When we think of space it is so often tied in with science fiction and technology of the future. Games like Adrift, Dead Space, No Man’s Sky and the upcoming Tacoma all concern themselves with futuristic space travel of some sort, leaning on the fiction of what the future might look like. Outreach is a space game which does the exact opposite. The game is set during the cold war and is firmly rooted in history. By staying authentic to the technology of the time and by adding plot points inspired by conspiracy theories surrounding Soviet space travel, Outreach manages to stand out from an increasingly crowded genre.
Recently I played through a 20 minute segment of Outreach which was formed of two distinct levels. The developer immediately explained that at first, moving around the cramped Soviet craft would be tricky but that I would soon get used to it. You see, in Outreach, you can use one button to push off into space and another to stop yourself against walls and such. There are no jetpacks, tethers or fancy guidance systems at play here so caution is key. This tension rears it head the most during sections based outside of the spacecraft. The game tasked me with manoeuvring my way around the outside of the hull to a docked platform. Failing to grasp onto one of the handles resulted in a horrifying and swift death in which the Cosmonaut realises he’s doomed to drift through space until dead.
The game is a thriller at heart inspired by films like The Hunt for Red October. As a Soviet Cosmonaut, the protagonist must work out the mystery of why the craft he is visiting is suddenly vacant. The game is tense as all hell, with radio transmissions crackling through your headset as you traverse the claustrophobic environments.
Speaking to James, one of the developers behind the game, it became clear that this was a passion project intended to tell the story of small men who inadvertently change the world.
“Have you ever heard of Vasili Arkhipov? Well he was a Commander on a Soviet submarine during the Cuban Missle Crisis. You see, in order to launch a nuclear attack, all three Commanders must approve the order. Arkihpov was the lone vote against this action so may have single handedly saved the wrold. It’s these kinds of stories which have inspired the game, definitely”
James went on to add that while Outreach is grounded in history, the team have also taken inspiration from conspiracy theories concerned with Soviet space travel.
“There are certain aspects of the game which owe it to conspiracy theories. One in particular is that the Soviets were working on a spacecraft-based missile system, for destroying satellites and such. Obviously we don’t have access to these plans so instead we based it on a submarine weapons system as both have airlocks”
The attention to detail is obvious throughout. The Spacecraft’s interior has been painstakingly recreated to be as close as possible to the real thing. This extends to the Russian Cyrillic labels on all of the equipment. The soundtrack too, was created using 80’s Soviet synthesizers, which sound amazing by the way. There’s also an option for full Russian voice acting. But with this level of authenticity comes a unique challenge in game design, primarily in showing players what in the world they can interact with. The developers are still working on this issue but the way in which they label lockers, doors and include a camera centring objecting button.
While brief, the demo certainly showed me that Outreach has a lot of potential. It manages to avoid future space game fatigue by taking a different route altogether and grounding itself in the Cold War. It’s the attention to detail and the developers interest in the era that really shines through. It will be interesting to see if the game gets the attention it deserves when it releases later this year but if the demo is anything to go by I predict that it certainly will. You can check out the launch trailer below and stay tuned for more update on Outreach.