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Looting the Nostromo, December 9, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
You’re a space scavenger, see? And it’s slim pickins, behind Mercury. Lucky day! A hulk ambles by, and you have salvage rights! What about your life, that parked you apparently alone, behind the most inhospitable planet in the solar system, with maaaybe enough fuel not to plunge into the fiery core of the sun but maybe not… what about that life suggests ‘good’ and ‘luck’ belong anywhere near each other for you?
It’s a parser game. Not really puzzles or narrative, more like collect as many objects as you can until your nerve breaks and you run back to your ship. (Spoiler - click to show)Cause the salvage hulk is overrun by Aliens. Yup. THOSE Aliens. There’s some writing concerns early on: you encounter a person split in half, guts everywhere, that is also described as a skeleton. A skeleton with guts? Elsewhere an observation window is ‘scared’ when it was probably actually ‘scarred’ but these lapses are infrequent. In general, the descriptive text isn’t trying much, and so succeeds at its relatively low bar. I chafed a little at the endless description of smoke and orange light. Maybe there was a subtle hint in that? It didn’t vary enough to be interesting, nor did its density or brightness seem to affect gameplay in any way, and typically had more words describing it than the rest of the room and its contents. Which are pretty spartan affairs. There’s not a lot to poke into or rummage, mostly there either is or isn’t a salvage item, move to next room. I thought there might be a ‘fall into the sun’ timer at play early on, but that never really materialized.
I did appreciate the maps. The layout wasn’t complicated really, but having the maps definitely kept things clearly oriented. You are periodically (Spoiler - click to show)attacked by an Alien. At least for me, I was never really without something to (Spoiler - click to show)fend it off. It wasn’t completely clear if the events were narratively driven based on what I had collected, on rails where I could conceivably figure out a pattern, or random. This would be an important gameplay consideration, as your (Spoiler - click to show)weapons had the unfortunate habit of being limited-use. I suppose an attentive player could try to figure that out.
The game makes a deliberate choice not to share its stakes with you: there is some importance put on finding ENOUGH salvagables to keep flying, but there is no feedback as you are collecting to know how close/far you are from that goal. So you are (Spoiler - click to show)being hunted in a hostile craft with no clear idea where events will happen, and whether you have the wherewithall to deal with it; collecting items you have no idea either their value or when you have exhausted the supply. It’s really a big game of ‘press your luck’ without knowing either how lucky you might be, or when you can stop. Certainly over multiple games you could probably suss that out, but neither the gameplay nor narrative seemed compelling enough to warrant that. I got out with some pocket money, and importantly, was neither shredded to pieces, nor had space worms impregnate me. I took the win!
Playtime: 30min, $adj855
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Mostly Seamless
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless