I’m tired, starving, alone and have five bullets left in my clip. I came onto this bloody ship because I needed a spanner to help build some doohicky that the stupid A.I. wants so we can escape this damn nebula. To be honest, I don’t even want to escape. Why would I? I’m just another expendable prisoner. Oh well, it’s better than death I suppose. If I can just make it to the supply cache, past the dozen or so enemies and back to the S.T.E.V., everything will be sunshine and rainbows. I take one step around the corner and a ‘tourist’ goes nuclear on me. That’s it, dead, done. I fall to the floor, my mechanised backpack detaches itself and flies back to the Void Ark.
Ok, let’s wake up another prisoner from cryo and start the search again.
You’ll find yourself doing this a lot but the sooner you realise this isn’t just an FPS, the better you will be at getting around and getting the stuff you need to escape from the Sargasso Nebula. The Void Ark, which is controlled by an A.I. called B.A.C.S., has broken down and decides to wake up a single prisoner and send it to other derelict vessels in order to salvage parts in order to get out of the Nebula.
The funny thing is, all you need to do is to switch on the FLT (Faster Than Light) drive. Sounds simple, but this requires the use of a citizen card to give authorisation and as you are a prisoner, you don’t have one. So the search begins for a printer, of all things, so you can falsify a new card and turn the FTL back on.
Of course, the task isn’t as easy and before you know it, you are having to jump through various hoops in order to actually get the damn thing working. It was a parody intended by Blue Manchu of that feeling you get when you are trying to do your taxes between two departments and your address isn’t correct, so they keep bouncing you back and forth with more caveats every time.
As mentioned previously, dying isn’t the end of your run. When a prisoner is brutally murdered, the A.I. just wakes up another to take their place. Each prisoner is randomly generated with traits that can either help or hinder your progress through the various ships. The first prisoner I took control of, for instance, had the ‘smoker’ trait, meaning every now and then, I would let out a loud cough which can alert nearby enemies to your location.
These traits can be messed with however which is nice, through the use of gene altering machines on certain ships. My first prisoner ditched that smoker trait as soon as possible and gained the ability to automatically open locked doors on approach, which made the eventual loss of my prisoner feel like a terrible loss. Oh well, on to the next one.
It’s probably the only real roguelike element to this game aside from the nebula itself. Ships that you explore all have set layouts but the enemies inside are randomised as is the loot. The difficulty of said enemies increases as you get deeper into the nebula (of which there are five depths) but the one constant remains, the Screws are always hard and should be avoided. The game even tells you this at the start. Just don’t bother. They will destroy you. It serves as a nice reminder that you don’t actually need to engage every enemy. It’s all about being savvy and managing your resources correctly, including ammo for your guns, making avoiding enemies a sound tactic.
Although shooting bad guys can be entertaining considering the bevy of guns available. You start of with a simple pistol but as you progress through, loot you find can be built into many wonderful contraptions. The Spiker, for instance, shoots poison needles at your opponent which damages them over time. Then there’s the Kittybot, which runs around distracting enemies while you make your escape. Later, the weapons get sillier. One such weapon is called the Clusterflak, which shoots a grenade that explodes into loads of smaller grenades, making for some heavy carnage.
All these are made on your ships trusty workbench where you utilise parts you find to make weapons, armour and other items to aid you. Oxygen tanks, for instance, can be upgraded so you can spend more time on derelict ships before having to scarper to the exit. The main things you should be aiming to build though are the action items so you can escape the nebula altogether.
The resources needed are clearly marked on the galaxy map so it up to you to make the correct moves to get to them. As backward travel is not permitted, once you’ve made your choice of how to move forward, that’s it. Flying between ships costs fuel and food so as you are making choices on where to go, you need to keep in mind what these ships will offer. Some will be rich in fuel and provide a large cache for the taking but, may be populated with some nasty enemies. It’s all part of the strategy and it never feels unfair. Correct decision making will be rewarded.
Taking inspiration from 2000 AD comics, everything looks bloody beautiful. Cut scenes are displayed in comic panels and the actual gameplay is wonderfully animated. The voice acting is spot on too with all the enemies having seeming normal British accents, chatting between themselves. I was hiding around a corner and I swear I heard one of them say ‘Barbra, where’s my pen?’ – it was hilarious. Then, I got spotted by one of the Juve enemies and he called me a knobhead in a Liverpudlian accent. I was crying with laughter. B.A.C.S.’s voice you may recognise as the narrator from The Stanley Parable and does an equally fantastic job here as the soulless A.I. who is willing to sacrifice prisoner after prisoner to get out of the nebula.