There are plenty of reasons Mass Effect 2 is considered the pinnacle of Bioware’s grand space-faring saga, but who knew a mining mini-game would remain one of its most enduring qualities? For all the suicide missions and inter-species ‘sexy time’, it was the sedate pastime of visiting new planets and surveying each one for resources that kept so many of us coming back for more. It’s impossible to play Out There: Ω The Alliance and not think of Mass Effect 2’s mining escapism, but while the soundtrack may be similar, there’s very little opportunity to relax amid this set of vibrant stars.
Out There: Ω The Alliance is a game that does an incredibly effective job of depicting the desperation, wonder and moment-to-moment danger of travelling through the cosmos. You’re a pilot who was meant to be travelling from Earth to Ganymede, but when you awake from cryo-sleep you discover your ship floating through an entirely unknown corner of the galaxy. A short tutorial later and you’ve salvaged some technology from an abandoned alien space platform and, rather conveniently, acquired the ability to fold space and travel huge distances between systems. Which is nice.
You’re given a brief tour of your ship, but it’s not long before you’re left to explore and eventually make your way home. What you’re left with is an ambient experience that blends resource management, the exploration of randomly-generated portions of space, narrative choices and a roguelike sense of temporal risk. You’ll almost certainly lead your lonely astronaut to his death many times over. Perhaps you’ll perish when you try and gather resources from a star, your hull torn to ribbons by the sheer heat of its radioactive embrace. Maybe you’ll run into a meteor strike and be pummelled to dust. Or, more often than not, you’ll simply run out of fuel or oxygen, your ship now a makeshift tomb.
You never really know what lies beyond the next folding of space, only that it’ll burn a set amount of fuel and use up a certain amount of oxygen. And it’s in that unknown aspect that Out There: Ω The Alliance finds one of its most attractive qualities. You might happen on a random cloud of helium gas and find your fuel tank completely refilled, but you might also encounter hostile alien life and be left for dead. Many of these narrative developments are relayed by a series of text boxes, and while they might be lacking any real animation or voiceover, the strength of their creativity adds to the game’s sense of unknown rather than subtracting from it.
It’s these small pieces of world building that make each run feel unique to itself. On one of our runs, we land on a rocky planet and learn our astronaut is having a gentle walk on a grassy field. There are no signs of life around, that is until he looks down and realises it’s not grass he’s walking on, but miniature aliens who don’t seem particularly happy they’re new visitor has likely killed millions of their kind with a landing and a few wistful steps.
So, do we continue walking in search of resources and perform a quiet genocide, or do we utter a few rushed apologies and take off with a guilty look and a lack of much-needed fuel? Considering every decision you make severely impacts you rest of your adventure, these binary choices will likely test your sense of resolve. You might choose to mine a passing meteor. Doing so good release a ton of Fe (the element used to repair your hull) or it might cause a catastrophic chain reaction that cripples half your ship. There over 350 different story variations, and with four endings to unlock, there’s an impressive amount of replay value on offer.
If you’ve played the likes of FTL: Faster Than Light, Out There: Ω The Alliance’s approach to resource and ship management will be familiar. Your resources and key components are all represented by blocks on a grid. You’ll need to keep your fuel, oxygen and hull topped up and doing so is as easy as dragging resources across the screen or tapping ‘Y’ when prompted. Components such as your drill (used for mining rocky planets) or your probe (for gathering elements from gas giants) can be damaged, and you’ll need to spend resources to keep them working. You can flip between touchscreen and Joy-Con controls in a second, and either version works great (especially in handheld mode).
You might encounter alien cultures along the way, where you’ll get the chance to learn new languages (which new phrases translated every time you meet that specific species) and, eventually, unlock brand new ships which come with their own sizes and characteristics. Add in a crafting system for building new technologies and upgrades when out travelling the cosmos and you’ll soon discover Out There: Ω The Alliance always has something new to show you. With Siddhartha Barnhoorn’s gorgeous soundtrack bubbling in the background, even the unluckiest of runs feels like an odyssey rich with promise. And, if you’ve already played Out There: Ω The Alliance elsewhere, this version comes with three new ships designs, 30 extra story branches and more.
Out There: Ω The Alliance is a roguelike that takes the terrifying prospect of travelling the lonely stars and makes a pulpy comic book adventure of it. Luck and chance are often as important an influence as tactics and knowledge, but with so much to discover (and enough content to warrant multiple playthroughs) this intergalactic adventure will have you humming that iconic mining menu theme tune from Mass Effect 2 in no time.