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.