Tuesday 6 March 2012

Out There Somewhere (PC)

You'd have to be dead from the neck up not to get a massive feeling of Zero Wing nostalgia from the introductory cutscene that kicks off Out There Somewhere, and before you can say "all your base are belong to us" the intro segues into a frantic horizontal space shooter.

And here's where I've got to throw in a spoiler really early on, because Out There Somewhere bowls a googly (I'm sick of saying things throw curveballs so I thought I'd go all cricket for this review) very early on by making the shooter section one of those sequences in which the player is meant to lose (similar to Photon Storm's excellent flash game Cat Astro Phi). Following this frenetic exchange of laser fire the player's ship is shown plummeting to the surface of a planet, in pursuit of its quarry.

(I know, big spoiler, and I admit I've probably dulled its effect a little bit by making the big reveal, but I couldn't have spun about 15 seconds of shooter into a review of at least 500 words! I suppose I could have gone on a tangent and talked about Kung Fu for an hour like my Year Nine music teacher used to do, but there's probably a good reason he isn't teaching any more).

Once the player makes planetfall the game switches to platformer mode, which sees the player on a mission to find power sources to return their stricken ship to space-readiness. This is the point where the game takes a risk that proves very much worthwhile - the almost obligatory missile weapon you would expect the character to carry in this situation is actually a teleportation gun, which does no damage to enemies; instead it teleports the character to the point its projectile hits. This removes the option of just running through levels blasting stuff and adds a pretty cool teleportation dynamic. The gun even preserves the character's momentum, which is a neat trick and adds more layers to the usual platformer gameplay. Of course, a proper shooty gun is made available to the player later, which is never a bad thing.

A quick technical note here; this is another Game Maker game (I've reviewed a few lately), and has the least amount of lag I've experienced out of the last five or six GM games I've played (however upgrading the hardware I use may have something to do with this). Full screen mode is a little laggier (and blurrier) than that the very smooth windowed mode.

It's a really satisfying game to play, at least up to a point, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't made success fists and punched the air a little bit on working out some of the puzzles - which admittedly are limited to combinations of jumping and juggling of weaponry - but the forgiving nature of the game makes it a much less intense experience than it could be. Simply put, you can't die. Two hits from a bad guy (or a single dip in lava) and the screen goes black for a second and then you're immediately thrown back into the game again. Out There Somewhere has the option to save the game at any time, so it could have easily got away with a little bit of added mortality. As it is, getting through the game can sometimes just be a matter of attrition, banging away at it until you get it right. It's still satisfying but with the inability to die the game seems a bit neutered on occasion.

There are, however, much worse games out there, and as a piece of engineering it's a pleasing and polished artefact. With the gloves off it would be more challenging game, and it really is charming and a total delight to play. It works out at roughly the price of a pint of lager and is a hell of a lot more fun.

Download the playable demo or buy the full game here (from the Miniboss website).
3.5 out of 5

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