Welcome to The Indie Fix, where we delve into the exciting world of indie gaming to have a gander at promising works in progress, weird and wonderful freeware offerings, or recently published games that may have slipped under your radar!
This week I’ve been on the wrong end of a game of cat and mouse with a hostile alien intruder in Outpost 9.
Horror tends to work best when it relies more on a gradual build up of tension and suspense than outright frights. An all too common mistake in many films, games and even books, is leaving too little to the audience’s own creative faculties – sometimes what you imagine for yourself is far scarier than having every gruesome detail being shoved down your throat.
Benjy Bate’s Outpost 9 is a great example of this “less is more” philosophy in action. Heavily inspired by classic sci-fi horror films like Alien and The Thing, it’s a text adventure with minimal graphic elements. Though don’t worry, aside from the occasional door keypad, there’s no typing involved.
It’s set in a mining station on a remote planet. Clearly having not seen the aforementioned movies, the crew were stupid enough to investigate a distress call from a nearby freighter and bring the only survivor back to the base. Now Guinness has been ripped apart by some unseen monstrosity, which continues to prowl the complex. Terrified and defenseless, the rest of the crew have locked themselves away in the upper vents system. Their best hope of survival is to get a message out to the supply ship, which will arrive in 10 days time.
Outpost 9 commences with some ominous John Carpenter-style synths and a screen displaying eight low-res digitised portraits. Guinness’ is conspicuously blank – her status listed as “deceased” and her electrocardiogram disconcertingly flat. “Day One”, the game announces, followed by a fraught exchange between the seven survivors, which patchily fills in the details of what just happened. Your character, Omaha, then bravely volunteers to retrieve the necessary communications device from whatever is left of Guinness.
You nervously head down the ladder into the stale air and darkness of the storage room to begin your search. The whole game is viewed through the scanlines of a green monitor (very 1970/80s sci-fi retrofuture). A flashing circle on a simple schematic indicates your current position. What you can see is conveyed by succinct yet expressive descriptive text, while subtle ambient sounds further hint at the make up of your surroundings.
As you explore the complex courses of action become open to you – such as moving to a new area, examining and picking up objects, and interacting with computers, devices and points of interest. There are also mouse-based mini-games such as fixing a broken circuit board. Ever present on your mind is the sound of your motion tracker – beeping constantly and increasing in frequency and intensity as the alien closes in on you. Can you afford to hang around much longer or is it time to cut a hasty retreat back to the relative safety of the vents?
Despite the simplicity of its elements and its predominantly text-based nature, Outpost 9 is an impressively immersive and engaging experience. There’s a strong sense of claustrophobia and terror, with genuine panic moments when the tracker starts screaming at you – yet the alien is never actually seen or even described to you. It’s hard not to stop thinking about that incredibly tense scene in Alien when Dallas enters the ship’s network of ducts in a doomed attempt to force the creature into an airlock.
There’s also an appreciable build up of suspense, particularly as you begin to learn more about the other characters and what’s been going on the outpost. Some of the crew clearly know far more than they’re letting on and you begin to wonder whether they can be trusted or not.
The demo only lets you play the first day, so it will be interesting to see whether Outpost 9 can keep this up for the duration and how the story will further develop. But it’s certainly a great start.