Rails? Where we’re going we don’t need rails…
The Victorians explore space in flying locomotives, and do not like what they find up there.
Delayed after layoffs at Failbetter Games, Sunless Skies continues to add new content through Steam Early Access, the most recent update bringing a second region to explore: Albion. Your flying steam locomotive – sure to raise some eyebrows among train spotters – is the least strange thing to be found in these skies. Imagine someone had tried to draw the British Empire at its height, but taken the term ‘exploded diagram’ too literally, and you’ve got Albion. You’re certain to run into a famous Westminster clock floating about in Sunless Skies’ weird gravity-free world, but it’s the unfamiliar and the unknown that carve the heart of this narrative/ survival RPG.
Sunless Skies, like Sunless Seas before it, is a game of questions. Who are you? What do you want? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen steam train? It then goes on to provide answers, in some depth, as each choice you make builds a story around your captain’s deeds. No explanation is given for the shattered state of the world, nor how, shorn of the necessary mass to retain an atmosphere, life is able to continue on the rocks, crystals, and giant plants that make up the floating remains.
When flying, a neat trick is the use of the locomotive’s headlight – if an object casts a shadow, it’s in the same plane as you. If it doesn’t, then it’s below you and can safely be crossed without a collision damaging your hull. There’s more to piloting a flying train than avoiding damage, however. You’re armed, but firing generates heat, and too much heat is a bad thing. Your loco runs on fuel and your crew on supplies, both of which must be husbanded, while your crew’s fear must also be managed. The cold terrors of the High Wilderness – metal fish and swarms of bees are the least of your worries – extend to the amount of reading on offer, but it’s worth squinting slightly to draw in the exquisite exposition and character portraits on offer. Much of the game is exploration, plugging forward into the mists with an eye on your supplies, but the rewards for new discoveries are ample.
The Clockwork Sun fills your crew with terror as you approach it.
The settlement of Titania, built on a giant plant, is looking for money to grow. At least they’re not asking us to haul them a city’s worth of fertiliser.
Combat with other airborne locomotives is a good way to gain cargo – or to lose your life. Who knew steam trains could be so demanding to drive?