Justice Playthrough #86: The Away Team

An ambitious-as-hell voyage through the stars, one that’s almost more interactive fiction than game. I’m not sure it necessarily achieves everything it’s setting out to do, but I respect the hell out of what it’s attempting.

Page 7, Game 29: The Away Team by Underflow Studios

So, first thing’s first: if you’re playing this on Windows, you’re gonna need to download and install OpenAL. Without it, the game will simply fail to run. Naughty naughty, Underflow Studios, shipping an incomplete piece of software. I’m wagging my finger at you.

Earth is dying, and you’re one of the last ships out. Literally; you’re the ship. More precisely, you’re the ship’s AI. You are shepherding six humans … somewhere. To their new home. If you can find one.

Six lost souls

You’ll travel, you’ll explore, you’ll read. You’ll read a lot. This game is all about the scripted encounters, emphasis on SCRIPT. But I didn’t mind so much. The prose and the storyline aren’t scintillating, but they’re executed well enough to be compelling and to draw me in. I’m not convinced scripted bits needed to be this VERBOSE, necessarily, but it worked well enough that I didn’t mind. Given that “Fiction writer uses 50 words where 5 would have done” is one of my big pet peeves, that honestly means it worked pretty damn well.

I found the story rewarded me for engaging it on its own terms. Does doing that thing sounds stupid? Then I’ll not do the stupid thing. Is there not a threat I can see? Then I’m not going to tell my crew to run their asses back to the shuttle when walking is a perfectly viable option.

The most impressive thing about the (reams of) prose was how it was liberally flavored with extras that directly tied into the traits assigned to my characters. The Politician Guy was depicted as charming, but reckless; and true to form, he did something stupid with something dangerous and died horribly as a result.

GOD DAMMIT KEALAN

Open Mic Comedian Lady volunteered to do dangerous shit every time she said “That’s what SHE said!” I’m confident that’s what she meant.

There are often choices to be made in the prose. They seemed meaningful.

I was particularly fond of how some of the “puzzles” were handled by the choice that boiled down to “Just solve it with your galaxy-sized brain, you’re an AI for fuck’s sake.” This was often the only choice available. I’m normally grumpy when a game doesn’t let me take choices, but honestly, this non-choice pulled me more into the character I was supposed to be playing. Goddamn RIGHT I figured this one out, meatbags. Who’s your artificial daddy.

Where the game stumbles is in the GAME parts of the game. When you assemble your titular away team, you can assign a leader, a medic, and a mechanic, and the game will track how often an individual has taken that role. The character backgrounds seem to be indicating pretty clearly that some people are better suited for the roles than others, but … did it matter? It did not appear to matter. If it did, the game handled it invisibly behind the scenes and offered-up “Here’s a choice you can make if your chief engineer isn’t an incompetent douchebag” as one of my choices. Okay, fine, but I’d rather KNOW that my choice was significant than have to guess.

You’re managing food and fuel as resources, and the game’s balance feels hopelessly wonky here. Resources are TIGHT, and very difficult to come by. I visited three planets where I wound up grabbing one food apiece from each, and … comedafuckon. You’re kinda wasting my time here, game.

If you DO play it, I highly recommend you click both “Cheat” options — have each system just show you where the planets of note are, and don’t consume food unless the ship is actually in motion. For a game that’s ostensibly about exploration, your resources burn so quickly and are so tough to come by that it doesn’t seem like it actually wants you to do much exploring.

Hey, I found a food!

What’s more, I kinda didn’t understand where I was going when I hit the jump drive. Some places gave me clues about which planets to try next, but some … didn’t. In some, I wound up having to hustle my six pet blood blisters the fuck out of there when things were clearly going sideways. I figured this would have repercussions, but nope, I just hopped into hyperspace, and found another thing.

I played the game to an ending. A decent ending; they found a home, of sorts. I’m not sure the ending completely made SENSE, it certainly wasn’t the direction I was expecting things to go, but what the hell, it beat starving to death in the deep and uncaring void.

There’s clearly a ton to explore in this game, and … I’m not completely certain I want to. I don’t know that the game parts of the game are fun enough to bring me back. If the writing were tighter or the gameplay more rewarding, maybe I’d poke around some more and see what else is out there.

As it is, though, it wasn’t bad. I certainly have no regrets playing it. If shepherding six lost souls to some unknown home among the stars sounds like a good time to you, I can definitely recommend taking a look. Maybe it’ll grab you more than it grabbed me.

The big question is, of course, will this game grab me:

Page 25, Game 21: Desktop Meadow by samperson

“Your computer is a beautiful garden”

Nah, my computer is more of a junkyard with piles of random forgotten crap and occasionally dirty magazines. But that does sound pretty zen. Let’s see what it’s like.