Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Modern Wolf
Developer: Blue Bottle Games


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PC Preview - 'Ostranauts'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 29, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Ostranauts is a simulation of owning and living aboard a spaceship, in a solar system where honest living is a slow death sentence.

Ostranauts is set in the distant future, where Earth is little more than a memory and people eke out living in spaceships and asteroids. It's not a very fun place and is arguably a more realistic depiction of future space living, with an emphasis on crippling debt, struggles to survive, and humanity well on its way to ruining other planets in the solar system. That's the world you're thrown into.

Your goal is to survive and create a thriving spaceship. You start with little more than a barely functional pod and your own history, which is developed by an interactive choose-your-own-adventure write-up where you pick several options from a prompt that grant you a basic set of skills ranging from hacking to punching to seduction. Your ship is always going to start off as the same piece of junk, regardless of your selections.

The major emphasis on Ostranauts is realism. You're not merely piloting a spaceship, but you have to deal with every aspect of it, including rerouting power, figuring out how to keep your crew healthy and safe, dealing with temperature individually and for the ship as a whole, payment, food, putting on and off outfits. In many ways, it's almost a Dwarf Fortress-style game. You need to micromanage every aspect of the spaceship, even when you have crew members to help out.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of this involves the game's interface for directly interacting with objects. You don't merely touch something; instead, you'll see a tremendously complex and intimidating control panel of buttons, knobs, meters, switches, and various blinking lights. Everything is labeled but not perhaps in the most helpful way, which is true to real technology. Some things are just three letters, some have Chinese writing, some are useless until you activate things in the correct fashion. You're even able to unscrew panels and jury-rig things on your own.

In short, it leans very hard into the "simulator" part of spaceship simulator, and this is probably Ostranauts' coolest feature. While it may seem like busywork, the ability to manually do all of these things really contributes to a sense of running a spaceship in a way that I genuinely haven't seen before. Even after playing around with it for a while, I never quite grasped what everything was for, and I suspect that in the final version, you'd likely have to dedicate hundreds of hours to it before becoming a genuine pilot.

The biggest issue with Ostranauts thus far is that its interface crosses the line from enjoyable realism to an unfriendly user interface. Some of this is clearly intentional, as you're dealing with ships that are barely held together. Other parts are just awkward. The act of doing basic things tends to involve about a half-dozen more clicks than necessary, the user interface often had text go off the sides, and pretty much everything was a case of trial and error.

The last seems more intentional than most of the decisions. This is very clearly a game designed with the idea that you are going to poke at it, explore it, share details with friends, and generally use brute force to get through. This isn't necessarily a flaw; I actually like that aspect of the title. "Here is a spaceship, and figure it out" is a perfectly appealing idea. It's when the act of figuring it out becomes a chore that it loses me. Fortunately, Ostranauts is still in the early stages of Early Access, and I am confident these issues will likely be fixed as time progresses, but they can give a poor first impression.

It's still too early to get a real feel for how the final version of Ostranauts will end up, but what we played feels like it has the potential to be something special. While the messy interface doesn't make it fun to play at the moment, the seeds of something great are there, and it's clear that it is more a case of polish and refinement than innate problems with the title. If you're looking for the most realistic spaceship simulator out there, Ostranauts will be exactly what you're looking for. The game is currently in Early Access on Steam and does not have a firm final release date.

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