Dying is considered by most to be an undesirable experience, both in life and in video games. Never Go Home, on the other hand, considers it a major selling point. The fast-paced adventure game, developed by Goodnight Games, boasts “100 Ways to Die in Space.” Unfortunately, the gameplay is not as compelling as its twisted sense of humor, and the game will likely leave you wanting more.
In Never Go Home, players find themselves piloting the starship Aeternum, stranded in deep space in a frantic search for resources and lost crew members. True to its promise, Never Go Home features a host of embarrassing calamities, from drunk crewmembers accidentally shooting each other to surprise arsenic poisonings, that never seem to let up on the hapless space explorers. The game’s morbid irreverence is a not-so-subtle nod to the old Oregon Trail games and that classic “You have died of dysentery” moment. Where Never Go Home falls short of its inspiration, however, is in providing something more interesting to do between deaths.
In Never Go Home, players pilot the Aeternum through procedurally generated galaxies to land on more procedurally generated planets. The object is to send one crewmember down to each new world in the hopes of finding a lost crewmember stranded there. How those particular crewmembers got to be on those planets is never explained, but Never Go Home is not particularly big on story. After landing on a new planet, the selected crewmember is stationed in the middle of the screen while enemy creatures rush in from all sides. The player must fend off the attackers, blasting away at them by tapping on the screen. While keeping the crewmember alive, one can also rescue any abandoned crewmembers who might be found on the planet and mine gems that can be traded for upgrades. This makes for plenty of arcade-style gameplay, which is good for some casual fun, but can also get stale pretty quickly.
The pace of the game is relentless to the point of being exhausting. Even when off-planet, players must continually be on the move or their crew will quickly perish and end the game. In the top left corner of the screen is a counter displaying the number of years that the player has been wandering through the galaxies, and the years rack up pretty quickly. Crewmembers come closer to death with each passing year, and randomly generated events like one in which one of the crew develops a severe case of psychosis and attacks another crewmember will frequently knock out 10 or even 25 percent of the crew’s health. With no way to replenish health, players must always be on the move looking for other planets to restore new members to their perpetually dying crew. Keeping things moving isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it only serves to highlight the game’s lack of variety. You feel like you are rushing around only to get to more of the same stuff.
The game tries to keep things interesting by adding new monsters into the mix like mechanical scorpions and what appear to be floating human babies with force fields, but it’s hard to stay invested long enough to discover all the things that the world might throw at you. Besides wandering through space, exploring planets, and purchasing upgrades, players can also blast through asteroid belts, get boarded by enemy spacecraft, sacrifice crewmembers to resource-heavy moons, and fall into the occasional boss fight. Mostly, it’s all just a slightly different looking version of the same tap at things until they go away mechanic. There’s no ultimate objective other than to see how long you can survive, which can be entertaining in short bursts, but doesn’t provide much for those looking for a more engrossing game experience. Everything just feels like one giant grind.
At the very least, Never Go Home does have a good sense of humor. The tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the various modes of death are nice, like when a jealous crewman poisons another with glass shards for winning a coveted promotion, but not enough to anchor an entire game. When a game tries so hard to kill you to prove that it’s interesting, you might want to play something that keeps you alive and having fun.
Is it Hardcore?
Never Go Home has tongue-in-cheek humor but it also has repetitive, laborious gameplay. It might be fun for a few casual plays but it’s not one to keep you interested for long.