Saturday Spotlight: Out There

Out There is one of the few games for which I have ever requested a press or early access copy via Arcadian Rhythms. I also had to borrow an iPad and use the ghastly TestFlight utility to install it. That I’ve gone to such measures to get hold of an early alpha-based demo of the game – its release coinciding with GamesCom – should speak volumes.

It’s the second project from one-man game development studio Mi-Clos (Michael Peiffert of Lyons, France) with support from interactive fiction writer FibreTigre. The game has been billed as “a dark and melancholic adventure in deep space”, which is primarily driven via text and multiple-choice decision making. There are also some inventory management, scavenging and crafting mechanics – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Out There 01

As you can see from the above screenshot, the game’s not a million miles away from FTL in terms of its presentation. And while I’m a little shocked to discover that I never wrote about FTL, I distinctly remember singing its praises on one of our many podcasts, so hopefully my warm and fuzzy feelings toward that game are abundantly clear.

Yet Out There is emphatically unlike FTL. Both games see you guiding a single starship through unknown space toward an ultimate destination, but where FTL saw your pursued by a hostile fleet of warships and regularly engaging in combat manoeuvres, Out There is more pacifistic in attitude. There are threats and challenges in the distant sector of space to which the hapless astronaut you play has been flung, without question, but they are altogether more focused on exploring unpredictable mysteries and ensuring your ship has the raw materials and equipment it needs to survive its ongoing travels.

Each time you leap into a system – and at present although the starmap isn’t randomly generated the contents of star systems are – there’s a chance you’ll run into an event.

Out There 03

From my time spent with Out There so far I’ve seen at least one event crop up twice, which I mention not as a flaw – I am sure more events and content will be added and translated as development continues – but because each time the outcome differed substantially. These events add enticing notes of genuine exploration and discovery to the otherwise simple mechanics of exploiting planets for minerals or gases your ship needs to maintain and fuel itself.

I’ve also run into alien cultures, or alien culture; as the demo cuts off after a timer I’ve not played far enough to really tease out this aspect of the game. Alien languages must be translated and it’s not yet clear whether this rests on continued exposure to their language or a new technology you may chance across, but it is clear that superior communication is intended to open up more options to the player. The only technology I’ve run into so far is a shield module, which I’m a little puzzled about as the game doesn’t seem to be set up to allow combat – I can’t say where that may lead.

In truth I won’t strongly object if combat is added to the game; it’s a common enough theme of space opera. But it’s pleasant to encounter a science fiction space exploration game that suggests it will not draw on laser wars and photon torpedoes to generate drama and expedite its narrative. If I’ve concerns about what Out There might ultimately look like, it’s that its core gameplay may ultimately prove little more than the sequential random number generators of disappointment that powered another iOS release, Galactic Core. Thus far Out There appears to be an altogether more varied and promising venture – but only time will tell what players find, well… in there.