August 20, 2015 12:00 PM | Joel Couture
There is a lovely calmness to travelling through space - a sense of intense peace in the monochrome void. Still, I've only been seeing it for a few hours, marveling at the strange sights while savoring the soothing darkness. Would I be as appreciative after a year of staring into nothingness? After ten? Fifteen? RymdResa puts us in charge of one such lonely pilot, sharing in their musings as decades slip away and looming celestial bodies promise doom or salvation. For all of its time spent in peaceful thought, though, it can come crashing down in a single, jarring moment. Loneliness is not the void's only cruelty.
In RymdResa, a vast space is open to you to explore, one that is procedurally generated each time you boot it up, casting random planets and discoveries out into the starry skies. Your job varies depending on the chapter you're playing, but you always have to go find some things in space and then retrieve or explore them. The game offers a handy little drone to guide you to mission goals in each of the game's three chapters, but you don't have to go where it tells you. It's a good idea to head toward the goals if you wish to progress the game's main story, but there is so, so much more out there waiting for you than just a new home for humanity.
Hundreds of potential findings can show up as you float through the darkness, from derelict ships to planets to jetfighters piloted by cats (which showed up oddly frequently in my runs). You can choose to explore many of these places with a simple click of the mouse when you pass close enough, but riches and danger can be found in equal supply. These two possibilities created mixed feelings as I played, tinging my curiosity with fear over time. Mostly, bad findings aren't all that terrible or dangerous, but after some catastrophic discoveries that ended decades-long missions, I wasn't so keen on looking around any more.
I started looking at new planets with fear and nervousness, an interesting effect when on a mission of discovery. It's hard to tell what will happen on each planet or location, as even the descriptions get shuffled around, meaning a place that lead to a horrible death one run could turn out much nicer on the next. What happens on these asteroids is generated along with the universe, so even if you recognize a description, the results of looking around may be different. A dead ship contained a virus that killed my pilot on one run, but on the next, there was a hoard of resources and money on-board. This adds some excitement and fear to new discoveries, as you really don't know what you're getting yourself into when you touch down on any given place.
But you need to explore, not just because you're looking for a new home for humanity, but also because your ship doesn't have infinite resources. You have a limited amount of them when you begin, and those resources are eaten up with every second you use your thrusters and every hit you take. The thrusters aren't a big issue as you can send yourself in one direction endlessly with a single push, but it's the comets and other space junk you have to dodge around that causes problems. Impact with these eats up huge amounts of resources, so a single hit can leave you in really bad shape, needing to find a refill fast. That often means landing on whatever planet's closest and exploring, praying you find something helpful. This makes what would otherwise be a peaceful, calm mission into one of extreme danger. It creates a powerful tension in a game without any combat.
You can make your life easier in several ways. For starters, you can choose to fly a different, stronger ship on your next run. The game has eight available ships, but picking anything other than the default costs space points. These are accrued from discoveries you make as you play, again encouraging you hit up the various planets you find in your path. Even if you die, maybe you'll make enough points to be able to fly a better ship on the next run. Instead of unlocking these ships permanently, though, you have to pay their space point cost each time you use them. This seemed annoying at first glance, but you can earn a ton of space points easily if you play well for even a short time. I was able to fly a better ship just about any time I wanted after the first two or three runs.
These ships all have various stat boosts, letting you be tougher, faster, or collect items more easily, allowing you to pick a ship that suits your play style. Personally, I found the ships that increased speed to be a little useless, as there is so much dangerous junk floating out in space that flying faster only meant dying faster. Taking something with more durability or better item retrieval felt was much more useful, allowing me to get tougher or stay alive longer when things started getting really dangerous.
You're going to want to try out each ship at least once, as every shuttle has its own music. This constitutes a single track for each ship, which is something I initially worried about. I was afraid that only having one song per playthrough would get irritating over time, but these tracks stay wonderful throughout. It's amazing to hear a singe five minute song played on loop for hours on end without it getting old, but RymdResa's dreamy, relaxed tunes feel fresh no matter how long you play. That's an incredible musical feat, and one its composers should be very proud of.
Each track carries its own unique personality to suits the ship. The initial ship, the Embla Colonizer, plays a lonely, haunting piano tune as you float through space, fully carrying the melancholy of the pilot on every note. It's almost painfully beautiful in its sorrow, but also carries a tiny hint of hope. Counter to it, the Skadi Cruiser's track is menacing and unrelenting, playing slow notes that convey your newfound power in the stronger ship. Should you hop on board the Ithun Scout, you'll hear a track that oozes 50's sci-fi, as you can tell from the old UFO design of the ship. These tracks give the ships their own feeling, and made me want to use each of them regardless of the gameplay benefits they carried. I just wanted to savor their audio personalities for a little while.
Each ship can pick up its own kinds of equipment as well. Discoveries sometimes drop ship parts as you check them out, and these can be used to make yourself a little tougher or faster. These are also randomly generated, but the effects here are a bit more annoying. Sure, this means you can find something really great based on pure luck, but it also means that you frequently find complete junk for hours on end. I'm not especially lucky, so after putting parts into the initial nodes on each ship, I soon had a hold filled with useless parts. I should have been excited to find each new ship part, but most of the time I was just picking up garbage.
The game makes an attempt to fix this by letting you scrap parts to make new ones, but you have to break down a lot of parts before the game gives you a new one. You can hold a few dozen parts in your inventory, but you have to break down almost half of them before you'll have enough to get something new. Even then, it's not like you're guaranteed to get something great, as I destroyed a bunch of parts just to get another junk part. I'm sure there'll be people who will have much better luck than I had, but for me, this reliance on luck sucked all of the fun out of finding new gear. It got to the point where checking a new part was just a chore that took me away from the exploration.
Your time is much better served by improving your pilot. The pilot gains experience from every year spent flying through space (every year is only a few minutes real time), and also by picking up stars. Grabbing stars is pure fun, as they make this tinkling sound when you pick them up, creating nice little melodies when you get a whole bunch at once. Stars also tend to float in huge groups (sometimes close to deadly, deadly suns) that level you up quickly, and best of all, stars won't randomly kill you like those untrustworthy planets will. It's a lot safer to go for stars, and as such, you get better returns much more quickly.
These come from making your pilot better and smarter. When you level up, you can add points to several categories that help you get better findings, improve your survival abilities, or allow you to use some of the weird technologies that are just floating out in space. You can also unlock powerful abilities every couple of levels that let you gain resources from stars (BEST ABILITY) or others. All of this comes at no risk (unless you fly into a sun), so it's just best to level your pilot. Even if they die, you still get to keep all of that experience, too. It's a bit of a drag that one play style feels so obviously better, though, especially when it steers players away from the planetary discoveries that fuel the game.
Even so, the developers have taken steps to keep you looking at planets as you pass, if only from natural curiosity. Your pilot gives striking descriptions for various locations, describing scenes of horror and beauty depending on what the game has chosen. You never know which it will be, though, so when you see a planet hurtle by, you wonder what the protagonist will say when you click on it. What is he thinking? Even if you don't, you wonder if there's goodies on the surface. Sure, there could be danger, but what if there isn't? After spending time floating in space with nothing around me, every new planet piqued my curiosity. Even if I was afraid of the possible danger there, I was always desperate to know what was there. To hear the protagonist speak. To risk doom just to know.
The dialogue and descriptions are pretty and poetic, capturing the imagination with a handful of words. It's pleasant to be stopped by the character's description of rain, or to hear their musings on life and hope. These moments are short, letting uninterested players jump right back into the action while the protagonist narrates, too. Still, many of these passages are written very well, making it oddly nice to watch the protagonist's steady fall into despair. These snippets of thought really give the player a sense of the mental costs of decades spent alone - of the loneliness that would come from taking this kind of journey. It takes a roguelike ship game where I'm constantly thinking about stats and gives it heart and character, asking me to stop and admire the stark beauty of what's before me every once in a while.
RymdResa has some quirks to its gameplay, but there's still a lot of fun to be had in the stars. Care will need to be taken to keep your pilot alive on their long journey, but curiosity and the thrill of discovery kept pulling me back into the game. With new ships and tasks to keep me interested, it was easy to want to keep playing more. Still, it is much more than its gameplay, as its haunting, lonely soundtrack and vivid, striking descriptions give it a narrative power that sticks with you when the game is over. Despite only seeing some screenshots of a faceless pilot trapped in a space suit and some simplistic ship visuals, you feel you know the character and share in their solitude. Balancing gameplay and emotional investment, it is a game that will make you feel along with the character while also providing a lot of fun jaunts through space.
RymdResa is available for $11.99 on Steam and the Humble Store (with the soundtrack available for $4.00 on Bandcamp). For more information on RymdResa and Morgondag, you can head to the developer's site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, IndieDB, and Twitter.