May day! May day! It’s May Day, get it? I constructed this list of the 7 best distress calls in videogames so I could make this joke, and I refuse to back down now. Even if the 1st of May is associated with pagan spring festivities, and nothing at all to do with things going badly wrong in space or at sea. Even if the piece of radio lingo “mayday” has more to do with the French term “m’aider” than the one day per annum on which Morris dancers are allowed out of their cages. I refuse to acknowledge the longwindedness of this joke, and invite you to read this list article with a similar bullheaded attitude. You’ll enjoy it more that way.
(Warning: some spoilers for the games mentioned.)
Beacon - Alien: Isolation
A flashback to a simpler time, when everyone was putting their faces too close to extraterrestrial egg sacs and recording it on their Go Pro. In the beacon mission of the only good Alien videogame, you traipse across the surface of that windy planet from the movie, using chunky scanning equipment and fuzzy voice comms. It’s pure cinema in first-person. There’s a big helmet obscuring your peripheral vision, and tinkly horror sound effects that make you feel like your body is crawling with ants. And even though any Xenofan will know exactly what is about to occur, it’s still an exciting tramp through Alien backstory, complete with scummy ulterior motives. When the leader of this expedition finds out the disappeared crew of the Nostromo were already here, his first thought isn’t to find out what happened, but to turn the derelict’s beacon off so nobody else comes to claim the salvage rights. Somebody give this man a promotion.
Refugees - Rimworld
What’s this on the radio? A 19-year-old pyromaniac nudist who hates lifting heavy objects wants to join our colony? Well, we are a few hippies short of a commune after that blast of weird psychic energy from space made Karen go berserk and kill two of her direct subordinates. Sure, answer that nudist’s distress call, tell him he is welcome here any time. I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement with the three violent raiders in superstrong body armour who are chasing him. I can see a lot of good in their eyes. Their red, glowing, cybernetic eyes. What do they call themselves? "The Wasps of Cruelty"? They sound reasonable.
Lifepods - Subnautica
The lumpy metal buckets you find on the seafloor of this aquatic Crusoe sim are great. They not only function as numbered goody bags under the sea, they’re also little podlets of storytelling. Glowy PDAs are always discarded nearby, recording nuggets of loss or tragicomedy. Chefs, HR managers, engineers, and executives have all crash-landed in the same ocean as you, but you're the only one who lucked out by landing in the shallows - the kiddy pool of planet 4546B. One of the lifepod PDAs reveals the death of an unknown higher-up in the transstellar corporation that employs you (she lights up a flare close to a leaking fuel line). And another reveals the final log of a doctor who somehow cheated his medical exams so thoroughly he got successfully hired as a doctor aboard your spaceship. Pity he couldn’t cheat his badly bleeding wounds closed after crashing onto this inhospitable sea planet. Irony has a salty taste.
Robot stuck in a toilet - Hackmud
Hackmud is a harsh hacking MMO where a typo might empty your bank account. It has some fun quests, not least the unlucky Robovac who keeps getting stuck in a bathroom, and must resort to asking players in a local chatroom to help him get out. The challenge being that players are newly woke digi-constructs, extant only as code. You’re basically a bot from Westworld, without the fleshy sex parts. So you must find a way to free the self-aware vacuum cleaner from his toilety prison. How? By politely asking an industrial delivery drone to deliver a grand piano through the wall, of course.
Headsets - Barotrauma
“The pump room! Get to the pump r--”
Nothing puts the fear of the deep into you like a voice crying out in panic and getting cut off faster than an itchy label on a t-shirt. In multiplayer submarine larkabout Barotrauma, you use in-game headsets to communicate and call for help from your crewmates from across the sub’s squalid decks. And if someone suddenly stops responding, there are three possibilities:
1. The headset ran out of batteries
2. The room they’re in has flooded
3. Something else
You do not want scenario 3. Believe me.
Broken comms - Tacoma
This is a distress call the crew really has to work for. When things go wrong on Tacoma station, they go wrong in clumps. Not only have the oxygen tanks ruptured, but the comms relay is busted too, which makes sending a request for help impossible. Unless, that is, the crew can duct tape together a solution with a little algae grease and their low-key love of interpersonal drama. Eventually, thanks to a helpful AI, the truth comes out, showing that the comms aren’t broken - they’re just disabled. Who’s behind this sabotage? It’s the corporations again. Those cheeky rascals. Always pranking astronauts. Ha ha. What japes.
Distress signal - Pulsar: Lost Colony
Another multiplayer things-go-wrong, this game has you and several pals operating an unwieldy spaceship like you’re in an episode of Star Trek where the editor forgot to delete the bloopers. But if you run out of fuel and become stranded in Pulsar, do not worry. You still have the option of sending a distress call and getting some aid from a passing ship. This is the engineer’s domain, according to the extensive online manual. And as you can see, it says the “general distress signal” is a very useful channel on which to broadcast your predicament. So let’s press that button and get it going while we read the rest of the manual. The signal is “mostly used by civilians,” says this page, “and pirates have been known to head towards general distress signals due to the easy plunder.”
One Off The List from… 13 moral lessons from games
Last week we looked at modern fables, as told by our favourite murder simulators in a list of 13 moral lessons from games. But one of these moral tales did not speak to you. It’s... DayZ.
You can't really learn to "trust but verify" in DayZ, according to list denouncer "Morlock". For quite a simple reason too. "If a player runs in the woods," they say, "but no one is there to meet her on the server, no such lesson can be learned."
Well, I'll be... Good point, well made. Until next week, fellow list creeps.