Impressions: Lunar Flight Beta

By Adam Smith on January 9th, 2012 at 4:52 pm.

There's no GERTY :(

I am responsible for many of the smaller craters that mark the moon’s surface. It’s true! I’ve been playing Lunar Flight, the modern take on Lunar Lander that I first spotted way back in 2011. Turns out it’s a simulation of me panicking as I hurtle toward the ground, upside down, beginning to rotate wildly in the hope that the motion will somehow cause me to skim off the rocks and bounce to safety. It doesn’t. It’s not an intimidatingly hardcore simulation but it is a lot less arcadey than I expected it to be. The beta, which feels remarkably complete, is available to those who donate $5 or more. More thoughts follow.

It’s a remarkably beautiful game, with eerily atmospheric music and radio chatter. The depiction of being a lunar worker, recovering lost cargo and collecting data, is shot through with a sense of cold solitude. Much like young Mr Not-Bowie’s Moon, Lunar Flight is very good at capturing the emptiness of our much-romanticised satellite. It’s a barren place and a genuine sense of panic kicks in when red lights begin to flash and a computer voice grimly intones a proximity warning, an alarm blaring out in a futile attempt to prevent me from cratering once more.

Here’s a tip, science boffins – loud noises frighten me and make me much more likely to crash. When I am alarmed by an alarm I act stupidly. I could be coasting along at the perfect altitude, preparing to come in for the smoothest landing of my career, but if a klaxon goes off in my ear I’ll probably fly into the nearest mountain immediately. I need peace to operate delicate machinery.

Thankfully, for the sake of my bank balance, I am improving. The career mode gives both dollar earnings and experience points for successes, allowing pilots to rise through the ranks and gloat on leaderboards, as well as upgrading their landers and purchasing usable items. The simulation model seems quite intricate and matters are complicated by details such as the fact that it tracks the weight of cargo, which affects fuel consumption by increasing the amount of thrust needed to lift the craft. Saving half your fuel for a return journey means slamming into the moondust once again, this time as systems cease to respond and all hope is truly lost.

The learning curve starts on a landing pad, rises into the air and then plummets into the ground a few hundred metres away. Or at least it does if you’re as easily flustered and disorientated as I am. The main skill I’ve developed is patience. No more thrusting about like a maniac, it’s minor adjustments now and plenty of planning. It seems strange to say, but I plan routes, even though I could just propel myself in a straight line toward my destination. I find it easier to set a waypoint, skim toward it and slow in the vicinity and then change direction toward my next target. It forces me to keep my speed down and my attention fixed.

Alongside the delicacy of the simulation, Lunar Flight’s great achievement lies in its aesthetics. I’ve talked about the audio already and the visuals are equally impressive. Technically it’s rather handsome, if barren, with the sun and Earth swinging into view dramatically and even hauntingly at times. The interface bothered me a first, with its quad-screen-split that provides a choice of views and tracking equipment. It is possible to make any one view full screen and bonuses are offered for completing missions using only one specific mode of feedback.

My initial reaction to the quad view was that there was too much information cluttering the screen. The more I play, the more I appreciate the ability to select between displays and feedback, but it’s not simply useful, it’s convincing.

That leads into my biggest reservation: Lunar Flight a convincing simulation of a fairly limited activity. The game offers a few mission types and a limited play area, with a single well-realised vehicle to master. It’s hard for me not to imagine it forming part of a larger moonbase simulation. But I’m being gluttonous. What is here is beautifully realised and at $5 it has more than enough content and care put into its design.

It’s drama that’s far more cerebral and slow-paced than I thought it might be and I imagine that once mastered, it may be too simple, with too few variables to bring back the challenge and the danger, but I’ll gladly spend more time with it as development continues because when I’m not riddled with the stress of imminent failure, Lunar Flight is pleasantly soothing. And it makes me feel more like I work in space than almost anything else I’ve ever played.

If you still want a better idea of how this plays, or some help with mastering basic control, observe this video by Sean Edwards, the chap behind the game.

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27 Comments »

  1. MythArcana says:

    I’ve been watching this Unity-based project for some time now and it’s a great example of what the engine is capable of doing with some talent. Lunar Lander was one of my favorite arcade games in that generation of vector-based chips; next to Asteroids, that is.

  2. metalangel says:

    It really is a mixture of getting into a Zen state and being terrified, I love it. Making a perfect approach to a base and then being a bit heavy on the yaw controls sees me fighting to stop spinning like a graceful slow-motion top, as I drift straight past the landing pad. IMPACT ALARM! I’m 2 feet up! Full throttle! No, push the stick DOWN! AAAGH TILTING. Right myself, oh, no, the low fuel danger music has started.

    Next thing I know I’m skidding along the moondust, face first, alarms going off all around me.

    The best simulation experience since trying to keep my open-back truck pacing alongside a working combine harvester in Farm Simulator (yes, I’m aware you can make them stop to extract the grain)

    • feighnt says:

      hey! you were in the tutorial video at the end! you did better than the fella doing the demonstration : D

    • metalangel says:

      Really? I managed maybe three missions and at least seven crashes, I had negative money at one point. Last I checked I was 21st in the leaderboards.

  3. OrangyTang says:

    That looks fantastic. It also makes me want to go back and play BattleZone again (the ’98 version, not the vector original).

  4. Skabooga says:

    Much like young Mr Not-Bowie’s Moon

    If it has a similar atmosphere to this masterpiece, then it behooves me to check this out. Also, that phrase was awesome.

  5. MonolithicTentacledAbomination says:

    I’m going to go home and buy this today. I just wish they had shown Earth in the sky at it’s actual size from the Moon, and not the size of a planet in the skybox of a Halo game.

  6. mrtypo says:

    “The main skill I’ve developed is patience. No more thrusting about like a maniac, it’s minor adjustments now and plenty of planning.”

    A lesson for us all, I believe.

  7. Nyst says:

    I looked at the first screenshot and thought it was a moon base builder/management game. I feel sad now.

  8. P4p3Rc1iP says:

    I think I’ll stick to Kerbal Space program. Though this looks pretty!

  9. jthmmdom says:

    Simcopter IN SPACE!

  10. Arglebarf says:

    Looking forward to this, but I would like to see the cockpit graphics cleaned up a bit. Do all the switches and knobs in the cockpit have a function? The display is already pretty busy, so I don’t think there’s much to be gained with an overly decorative instrument panel. If it isn’t a real switch, it shouldn’t be there.

    • sh0v0r says:

      Hi Arglebarf,

      One of the reasons I have left allot of the non functional cockpit details there, is it would look very barren without them. Lunar Flight isn’t a hardcore accurate simulation of Lunar Module systems. It is a fictional representation aimed at creating an immersive experience. It is more Ace Combat than it is Falcon 4.0 having said that even Falcon 4.0 in its original form had allot of non functional cockpit details for the same reason.

      FYI: The cockpit is based off a photo from a real Lunar Module Simulator.

    • Arglebarf says:

      Thanks for the info. Good luck with release, this is looking really promising.

  11. MFToast says:

    Wow, looks cool! I’ll buy it tomorrow, when I’m not tossed.

  12. arrjayjee says:

    I want to buy it right now (I’ll even pay $8, my whole savings!) but Paypal is forcing me to make an account to pay for it and that ain’t gonna happen. Is there any other way to buy it?

  13. olemars says:

    Game looks wonderful, but the achievement announcements with accompanying sound effect annoyed the hell out of me just by watching that video. Doesn’t help that the sound effect is a bog standard one used in many freeware games.

  14. idiotapocs says:

    I’ll stick to John Ma..err Moonbase Alpha. NOT! Worst experience in my life. Worse than two snakes biting at your balls.

  15. sh0v0r says:

    Lunar Flight is now available on Desura %50 off the full price until Beta ends.

    http://www.desura.com/games/lunar-flight

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