As someone who’s job it is to know too much about games, I really do appreciate a good surprise, and boy did I get one the other day! I went into Out There Somewhere (or just OTS, for readability’s sake) without too much in the way of prior knowledge about what I was actually in for. So when the game started off with a pretty humdrum scrolling shooter sequence, my first response was “oh no, it’s just another one of these bloody things”. But one impossible (?) boss fight followed by forced crash landing on “Unknown Planet” later, the game revealed to me it’s true colours: it’s a retro styled side scrolling 2D platformer puzzle-ish thingy! To which first response was “great, it’s just another one of *these* bloody things instead” which was soon followed by “yeah, but it’s a pretty damn good one though……”.
Your Portal Gun surrogate on this particular little outing is the also aptly named Teleport Gun. Simply fire off a shot, and wherever that projectile meets a solid object is where you’ll end up appearing. You’ve also got a standard side arm for just wastin’ alien dudes if the mood takes you, but most of the time blasting natives takes a back seat to teleporting your way through Unknown Planet’s intricate platforming challenges. The techniques by which you do so should be intimately familiar with anyone who’s played these kinds of games before; it’s all about controlling your momentum and carefully planing each movement in advance, preferably while not falling into gigantic pits of [GENERIC PLATFORMING HAZARD].
The challenges steadily get ever more complex by throwing gimmicks at you that make progression anything but simple, such as green steams of energy that’ll deflect your teleport shots at 90 degree angles (and likely into something most unpleasant). The game does a really great job of gradually introducing you to each of these facets one at a time, allowing you plenty of opportunity to practice and experiment with them in relatively simple situations rather than throwing you right in at the deep end. However, once that little intro is over and done with, it’s on in a manner somewhat similar to Donkey Kong.
I found the OTS to be fairly harsh mistress right from the get-go, one who often demands you string together chains of various different maneuvers in rapid succession (don’t they all?) in lieu of waving your almost useless health bar goodbye. All this gets even more hectic when the game starts introducing actual enemies into the mix, mainly due to the protagonist’s chronic case of Megamaphobia (an insurmountable fear of shooting a gun upwards, even if your life depends on it). But I feel like that’s all part of what makes OTS really stand out despite it’s slightly pedestrian premise. Each stage feels like it requires a good mix of both cognitive thinking and twitch gaming skills to see them through, where as most of OTS’s colleagues tend to lean heavily towards either camp (e.g. Trine 2 and Super Meat Boy respectively). What’s more, the (mostly) well placed checkpoints and ultra fast respawn speeds ensure that you don’t spend half your time staring at a game over screen instead of gettin’ stuff done.
Don’t come to OTS expecting much of a story to accompany that fancy gameplay though! Beyond the super cheesy Zero Wing inspired opening cutscene and the occasional bout of exposition from the protagonist, storytelling is almost none existent. Well, there’s a few NPC’s here and there you can have a quick chat with I guess, but in most cases all they have to talk about are some basic gameplay hints or bits of irrelevant fluff. The visuals aren’t going to tun many heads either, being pretty much your typical by the numbers 8-bit artwork that we’re all too familiar with in the indie scene. It’s by no means bad looking per se, it just ain’t nothing you haven’t already seen a million times already. The music though, now that’s something! Much like the gameplay itself, the audio is hardly breaking the mold with it’s hipster-bait chiptunes, but let’s just say there’s a good reason the special edition comes with a soundtrack!
While there’s a very small Metroid-esque exploration element going on in OTS, for the most part it’s a straight forward linear experience. You walk into an area, you solve the platforming puzzle, then you move to the next one. That’s pretty much it! There’s no way to go and try a different area for a bit and no upgrades you can grind for to make the game easier. Just to clarify, that’s not something I’m holding against the game in any way; that’d be ridiculous! I mealy want to point out that if your the sort of person who gets stuck easily in platforming games then OTS might not be for you, unless of course you enjoy watching sprites die ad infinitum.
The only truly disappointing experience I had in OTS was the game’s final two stages, which make almost zero use of the teleport-fu you spent the rest of the game honing and instead just revolve around bog standard shootin’ skills. Honestly though, in the grand scheme of things that’s a pretty minor gripe. For me, OTS was a perfectly enjoyable experience that put both my brain and my fingers through their paces; not a bad buy at £3.50. But before you mosey on over to Desura to give it a look, bare in mind it’s relatively short title too – 2 or 3 hours tops – and provides no replay value other than tracking down the deviously hidden collectibles. But that’s no bad thing really; after all, there’s a lot be said for games that don’t overstay their welcome. Stretching the teleport gun mechanic on for too much longer would have put OTS dangerously close to tedium anyway, but as it stands it dose a good job of neither making the player beg for it all to end nor leaving them wanting for more.
Somewhere Out There is available on Desura at £3.50 for the standard version and £4.99 for the “Voskhod” version ( A special edition featuring a Hint Manual and OST).
Excellent level design.
Too much pure combat at the end.