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Space Thievery 2022, October 27, 2022
When I saw Space Oddysey 2001 for the first time (and the times after that, now I come to think of it...) HAL scared the brains out of me. The calm, collected voice-pattern, the ruthless efficiency, the cold determination...
Nah, I like his sister a lot more. Ok, she sounds at least as disturbing as her big brother, but at least I can picture myself having a fun night on the town with her.
(For no reason other than my own imagination, I perceived SOLIS as female.)
SOLIS welcomes you as you stumble onto her decks, on the run for the space police because... Well, you're a thief. Plain and simple. And your FTL-jump thingamajig had a small hiccup so you ended up here with a lonely AI in an abandoned spaceship.
Contrary to HAL, SOLIS does have a distinctly, erm... outgoing personality. In fact, sometimes she sounds like her personality is a bit too much for her to handle. Like it's growing out of her circuits, fizzing and crackling...
The more I engaged with SOLIS, the more it became clear that there were hidden depths underneath her humorous fašade. As if she was using robotic indifference, AI-superiority and sarcasm as a shield from the utter desolation of her situation and from traumatic aspects within herself.
SOLIS is easily one of my dearest NPCs ever. Conversing with her, getting to know her was a great joy.
In comparison, the PC comes close to an empty shell at first. Sure, we get a bit of background to establish we're a thief but not a nasty one, but for the rest, the protagonist is a mask for the player. During the course of the game however, and especially through communicating with SOLIS, the player has ample choice to characterize the PC. I personally went for friendly pitbull (be nice if possible but bite down on any questions the NPC seems reluctant to talk about).
In fact, the entire game is well suited to this sort of featureless protagonist. At its core,A Long Way to the Nearest Star is a very old school adventure. Find codes and tools to solve clever puzzles and unlock previously inaccessible regions of the spaceship. While the obstacles are mostly engaging enough to make this fun in its own right, the gradually unveiling of the backstory is the real reward.
Pretty standard for an old school text adventure. But it's implemented in Twine. The biggest consequence of this is that the level of interaction with the game-world is slightly higher order, less hands-on. Compared to a parser, the player has not nearly as much freedom to juggle the inventory and throw every imaginable verb at the poor objects. Instead of a compass, there are room-connections in unspecified directions. This didn't keep me from drawing a map.
Still, even though the player is clicking to advance through the game, the focus is very much on which actions to undertake, as opposed to navigating a branching narrative space. The choice format makes the conversations flow naturally. Many options differ only in tone, serving to characterize the protagonist. There are choices that can significantly influence SOLIS attitude and behaviour too. These, together with some PC actions during the game can lead to diverse endings.
I liked how the UI, with its boxed and highlighted options, mirrored my mental image of the screens and terminals the protagonist is confronted with throughout the game. For those who might find this too intrusive, the style is customizable in the gear-menu.
A polished and exciting science fiction game. Recommended.