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What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
I love the idea of a roguelike choose-your-own-adventure, and that’s exactly what Out There is shooting for. Players control a solitary astronaut flung into the depths of outer space, struggling to maintain enough fuel to limp along to the next star system. Along the way, brief narrative interludes inject personality, while the maintenance of the ship’s systems and supplies demands careful strategy. Sadly, the best plans commonly end in a game over screen; luck plays too big a role in the unfolding drama, and the story I was excited to bring to a conclusion was cut short because of questionable procedural generation.
Players who enjoyed Mass Effect’s planet mining should enjoy Out There. The gameplay loop involves warping to a star system and systematically extracting the fuel and minerals that can extend your trip. You make interesting decisions about how to fill your too-small cargo hold – is that new gravitational lens more valuable than a full stack of hull-repairing iron? Unfortunately, the game rarely provides the info you need to make these decisions. It’s often up to chance if you jump into a system that contains too little fuel to let you escape, and a precious technology in one runthrough could be nearly useless the next time around.
The story choices suffer under the same dilemma. It’s exciting to meet a new alien race on a mysterious planet, but the system by which you learn alien languages resets every game, so you rarely have any idea what these lifeforms are trying to say to you, and your responses are random. Even so, many of the narrative moments in Out There are intriguing, painting a potent picture of isolation and loneliness punctuated by brief moments of action.
Many repeated playthroughs of Out There allow for a marginally higher survival rate, but the arbitrary chance for failure on an otherwise perfect run can be infuriating. If that indiscriminate failure is part of what you enjoy in roguelikes, Out There is a fascinating attempt to combine strategy with storytelling, and a worthy distraction for science-fiction enthusiasts.
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