Very little media depicts the incredible risks of space travel. Even Apollo 13 with its happy ending fails to drive home just how dangerous venturing beyond the bosom of our mother Earth can be. While playing Out There you will be left to drift in the vast cold reaches of space, die gasping as your oxygen runs out or pulverized by uncaring asteroids. While it may sound like that’s a bad thing, this level of realism and difficulty is what makes Out There such a compelling experience.
While playing Out There it’s impossible not to compare your experience to classic space travel franchises such as Battlestar Galactica, Stargate and of course the iconic Star Trek. On numerous occasions I found myself wishing I had the combined intelligence, luck and dramatic timing of the characters in these series. Of course had those shows been a little more realistic, they’d have been churning through new actors every season.
This is not a game that’s going to make you happy. There are triumphal moments where you’ll escape death by the skin of your teeth, but the overwhelming feeling is one of deep melancholy and impending doom. From the very outset it’s clear just how heavily the odds are stacked against you. You play a single astronaut who has awoken aboard his vessel in an unknown place and time. There’s a helpful tutorial that goes over the basic interface but from there it’s up to you to figure everything else out. There’s no ticking clock, no quick time events or other gameplay devices that reward twitch reflexes. This is a game that rewards careful forethought and planning. Everything is accomplished via menu systems that are part text and part icon. You hop from star to star, harvesting resources along the way. There are three gauges that need to be maintained. Fuel is required for just about everything. Oxygen needs no explanation, without it your lonely astronaut won’t be able to breathe. Hull integrity represents just how battered your spaceship has become. If any of these three gauges gets to zero, it’s probably game over.
The challenge of the game is in balancing your needs. As you travel you’ll come across random events, some beneficial, some negative, others offering you a gamble. Sometimes you’ll find schematics or plans for new devices that shield you from the dangers of space or harvest fuel from the burning heart of a star itself. Your ship has a finite number of slots; up to twenty of any one element can be stacked in the slot that a single device occupies. Fill your ship with too many gadgets and you’ll have little room for extra fuel and iron to repair your hull. You’ll also come across various abandoned spacecraft which are free for the taking. Some might even have devices you haven’t yet learned to build. Every choice is important for your survival.
At first the story seems fairly bare-bones with an emphasis on the quiet loneliness of your hero. Sometimes upon jumping to a system you’ll be treated to a sort of journal entry that catalogs the psychological pressures of potentially being the last human in the universe. Yet the more you play and the deeper you get into the world, the more you’ll see a subtle, often unspoken thread of history running through the world that can send chills down your spine. The world is lovingly crafted and feels as unique as anything can in a world where so many ideas have been done before. You’ll encounter various aliens that don’t just look like humans with funny foreheads or masks. My personal favorite is the creatures that look like sentient floating sticks. There’s even an alien language which you’ll slowly learn to translate the more you make contact with the other inhabitants of the universe.
Out There is a game that won’t appeal to everyone. It’s difficult in a way that hearkens back to many old school titles and in many ways this game is Oregon Trail in space. The graphics are simple but beautiful. The black holes in particular look simultaneously menacing and majestic. The various spaceships you can claim in your travels all look different; some look like warships while others evoke an almost magical quality. There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that this game is punishingly difficult. Sometimes it’s not even carelessness that gets you killed. On several occasions a random event warped me into a star system that was too far from any of the surrounding stars to escape. Yet this challenge is what will keep a hardcore gamer coming back to try again. And again. And again.
Yes. Streamlined and complex.
Taking all the best parts of any space-faring simulation ever made, Out There ups the ante by throwing in a generous splash of humanity and addictively challenging gameplay.