• The deathly lessons of Out There's spacey melancholia
02.28.14

The deathly lessons of Out There's spacey melancholia

Space is hauntingly lonely. That's what Out There understands, and what separates it from otherwise sharing the sense of inevitable doom that characterizes its compadre in permadeath spacefaring, FTL: Faster Than Light.

Where that game recalled an episode of Star Trek, this is Kubrick's Space Odyssey painted as if a 1960s sci-fi comicbook.

You're a lone traveller who steered off-course during cryonic sleep, and ended up far from the only familiar solar system to the human race. Your companions are green clouds of hydrogen, space cubes that offer advanced technology, and all-consuming black holes. You set off across space with the "Space Folder" you found, which allows your ship, the Nomad, to travel from star-to-star in a blink.

"You only live once," he says, as I instruct him to dive into a wormhole. 

Operating at the macro level, Out There has you trying to plot an efficient route across the stars towards a waypoint that lies far, far beyond the reach of your ship's telescope. This pursuit always feels beyond you, but it's what keeps you locked in the cycle of death and rebirth. The few words of the alien languages you've jotted down on a notepad are the only resources carried across each attempt. They may help you avoid a disastrous miscommunication with a terrestrial colony of bug-eyed bipeds, but this spotty translation is hardly a salve for your frequent bad luck.

You wind up micromanaging resources: hydrogen and helium for fuel, oxygen to breathe, and iron to repair broken equipment and fix the ship's hull. You probe gas giants, drill into craters, and get lucky when salvaging abandoned ships. But it always comes at the cost of fuel. Most of my deaths have been melancholy one-way trips, out of fuel, leaving one last entry in the ship's log for future salvagers. It's that glimmer of hope that you, the lonesome pilot, always latch on to, even when accepting immediate death.

Once, the pilot shared with me his thirst to be upon Earth again, but admitted he was battling with not seeing it as just a dusty rock with nothing going on. He becomes spoiled by his pioneering space trip. What's the point in going back when he can see so much more?

"You only live once," he says, as I instruct him to dive into a wormhole. He died shortly after as the cluster of stars on the other side was enclosed by dead ends. But that was the risk we took. No regrets.

In Out There, you learn to accept that your time will almost always be cut short. You may not ever reach that distant goal. It's a bleak but liberating realization. You're better off risking the unknown, and maybe discovering a planet of liquid hydrogen that restores your fuel, rather than practising measured safety and getting nowhere. As is life; you could say.

Out There is available on the App Store and Google Play. It will soon be coming to Windows, and Mac.