One time in the office (so, a hundred years ago) a hypothetical was posed: if you were given the chance to go to the moon, with a guarantee that nothing would go wrong, would you take it? "No," I said. "No way. Not a chance. I wouldn't like it." People were shocked at my refusal. "But nothing will go wrong!" they exclaimed. This misses the universal truth that even - and indeed, especially - when it is guaranteed nothing will go wrong, something will always go wrong in space.
Honestly, who can say that they've played a video game set on a space station and not encountered at least one deserted corridor plunged into darkness, but with one spotlight tipped over onto its side to cast ominous shadows? Raise your hands. Terror in space has never gone out of fashion, really, but the source of the terror does seem to go in cycles. In the 2010s a lot of the danger came from an AI gone a bit sinister and funny. As we saw at last night's Summer Game Fest, though, the monsters are back, baby.
We saw reveals or sneaky peeks at the following:
- Aliens: Dark Descent, a squad-based alien-slaying game where you control tiny marines and make them shoot drooling xenomorphs
- Space Beast Terror Fright, not an official Aliens game but nevertheless a game about shooting aliens on spaceships, now finally leaving early access
- A story-heavy thriller called Fort Solis, set on a mysteriously empty Martian space station where terrible things are going to happen to Troy Baker and Roger Clark
- A lunar colony in trouble in Routine, this time with a retrofuturist flavour, and which RPS has been keeping tabs on for literal years
- The Callisto Protocol, which is like Dead Space dressed up as Jason Voorhees for Halloween and is, you guessed it, set on a space station (technically a prison space station)
Mamma mia, that's a spacey meatball! And all but one of these (that being Fort Solis) has confirmed monsters.
I think this is great. I love the space setting as much as the next gal. Keep bringing the space. My theory is it's a popular setting firstly because it puts natural confines on a game or level that the player can't complain about - and that reviewers will praise for being claustrophobic and atmospheric. Secondly, space travel is the dream of mankind, the future ideal, and that dream being fucked up is therefore cool and interesting (for this reason I also consider deep sea stations a sub-genre of space station).
This is perhaps doubly true once you involve AI, which is very "so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should" without even having to try. Games like The Turing Test, Observation, Event, or my favouritest horror game Soma did great stuff with AI going on the wonk. Given the past couple of years, however, I'm ready to go back to malevolent forces in space that are a) more external and b) more concrete. They can still be metaphors for stuff, just let me blast limbs off of your metaphors where possible.
If this trajectory keeps up, eventually we'll have so many Bad Stuff Happening In Space games that they can be broken down not just by traditional genre, but even further into specifics. Then you'd get articles saying stuff like "this takes the traditional tropes of classic Martian space station horror games and turns them on their head" or "we're not reinventing the frozen moon of Jupiter mining station action thriller here". I wouldn't be entirely opposed to that, honestly.
Not E3 2022 is in full-swing - see everything in our E3 2022 hub, as well as our complete round-up of everything announced at Summer Game Fest 2022. Many more big game showcases and streams are still to come this summer, so make sure you stay up to date with our summer games stream schedule.