Out­reach

Ex­plor­ing an aban­doned Soviet space sta­tion

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS -

There’s some­thing won­der­fully eerie about the life­less sta­tion

You, a lone Soviet cos­mo­naut, are sent to in­ves­ti­gate a com­mu­ni­ca­tions black­out on a space sta­tion. When you ar­rive the place is fall­ing apart, the crew is miss­ing, and it’s up to you to find out what hap­pened to the sta­tion and the work­ers aboard it. Set in the ’80s, Out­reach fuses real-world his­tory with con­spir­acy the­o­ries. The en­vi­ron­ments are re­al­is­tic, mod­elled on Rus­sia’s fa­mous Mir space sta­tion, mean­ing there’s no tech­nol­ogy that didn’t ex­ist at the time. De­vel­oper Pixel Spill spent months re­search­ing the era, and it shows. Ev­ery­thing from com­puter con­soles to cloth­ing has a feel of au­then­tic­ity. It’s like step­ping back in time. And this re­al­ism ex­tends to the way you nav­i­gate the sta­tion, with zero grav­ity to deal with. You can push against scenery to pro­pel your body for­ward, or grab rail­ings to pull your­self along. It’s slightly head­spin­ning at first, and ad­just­ing to the fact that there’s no up or down takes some get­ting used to. But when you mas­ter it, float­ing around is a lot of fun. And when you re­al­ize that you can grab ob­jects, throw them, and watch them spin through the air re­al­is­ti­cally, the story will take a tem­po­rary back­seat as you ex­per­i­ment and play around with the physics. The zero-grav­ity move­ment feels just right, which is the re­sult of a lot of painstak­ing tweak­ing and ad­just­ing by Pixel Spill.

There’s some­thing won­der­fully eerie about the life­less sta­tion. Aban­doned space sta­tions are noth­ing new in games, but the re­al­ism el­e­ment in Out­reach makes it feel unique. The chunky tech is rem­i­nis­cent of Alien:Iso­la­tion, which Pixel Spill cites as a big in­flu­ence on the art de­sign. I drift through the sta­tion dis­cov­er­ing rem­nants of the mys­te­ri­ously miss­ing crew: Con­ver­sa­tions recorded on cas­sette tapes, let­ters, and fam­ily pho­tos. I me­thod­i­cally check each and ev­ery mod­ule for clues, but find noth­ing. Then I reach a door with a bro­ken han­dle, mean­ing I’m go­ing to have to go for a space­walk to reach the next area.

When I step out­side into the ex­panse of space, the size of the Earth be­low makes me feel dizzy. The sense of scale is in­cred­i­ble. And while I felt rel­a­tively safe in the con­fines of the sta­tion, out here I’m sud­denly over­whelmed by dread. A sen­sa­tion that’s jus­ti­fied when I try and leap to­wards a handrail, only to miss, float help­lessly away, and die hor­ri­bly in the depths of space. This sec­tion is re­mark­ably tense, re­quir­ing pa­tience, tim­ing, and con­cen­tra­tion to care­fully grab each rail and pull your­self to a dis­tant air­lock. You have to hit the grab but­ton at pre­cisely the right time, oth­er­wise you’ll over­shoot the rail and drift away from the sta­tion with no way to make your way back. I make it even­tu­ally, but I die sev­eral times in the process. Then, cru­elly, the demo ends, and I don’t get to see what’s in­side.

DEEP SPACE

Out­reach is fas­ci­nat­ing, but my demo leaves me none the wiser about what kind of story it’ll tell. Will it be a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller? Or is there some­thing su­per­nat­u­ral go­ing on aboard the sta­tion? I’m look­ing for­ward to find­ing out in the fin­ished game. Pixel Spill prom­ises play­ers will “dis­cover the lives and mo­ti­va­tions of the crew” and learn about some­thing called Project Out­reach, which sounds suit­ably sin­is­ter. The de­vel­oper also says that you’ll un­cover “the true na­ture” of the space sta­tion as you ex­plore it, which is fill­ing my head with ques­tions. I’m told the game will be a rel­a­tively short ex­pe­ri­ence—maybe three or four hours, the length of a long movie—and I’m okay with that. Short, fo­cused, well-told sto­ries are fast be­com­ing one of my fa­vorite kinds of game on PC, and I hope Out­reach is one that de­liv­ers. Andy Kelly

What­ever you do, don’t miss the handrail.

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