A new phenomenon of modern games criticism is playing a game for a bit, then stopping to double-check if you missed its being in early access. That’s certainly something I did when playing Corpse Of Discovery [official site]. (The punning title rendered even more clumsy when a character pronounces its near-homograph with a hard ‘ps’.) But no, despite a growing certainty as I started playing, this is entirely released. That might not be for the best.
Things start really nicely. A good FMV performance of an Australian politician explaining to a press conference that contact has been lost with an astronaut on arrival at a distant planet. They do not know the status of his mission. You, then, wake up inside a small lab on the planet’s surface, no idea how you got there, nor what’s going on.
Things are then immediately problematic: the options don’t work properly in game, and guess what happens if you quit out?! It doesn’t save progress between early objectives, and doesn’t have a manual save, so you’re forced to start again. And it runs like a dog, which meant after a certain point I had to quit and relaunch and… yes, start again! Get past that, and actually play the game, and what should/could be a calm, interesting tale about a stranded astronaut in mysterious circumstances is a handheld slog guided by obtrusive, obnoxious objective markers that needlessly float over your view.
Once I’d accounted for the clumsy implementation of the Unity engine, and put it on medium settings, movement became less horrible. Right up until I donned my spacesuit for an entirely unceremonious EVA, to discover the suit was apparently on wheels. Gliding is not quite the sensation I associate with explorations of low-gravity non-Earth planets. Anyway, the point is, apparently, to follow the overly familiar instructions of a floating orb called AVA, who is far-too-obviously deceiving you about the nature of your mission, and the potential of returning to your family. On this Mars-like planet you’re told you need to plant a series of beacons, by following yet more obnoxious objective markers, while being distracted by fuzzy obnoxious objective markers that take you to oddities and visual discrepancies. All the way AVA natters at you in a flat, dreary voice, while you get rather bored just jumping around on the dull planet.
Then blip – you’re back in your base, and it seems to be starting over. Except this time things have changed, plants have grown, and so on, and when you leave you’re on an entirely different planet, this time charged with finding new lifeforms. And repeat.
The result is something that wants to be part The Martian, and part Moon, but really doesn’t seem to understand the finesse of either. In creating the feeling of futility in your actions, well, playing the game feels really very futile. And while the mystery of what’s going on might be just enough to keep pulling me through it all, sadly the graphical issues present a mighty huge barrier.
For some reason, background effects like fog and clouds can be seen through all scenery. This means, when approach a cliff side, my vision became dominated by a skybox. It’s annoying but ignorable on the first two planets. By the third, involving lots of cliffs and gaps, it’s on the brink of unplayable. By the fifth planet, I called it. I can’t see the ground any more, making it impossible. This may be an issue to do with my specific system, but there’s nothing exotic or unusual in my PC. So I’ll never know the twist at the end of all this. But perhaps more significantly, I’m not sure that I care. Were this early alpha, as it feels, I’d have suggested that with a lot more work, a great deal more thought about how to make wandering the planets more interesting, and the ability to save since the game doesn’t threaten your life at any point, then it could maybe go somewhere interesting. But as a finished game, even without the graphical obstacles meaning I can’t play, then no – this is hollow and hackneyed.