Impressions: Out There Ω Edition

Out There is a pacifistic take on FTL, yet arguably even more brutal. As a lone, lost starpilot, jump from system to system, simply trying to stay alive and trying to gather replacement resources as the journey steadily eats away your fuel, oxygen and hull integrity. Don’t worry about weapons, don’t worry about crew members: just don’t die. Out There Cleaves a little closer to Choose Your Own Adventure than FTL did, in that it is almost entirely based on chance rather than requiring any particular strategic nous from the player. In other words, it’s completely unfair. But hey, surely being cast adrift in endless, unknown space with no idea what awaits you on the other end of your next lightspeed jump would be pretty unfair, right?

Out There has been out on mobile thingies for almost a year, with a PC version teased last Summer. A public beta of that Ω Edition arrives today, with a full release planned for early Spring. I’ve been playing said beta for the last few days, and while annoyingly it has a built-in cut-off point, there’s enough there to tell you that they’ve got it right.

It’s a slightly prettified, slightly expanded edition of the mobile game, in other words. The planets are more 3D and particle effecty, there’s more flavour text and art, and mouse controls are all present and correct, but otherwise Out There Omega Edition is Out There, made suitable for a bigger screen.

This means the good stuff remains – a jump into the unknown, replete with gasps of hope when you stumble across a fuel-rich body or unexpectedly find an abandoned ship with maxed-out resources and an engine room full of new tech orbiting a lone star, but more often long exhalations of frustration as it all goes wrong for reasons usually beyond your control (and usually relating to running out of fuel). This is a short game of perma-death – i.e. you will play it again and again, despite repeatedly vowing that you’ll never play it again because it treats you so mean.

The obvious, and fair criticism of Out There is that it’s dependent on random chance, and that the cards are so stacked in the house’s favour that it’s almost not worth sitting at the table. This is true. Out There is a bastard. I might even go so far as to say it’s a fucking bastard.

In my case, this only pushes me harder to try and ‘beat’ it. I have never beaten it, despite having put in hours across phone and PC versions, and suspect I never will. But I always feel like I might. It’s so laid back and even hopeful in its presentation and its writing that I always seem to forget quite how cruel it is. It seems as though it should be nice, with its pretty planets and languid text, its aliens who never show aggression (instead, they slowly teach you words of a pan-galactic language which, when enough of it is understood, will help you make the ‘right’ decision in future dialogue options – this is a particularly lovely feature) and the way it will suddenly gift me something miraculous just at the point when I’d decided it was too mean-spirited to continue with.

Out There lulls me into a false sense of security, but also when everything does go to hell it always makes me feel as though it was my fault. OK, maybe sometimes I’m too reckless on jump, or too greedy at trying to mine a planet of all resources, but it’s not my fault that four systems in a row lacked planets which held fuel, or that a sudden asteroid field tore off half my hull. But I always think “well, if I’d jumped to this system instead of that system everything would be A-OK now.” So I try again. So I fail again.

It’s been a comfort game for almost a year, and is becoming so all over again now it’s on my monitor rather than just a squinty phone screen, and yet the last thing Out There does is comfort for me. I guess I enjoy having this challenge that I might one day beat, but which doesn’t require practice or reflex or inviolable play strategies or anything else that my stubborn mind won’t make time for. There’s little to do, really – click this system or that system, click to mine this planet or probe that one’s atmosphere – so it can very much be played with mental brakes off.

I feel comfortable in Out There, and while I’d love a more forgiving version in order that I’d get to feel the joy of whatever victory it ultimately offers, and to encounter some of the increasingly strange sights which lie further along the journey, it would also rob it of meaning. This is Gravity but without the chain of astonishing coincidences; this is Gravity in which everything usually goes as wrong as it supposed to, yet somehow the astronaut remains calm, even lyrical, throughout. One day I’ll get him home safely. He’s earned it.

I don’t expect too much to change between this beta and the release version, other than the removal of the current wall which blocks progress past a certain number of jumps, so you can safely jump aboard now. I do wish they’d change the font though, as it’s too close to comic sans for comfort.

Out There Ω Edition Public Beta is on sale now, direct from the devs or on Humble, and the full release version is due in March or April.

18 Comments

  1. DrollRemark says:

    I loved this game on Android, and can’t wait for them to update that version with all this new content, as I’ll almost certainly get back into playing it again. It’s a lovely little game, and you should try it.

    I agree about the difficulty though. Even though I’ve managed one of the possible endings (the easiest I believe), I’ve only done that once, and come agonisingly close a second time. In a way, a bit of a PC following might mean I’ll at least get to see other people do it.

  2. technoir says:

    I have no idea if this is a bug or an intented feature, but at least in the Android version the resources you mine from planets are reset each time you return to a star system you’ve visited before. If you find a group of stars that provide decent amounts of fuel, oxygen and iron, you can use them as a staging area for short and safe expeditions and slowly work your way towards the finish line with minimal risk. I noticed this the second time I played and, uh, beat the game straight away.

    • DrollRemark says:

      Really? I’ve returned to previous systems before and found them as empty as I left them. Was this an early version or something?

      • technoir says:

        Version 1.04.2. I bought the game from a Humble store sale a month ago and according to the Google app store page the latest update was in October so it should be the latest one. I just checked and it’s still behaving just the same as before, all minable resources are restored every time I revisit a star.

        I guess my game is probably just glitched, might have to reinstall and see if anything changes. Damn, I was just feeling so smart for having beat a supposedly hard game so quickly :(

  3. Thankmar says:

    I was a little confused reading this article as I was certain I already purchased it, but didn´t get to play it yet. Turns out, I bought it through the Humble Store for android without having a tablet at all. Now I´m just happy to be able to support the developers another time.

    • parkourhobo says:

      Try out BlueStacks. It’s free, andI it simulates an android tablet on your computer. That’s how I’ve been playing it so far. Or you could just wait for the PC edition.

  4. Premium User Badge

    mecreant says:

    I’ve managed to beat it once on my iPad. It’s one of those very random games that somehow convince you that you have more control over how the game unfolds than you actually do.
    80 Days is a similar game that I’ve found to be just as fun and compulsive as Out There.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      True enough, but I found 80 Days a whole lot easier to “win” than Out There. I love playing Out There, a very meditative and peaceful experience considering it almost always ends in abject failure.

  5. Crafter says:

    The random aspect of this game really put me off after a couple of games.
    The RNG can decide to put you in a situation where you have no chance at all to recover, so it becomes purely a luck game.

  6. Xantonze says:

    More like a “push your luck” boardgame.
    It’s true you have to reset often if the first planets don’t give you enough resources, but afterwards, it depends on your choices (AND 50% luck)..

  7. Alberto says:

    “It’s only pure luck” does not define the game.
    You can always “roll” a bad event, but in the end the decisions you make are the most important.

    A wonderful, sad, really special game, go for it if you don’t own it already.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      I never got any sense that my decisions made any difference. I played about five games and in at least three of those I just ran out of resources without encountering anything at all. Once I stumbled on a ship which had useful equipment, but I didn’t decide to find that, it just happened to be the planet I clicked on.
      Was I missing something that gives you information about the planets so you can actually decide between them?

      • iucounu says:

        There’s an upgrades you can build which lets you preview systems prior to jumping there, to some extent – you can see what kinds of planet are there, or things like ships or stations. Of course, to get the upgrade you need to learn it through a random event, so you often don’t find it for ages.

        However, to get those kinds of event, you either need to jump to a new system – there’s an event of some kind every time – or land on an inhabited planet. So your decision when you enter a system is really about whether to push on immediately to the next one or replenish one or more resources. Often you’re torn between stopping to collect fuel, which damages your hull and might not glean you much more than you had to begin with, or hoping there’s a gas giant at the end of the next jump. Neither of these is a ‘safe’ choice.

        You learn some survival tricks. Probing or drilling using 7 units of fuel seems to strike the best balance in most cases between risk and reward. If you find an abandoned ship, you bear in mind that it has full fuel, oxygen and hull – so you may well be able to strip-mine the system using one or other ship before leaving in the one you choose to keep. It’s little things that give you small edges in precarious situations that are the heart of this game.

        I’ve beaten it a few times in that I’ve got one of the endings several times over; it feels like it’s the ‘easy’ ending. The harder ones feel like I’m going to have to be very lucky to get to, but I still fire it up now and again on the train; if I do make it, despite the randomness, it’ll feel like I earned it.

  8. blind_boy_grunt says:

    when you guys talk about beating it, do you mean one of the ends or is there a “good” ending? I think i was overpowered once and i was home (or nearly home) and then decided to go to the big bads and destroy their homeworld but it just ended and i couldn’t get home (i’m a bit fuzzy on the details).
    Anyway i like it, but it depends completely on its atmosphere. Once i started “gaming” it, it’s just wasn’t that good of a game.

    • OrangyTang says:

      “Anyway i like it, but it depends completely on its atmosphere. Once i started “gaming” it, it’s just wasn’t that good of a game.”

      That pretty much sums up my experiences. The atmosphere is spot on, but it’s so brutally hard that I can’t really enjoy it. To get anywhere I have to really try and min-max things, and treat it like a pure numbers game. I don’t want it so easy I can win every time, but so far I’ve not even managed to finish it once.

      The brutal difficulty doesn’t help considering how much of the fun lies in exploring the possibilities. Once I found some kind of star destroying device, but died without trying it because I didn’t know what it would do, or even in what situations it would be helpful. When you’re in a sticky situation the last thing you want to be doing is trying the weird oddball thing that you have no idea what it does, so as a result learning the rules of the game is a painful slog.

      Contrast with FTL, where I can be 80% sure that I can make it though to the final boss, even with multiple strategies. Out There feels like I can be making all the right choices and still end up asphyxiating around a cold heartless sun.

  9. racccoon says:

    its a crazy game

  10. Shardz says:

    Out There and FTL are two different games, perhaps within the same mold, I suppose. I found FTL to be more demanding of concentration while Out There requires flat out patience. I wish FTL would come to Android, though.

  11. Waladil says:

    I wonder if they fixed the super game-breaking bug that makes Out There insanely easy to win with only a little luck but a lot of patience.

    Be warned, reading past this line may ruin Out There for you. The following is essentially a cheat code that may or may not be fixed in the new Omega version (it is not fixed as of this date on my iPhone version of non-Omega):

    Star systems restock resources when you leave them. Therefore, if you can find two systems near each other that have 1. A large quantity of fuel in a gas giant, 2. A habitable world and 3. a rocky planet with a reasonable source of iron, you can just hop between those two systems and gather up as much fuel as you want, so long as you get enough iron to fix up your ship after visiting the gas giants (a shield generator or better helps a lot with this, of course). Once you establish a “trade route” where you know a safe place to refuel, explore all the nearby systems. Why not? Check them ALL out. Get all the technology from friendly nearby aliens. Find a nice new ship. This usually works until you meet PEOPLE DEATH, then they usually ruin things by taking over your trade route, and you have to run for a win.