Space exploration has been a long-time fascination in video games. Since the 80s, games set in space have been common, if only because rendering space on older gaming tech was insanely easy. These days, we’re no less enamored with space games, as the subject of today’s review, Out There: Oceans of Time, shows us. This title puts you in command of a ship and crew that have been lost to time and must do their best to re-discover their purpose in a foreign galaxy.
Will the game be able to reach new heights, or will it crash and burn on re-entry? There’s only one way to find out.
Out There: Oceans of Time – A Brief History
Out There: Oceans of Time is an indirect sequel to the original game in the franchise, Out There. Both titles are rogue-like games where you must manage your resources as you journey through space, making narrative choices about what to do with various encounters. The key differences with the new game are mostly graphical. Still, you also have the bonus of actually being able to get out on habitable planets and explore them a little, which is an excellent addition to the previous title.
The main thrust of the gameplay consists of managing your resources to ensure that you have enough of everything to get you to your next destination, as well as landing on planets to both gather more resources and resolve various different encounters. Your goal, at least to start with, is to gather up your crew after a rather disastrous mission sees you flung into the far future. Your first goal is to repair a crashed ship so you can use it to get back to your original vessel without running out of fuel or oxygen on the way.
Rogue-Like Elements Abound
Of course, the Rogue-like parts of Out There: Oceans of Time do have to come in somewhere, and that’s in the perma-death mechanics and the way the game generates planets and space in general. If you die in the game, you have to start over right from the beginning of the storyline. That’s all well and good and much to be expected from a rogue-like, but it does cause a bit of an issue at times. The opening tutorial planet is supposed to be skippable on repeated playthroughs, but for some reason, the game will occasionally glitch out and force you to redo it.
Not that things are much better in terms of the planets or galaxy map that the game generates either. Like with many games that rely on random map generation, most places you can visit end up lacking any sort of personality because the game throws together last minute from the same crop of assets. Sure, some planets might have one theme while other planets might have another, but essentially you’re mostly dealing with the same sort of stuff in a bit of a different order. These problems are less noticeable in space where everything is just black void or astral bodies, but it still feels like a game that could have done with some more set-in-stone locations.
Managing Your Resources
If you’re familiar with the resource management system from the previous game, then you’ll find it mostly untouched in Out There; Oceans of Time, at least at a fundamental level. You have a visual representation of your cargo hold that carries all of your various resources and pieces of equipment. Breaking down equipment for more resources is also necessary, as well as using your resources to upgrade and build new equipment. You also need to use resources to produce food and oxygen, as well as to repair your ship’s hull, and keep crew morale high as well.
Each of these previously mentioned resources is necessary for the function of your ship, and if any of them hit 0 then it’s game over. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the way that you get a lot of these resources is down to complete luck. If you’re getting low on fuel, your only recourse is to hope that you find a planet with plenty of fuel to spare before you run out. If not, you’re doomed, and because the layout of planets is completely random, there is no guarantee that you’ll actually find any. This makes 50% of runs through the game just frustrating, while you don’t necessarily feel like you’ve earned the other 50% of runs that actually go well.
Stellar Writing and Visuals
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Out There: Oceans of Time does have some things going for it, mostly in the visual and storyline department. The game looks a treat, with slick visuals that are highly stylized in 3D, rather than the mostly 2D style of the original game. The main attraction is the storyline and the dialogue between the characters. The banter between characters feels relatively natural, which is a shock for what is basically a space opera, and more than that, the characters actually feel like proper characters, rather than randomly generated bots to run your ship for you. That’s quite a feat too, with various alien races to recruit crew from potentially requiring a huge amount of dialogue options buried within the game.
There’s also the overall narrative as well. While it’s certainly not unusual for a sci-fi space opera to be about chasing down a cartoonishly evil villain, the game handles it well. It’s a good example of the sort of storyline that is written and presented in an interesting enough way, that any amount of cliche doesn’t interfere with the story. That said, this is yet another aspect that sort of suffers from the rogue-like and random generation elements. The branching story is fine and all, but since how you experience it changes each time, it’s difficult to even quantify the experience without playing the game 500 times. At the end of the day, how much this is a problem for you depends on your personal level of rogue-like/procedural generation fatigue, but considering how common both of those things are these days, your fatigue is probably plenty high enough already.
Out There: Oceans of Time – In Summary
Overall, Out There: Oceans of Time has a lot of stuff going for it. The writing is top-notch and it looks great, as well as being the sort of game that you can play over and over again while having a technically distinct experience each time. That said, the random nature of success and the universe itself make the experience much more frustrating than it needed to be. If you’re a huge fan of space-exploration titles, or this is one of your first times with the genre, then you’ll almost certainly have a good time. For anyone else, this game feels like it’s treading well-worn ground and not even great visuals and writing will make it feel less tired.