Stranded speaks with footsteps and heavy breaths; the verbs of mortality and journeys. It's a short sci-fi adventure of points and clicks, wordless and without puzzles, illustrated with sun-kissed desert rock backdrops, slow-beat synths, and the night-time glows of old alien relics.
Clicking on the doors of the cryostasis pod for the first time, electronic lock released, computer jargon scrolling down large monitors, the astronaut—a visor of deep red—steps out confidently, confused.
When the next step could be your last, you take things much slower
Their chest fills with air, a deep intake, like the breath of a newly born babe. They exhale, relieved, and meditate with the next few gulps of sweet clear chemicals. Inside the hub of this vessel there is uniform order: Red stripes, hospital whites, and tightly sealed doors. The tiled floor is so shined that there's a satisfying bite to each step.
Tink, tink, tink, tink.
Outside the baking sun reveals a dire situation. The smoke and sparks of a wreckage. Bent wings with smashed tips. A whole door, still intact, scraped into the orange alien sand.
A heaving bipedal creature of iridium walks off-screen, beckoning the astronaut's curiosity. Perhaps it can help fix the ship, or at least find a way to sustain the survival of a single, lost human. The ground is gritty; the hard sediment of fragmented rock.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Led to an old temple where the heavy doors grind to open, the astronaut finds a small stone pool inside. A rock carving in the shape of the sentient statues on this planet poses in the middle, a huge symbolic sphere behind it. The water is a brilliant grey-blue, and a shimmering streak of yellow pixels lights up the shrine.
The black carved rock under foot issues a padded thud with each slow tread.
The act of walking in Stranded is central to its theme. There's a reason you're forced to watch the astronaut's mundane effort as they trudge across desert, caves, and temples, both during the day and the night.
If, at first, you find it a pained wait, despite the endorphin-triggering dreamy soundtrack, that might be the right reaction. You're eager to explore; to fix the ship; to solve the mystery of this fey planet.
It slowly sinks in. This isn't a tale of a heroic space marine defying the odds and scraping survival from a lost situation. Time is ticking, oxygen is running low, there's nothing but beauty around you.
When the next step could be your last, you take things much slower, absorbing the tink, crunch, and domphs. Everything has a beauty to be appreciated. You overlook a huge lake from a cliffside as one of the iridium giants crashes into the water to enjoy the pleasantries of floating. The sun beats down. Huge clouds roll past behind the pillars of desert rock. The water's surface tinkles with beads of light.
Perhaps not all is lost. You'll have to play through Stranded to find out, but take it slow, one step at a time.
You can purchase Stranded for $6.99 from its website.