It’s tough to pin down exactly what sort of game RymdResa [official site] is going to be when it comes out next month, not least because it keeps changing as you go through. Split into three chapters, each slightly varying on the last, it’s a 2D space exploration/thruster-based arcade game, with poetry. You know the sort. I've had my hands on some code.
From Swedish development couple, Morgondag, this lo-fi space adventure borrows from early 80s arcades for its controls and from the infinite solitude of space for its atmosphere. And this atmosphere is looking like it could be its strongest feature.
Things begin with a starter ship and the instruction to complete a series of nine “missions”. I put this in questioning quotes because all nine are to follow a pointer toward an object of interest and scan it. But it seems it’s much more about the journey than the stops along the way.
At first things seem pretty simple. Ships come with a pool of all-encompassing Resources, but rather than being anything over-complicated and space-strategy-ish, this is basically a bar that empties and fills as you go. Applying your thrusters and your ship’s boost uses up resources, as does crashing into meteors or being pulled too close to a sun. They can be re-gathered through exploration, which takes the form of flying over 2D objects (from planets to satellites to abandoned spacecraft) and hitting Q. Sometimes you’ll be given brief information about what you visited, other times it’ll offer you a simple, risky choice. These will end in your either gathering more Resources or losing them, as well as the superbly named Spacepoints. No, really, they’re called Spacepoints.
This first chapter is do-or-die. You need to complete all nine missions without failure or it all starts over again. However, you'll keep any levels gained, useful objects added to your inventory, and Spacepoints accrued, meaning subsequent turns are more involved. For chapter 2, this time focused on gathering Materials (the game is extremely literal in its nomenclature), all your progress is saved. Chapter 3 seems like details we should save for a review, when the game is out next month.
So while the game may go super-literal for its nouns, it’s super-esoteric for its delivery. Calling itself poetic is a risk, since it’s a term that all-too-often implies pretension in gaming, but RymdResa literally contains poetry. At random moments on your journey you’ll hear poems of varying length, read by one Eric Reed with a severely intoned and distorted voice.
It also, unfortunately, appears to want to extend this notion further by scrawling inane platitudes on the walls of space itself. I really don’t need to be told, “You cannot lose something that never existed/Nor miss something you never needed,” not least because it’s demonstrably nonsense, but also because it temporarily gives the game the feeling of a seaside gift shop.
Where I’ve found the game to shine, in my early play, is in the moments when all goes wrong. Resources are your health and when they run out, it’s game over. So a rash decision to find out what would happen were I to use a floating space teleporter caused me to be transferred a ludicrous distance from my home base. It was extraordinarily unlikely I'd ever make it back, but in trying, the game won me over.
With fathoms of space to cross, you’ll need to stumble across wrecks and planets and the like if you’re to be able to refuel and get anywhere close. But I was finding nothing. I knew the relative direction home, but resources were dwindling until my pool of several hundred was down to just 2. Two blips from death. And then, by genuine coincidence, a planet! A planet with 200-odd Resources to gather! Once more there was hope – hope of drifting into a field of abandoned ships, or stumbling upon a more helpful teleporter, or maybe finding a special item that would let me warp forward.
Instead I drifted into the wide red warning circle of a mean ship that shot me all the way back down to 17. And it’s in these moments, rather than the currently quite plain core goals, that RymdResa shows the most promise. Getting yourself in a mess and struggling to get out of it again.
At the moment, there are definitely issues with portraying speed of movement. This being space, you don’t need to constantly power your ship’s thrusters – they’re much more important when attempting to dodge debris and dangers as you Gravitar-style manoeuvre your way betwixt them – but it’s currently pretty tricky to tell how fast you’re going. Relative movement of background stars is far too ambiguous, and with no direct feedback, it’s far too easy to waste Resources on unnecessary thrust. However, speaking to the developers, there are apparently plans in place to improve this in the month before release.
It would also be good to see some meaning put into the chapter one missions – perhaps imply purpose, make it about more than reaching nine arbitrary checkpoints in a row.
But what a treat for there to be a space sim that features no combat, no shopping, no bar charts, and lots of ambient drifting. We’ve a month to wait and see if it can all be tightly pulled together into something compelling.