Codehatch is the same team behind both Starforge and Reign of Kings

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Heat - shirtless cowboy riding a helmeted bison Codehatch

Rockstar Games’ decision not to bring Red Dead Redemption 2 to the PC has left a bit of a vacuum on Steam. For fans of the most powerful and flexible gaming platform who want to ride horses and wield six-shooters, there really isn’t a viable alternative right now. Later this month the team from Codehatch hopes to rectify that situation with a Western-themed MMO called Heat.

Early footage looks OK, with decent lighting and functional, if somewhat blocky, character models. The video trailer itself is suitably bizarre, tailor-made for fans of sandbox sims like Scum and Rust. For instance, rarely have I seen this many diapered babies inside a log cabin before in a video game.

Looks can be deceiving, however. This particular developer has a notorious reputation of promising the moon to eager fans, and then delivering a pile of rocks instead. Heat will be Codehatch’s third major release. Both its previous titles — Starforge and Reign of Kings — were effectively disasters. So why should consumers trust them with their money for a third time?

Canada-based Codehatch burst onto the independent scene in 2013 with an early version of Starforge, its first game. Funded in part through a successful IndieGoGo campaign that earned more than $135,000, Starforge is described as a “sci fi survival sandbox” on the official website. There are mechanics for crafting, building, and forming parties with other players. Most intriguing, it promises a “fully infinite procedural world.”

The game was in many ways ahead of its time. Even Codehatch’s peers in the Independent Games Festival recognized its potential, naming it a finalist in the technical excellence category in 2013.

An interview with Rock Paper Shotgun from around that time makes the team out to be a bunch of rebels. Co-founder William Sworin goes on a bit of a tangent about game developers having “untold stories and unexplored worlds trapped inside our minds” while deriding AAA developers who “dumbed down or removed features to cut costs.”

“They use tricks to keep us playing a game long after its novelty has long since depleted,” Sworin continued, “instead of making the costly decision to provide new content. They put franchises we love in the hands of people who view games solely as an instrument of profit. We will not rest until this changes.”

Codehatch’s track record of hyping games and then effectively abandoning those projects paints very much the opposite story.

Over the course of 2014, it seems that Starforge was rushed onto Steam. The 1.0 version left many underwhelmed, as it remained full of bugs and unfinished features. Not long after, rumors began to swirl that key members of the development team had left, and that Codehatch itself was running out of money.

After several years on the market, Starforge’s Steam storefront was filled to bursting with negative reviews. Long-time supporters called the game a scam, and even launched a largely ineffectual petition demanding their money back. By 2017, the game itself was removed from sale on Steam and released for free on Codehatch’s own website.

In the interim, the developer appears to have moved on to a separate project called Reign of Kings. The game has a surprisingly similar set of features to Starforge, including survival mechanics, base building, and crafting. But, also like Starforge, the game itself appears to remain unfinished.

It’s telling that the first video on its official website, nearly four full years after its release, is for its alpha reveal way back to 2015.

The reviews right now on Steam are mostly negative. Only 49 percent of owners who wrote a review in the last 30 days had anything positive to say at all. Meanwhile, most acknowledged that development on the game seems to have stopped entirely.

From a Steam review dated Jan. 9: “This game is a waste of money, time, desk space, resources and definitely developers. It’s an unfinished product, lacks too many features to even address, end of subject. (It’s been abandoned by the devs for a year(?) now and you’d only enjoy it in the very beginning when you haven’t learned anything about it.)”

From another review, dated Jan. 7: “It’s funny how Codehatch makes reskins of this game over and over and never develop one, just a cash grab scheme ...”

After two games that left fans frustrated and unsatisfied, Codehatch is now spooling up for yet another new release.

Heat is aimed squarely at fans of Red Dead Online, Rockstar Games’ multiplayer version of Red Dead Redemption 2. According to its Steam page, the game sounds an awful lot like Codehatch’s two previous survival sandbox titles. Even Heat’s biggest hook, the ability to rise up the ranks to become President of the United States of America, is eerily similar to the feudal systems it attempted in Reign of Kings.

Polygon has reached out to the team at Codehatch multiple times over the last few weeks to learn more about the project. So far, we’ve received no response. The game was expected to launch in December, but has since been delayed until later this month.

Maybe the third time’s the charm here for Codehatch. We’ll know more when the game actually launches on Steam.

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