Imagine being alone. Very alone. So alone that it’s highly unlikely you’ll come within a million miles from another human being again. That’s the scenario you find yourself in when starting Out There. You play as an astronaut, long after a cryogenic mishap puts you light years away from Earth’s Solar System. Your only goal is to travel from system to system, collecting enough fuel and other resources to make your way back home.
Out There is a rogue-like space exploration game. Hydrogen and Helium can be used as fuel, Iron for repairing your ship, and Oxygen for breathing. Traveling to other systems is done by making jumps from star to star with your alien-provided warp drive. Excavate mineral-rich planets to find iron and other more exotic minerals to repair your ship and build new subsystems. Gas giants provide you with hydrogen and helium for fuel, and habitable planets lead to alien encounters and the chance to refill your oxygen tanks.
The fate of every move you make is completely random; a virtual roll of the dice. Improving your ship requires luck to be on our side, and being unlucky comes with heavy consequences. If you’re looking for more fuel, be prepared to have your ship damaged during the probing process. Need more iron? Spend fuel to get it. Resource management is a major issue when you consider that all the elements needed to keep your ship flying take a significant amount of space in your inventory. Stocking up on fuel for the long journey severely impacts your ability to gather more exotic resources to build new ship systems, let alone the inventory space needed to place them.
Out There hints at further exploration, like traveling through black holes, but the journey though one requires exotic resources and specialized equipment. Only the luckiest of players will find themselves in a situation where they can devote the inventory space or resources to be able to build such a device, let alone find the schematics to make it. Out There has elements that would be interesting to explore, like building complex ship subsystems, but the consequences of gathering resources are so heavy that it ends up being more of a desperate struggle to survive than a quest of exploration.
Out There has an identity crisis. On one hand, it employs a heavy risk versus reward philosophy, where tradeoffs are everything. Taking risks can sometimes reward you with the resources you need to continue on your journey, but more often, they mean your doom. On the other hand, the game has included so many interesting extensions, such as deciphering alien languages or digging up advanced technologies deep beneath a rocky planet’s crust, but the risk required to explore them is overwhelming. There is so much lost potential by including two design philosophies, exploration vs survival, that are completely at odds with one another.
It’s hard to understand where the developers are trying to go with Out There. The random nature of the game mechanics certainly lend themselves to a game that you play over and over again until your set of circumstances allows you to achieve a very elusive victory. With this in mind, it’s a shame that Out There forces you to play so conservatively that you rarely, if every, get a chance to explore the additional gameplay elements. Building new sub-systems, for example, severely impacts your chances of success later in the game unless it virtually falls into your lap. The idea of learning another language is a very interesting one, but it’s another example of a potentially deep gameplay element that is circumvented by being so completely limited in your resources. Again, you don’t determine the path of play as much as the random dice rolls do.
Out There has a lot of potential, but it’s very difficult for me to play this game and believe that it has yet reached that potential. With so many elements severed by the the inherent randomness of the game, it feels like Out There would have been better served by either eliminating them all together or by rethinking the mechanism by which the game is made difficult: chance. While it’s certainly not possible to complete the game having made poor decisions, it’s also not possible to complete the game without being very, very lucky. Considering Out There ends up being a game where luck trumps skill, less could have definitely been more if it meant keeping the game balanced while including the exceptionally compelling exploration elements.
Out There Review: A Struggle in Space
- Captures the struggle to survive in space
- Missed potential
- Success is highly random