Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’m breaking with tradition this week as today’s reviewed game is a mobile-only game, gracing only those with Android, Android Lite (Kindle) and Baby’s-First-Computer (iOS) devices. The real tragedy here is that all of the four people that own Windows Phone devices are going to get even more upset and probably log in to their Xbox account or something to make themselves feel better because they don’t get the game at all. Out There is also not available on the desktop/laptop operating systems (yet). I can imagine that eventually the game will make it to the desktop but for the moment it is mobile only, although it is possible to use the likes of Bluestacks to run it on PC which I’ll discuss later. The game itself is very cool; there’s a real FTL feel to it with an almost turn-based adventure game feel to it and a familiar level of brutal difficulty typical of rogue-likes.
The story basis of the game is that whilst on a long mission in cryo-stasis below the speed of light, something happens and you end up far from home… out there. The first thing you are introduced to the the ‘space folding’ technology which allows you to build a ‘space folder’ introducing inter-stellar travel. The game allows travelling between stars with differing properties, which then have local systems with differing properties. These differing properties are important as like in FTL the ship has resource needs; fuel, oxygen and hull (which needs repairing). These resources are gained from different planets/sources in differing ways and gathering them can often be expensive in other resources and may be risky. For example; gathering fuel from a gas giant will likely incur hull damage and use fuel to get into orbit, and then maybe damage the probe. The hull damage must be repaired with an appropriate element, normally iron as does the probe damage however once this is done you may have extracted enough hydrogen or helium to fuel the ship a little further. This leads neatly on to the resource gathering system which is based on the collection of the base chemical elements which means that you’re likely to learn bits of the periodic table inadvertently if you didn’t already know them. Commonly occurring elements in game are luckily the ones that are often needed most often, however there are rarer elements which occur and can be used to create some of the more advanced items. The trade off on the rarer items is on inventory space on your ship, as it’s limited and the usefulness of that small chunk of silicon is going to be difficult to determine when you could really use another stack of hydrogen.
The technology is discovered through events or discoveries; these can be ships, abandoned stations, populated planets, etc. These can give technologies upon which new equipment can be built, sometimes they can give whole new ships and sometimes they can do much more and that’s the real beauty of the exploration. The overall aim is to get back to Sol but the exploration that happens on the way is brilliant and considering how brutal the game is, necessary. The variety of different races, ships, cities, space stations and like that are there to be discovered appears to be fairly extensive. In my time playing I have not had a recurring encounter, but then I have also not managed to get back to Sol. The difficulty is steep, Out There is quick to pick up and the mechanics are logical intuitive however it is very difficult to master. In FTL style random events can combine with simple mistakes to create a catastrophic outcome for that particular play session. I’d imagine that much like FTL more play time would iron out the silly mistakes that leave you drifting with no fuel or compressed into the horrible mess of incomprehensible physics that is the centre of a black hole. With even more time you’d likely be able to get away from some of the seemingly game-ending events too, that’s the beauty of a brutal rogue-like. This style actually suits the mobile platform rather well as you’re likely going to finish a playthrough before whatever it was you were waiting for is done as something kills you horribly, or if this isn’t the case then it is possible to save and continue later.
The interface design is very much touch-based, which in this particular case is actually a good thing. The different interface screens are clear and whilst the inventory dragging could do with a tap to move feature to make it easier on a tablet, on the whole buttons and interface elements are well placed keeping it neat and tidy and maintaining a good UX. Performance wise I played it on a Nexus 4 and an LG GPad 8.3, which apart from a 200MHz clock difference are nearly identical on the inside with the same Krait 300 CPU, Adreno 320 GPU, and 2GB memory and as such it played flawlessly on both. The game scales beautifully to both the 12cm and 21cm displays of the tested devices, as is normal with Android. In terms of iOS scaling, I have no idea, hell I only just found out that there have to be separate iPad and iPhone apps, and failing that the iPhone app is just scaled up in an ugly manner… typical poor Apple software design. In spite of all of this I’d imagine that the game scales nicely and plays well on those tiny little iPhone screens as well as those archaic screen-ratio iPad screens. So really the game has been designed rather well to play with almost any device regardless of screen size which is nice as having this on your phone in your pocket makes for a great little time filler. Aesthetically the game is based around a comic-book style with some really fantastically realised art work. I’m something of a comic-book philistine so I can’t really venture into any kind of detail about the type and era of the art but it is very pleasing to look at and always clear. The sound and music is similarly well realised and fits the overall style perfectly, although it can be muted within the app in case you’re in a quiet place, on the bus or just forgot your earphones.
The game is currently available from the Apple’s Monopoly Store for £2.40 (approx $3.99), Google Play for £2.99 (approx $4.97), the Amazon App Market for £2.88 (approx $4.79) and most importantly it’s available from the anti-AppStore; Humble for £2.40 ($3.99). Now obviously if you’ve already decided to let Apple decide what you can and can’t do with your device then none of these choices mean anything to you because choice is something you paid that ridiculous premium to lose, go buy a proper phone. For Amazon Kindle users, you also don’t get much of a choice, take the safety wheels of; try rooting that sucker and sticking proper Android on it. For the rest of us I’d recommend the Humble version, the DRM-free APK can still tie into the Google Play services if you want it to but the price is better. This is a really nice option if you want to emulate the game on PC through the likes of Bluestacks without entering account information as the DRM-free APK will install honky-dory onto Bluestacks without complaint. For Windows Phone users… I’m sorry, maybe you can rearrange your tiles or something, that looks kinda fun, they’ve got nice corners a pretty colours! In short, Out There is a fantastically well realised game and shines like a gem among the vast majority of the mobile offerings to the point where I’d love to see Windows and Linux ports.
Out There website with Humble Widget which is my recommendation:
Bluestacks to combine with the Humble DRM-free APK for playing on Windows/Mac:
Out There on Google Play:
Out There on the Amazon App Store:
Out There on the App Store, because you don’t get to choose:
Cool Tiles for you Windows Phone users, look at the pretty tiles: