Out There: Oceans of Time is a hard game to talk about, as it is equal parts ambitious and limited. The game, marketed as the successor to the indie award-winning Out There, attempts to blend multiple elements together to create a sweeping, sci-fi experience unlike anything ever seen. The result is a game that feels at odds with itself at times, being pulled into multiple directions at once.
This doesn’t really shock me when you find out that Out There was developed by two studios and published by another three to get it to market. Thankfully, it avoids being downright terrible, but the question now is how good is Out There really?
A Not So Space Epic
The objective of Out There is simple; find a way to defeat a galactic being known as the Archon, who has taken over the galaxy in the interim years of your own cryosleep after he escaped from your clutches previously. Players will play as commander Nyx, a human captain who must build up a new crew of comrades against the Archon, explore the world for resources, and make her way to victory.
There really is not much to the narrative of Out There outside of this premise. It follows a fairly stock standard adventure story, where a band of misfits tries to survive in a larger world; think a more survivalist take on Star Wars but without bipedal aliens. Part of the issue for me was how the narrative butted heads with the gameplay; Out There is trying to be a more straightforward space opera but doesn’t offer too much in the way of choice. There is a consequence to actions for sure, but that emerges from the gameplay over the storyline in most instances.
The roguelike design can’t hold the more linear storyline together, and that becomes a problem in the early goings of the game. Out There starts, for example, by guiding you towards your former ship, now floating somewhere in space, you then need to make your way to a homeworld some light-years away, before the mission objectives begin to open up and progress the storyline. A lot of this feels very tacked on, the galaxy is pretty large, with plenty of planets to hop on, yet the early stages don’t encourage much exploration or experimentation for the player at all.
This is also exacerbated by the procedurally generated world. Sometimes finding a specific character or location on a randomly generated planet relies too heavily on RNG, which in turn burns through your resources faster than a player might like. Out There compensates by giving you a type of planet to discover (one of four types is available) but this can cost time and resources that the player may not be able to afford, especially if they are just trying to follow markers to push the story along.
Strange Tales and Hard Science
The narrative falls flat for me in the end, but the game’s overall design does pick up the slack a bit. I am a huge fan, for example, of the more abstract and unusual alien creatures you can meet and recruit; you have floating crystalline rock beings, egg-sized monsters with a beady head, giant pink-colored creatures with massive, blue eyes; every alien avoid the ‘rubber forehead’ trope you would expect from Star Trek and truly gives an impression of something strange and unique.
Mi-Clos Studio definitely injected some hard science into the game, from planet names to the actual trajectory of light in space; we see a semblance of realism on display to sell the galaxy as a plausible one. Even the more sci-fi concepts have some unique characteristics to them, from the explanation of technology to help players in exploring the galaxy, to how they justify alien physiology and alien energy systems. In this respect, Out There is a well-thought-out experience, one that truly didn’t need a narrative to follow to make it shine.
If there is one issue with these concepts it is how it relies heavily on the script to describe everything to you. A lot of your interactions with alien species and beings transform into an info dump to explain their physiology or ecology. Normally I don’t mind this, but it does get tedious when a half-dozen or so exposition scenes occur in a row, some of which really only serve the purpose of re-iterating what was said previously. The ideas behind the sci-fi are great. The explanation of them could be a bit more polished or subtle.
Much of your playtime with Out There will be hopping stars and gathering resources anyway. There are four major planet biomes that you can interact with, a city planet for trade and commerce, rock-based planets for minerals, gaseous giants for fuel, and plant-based planets for oxygen. Players need to track and watch their resources, as they constantly deplete every time they travel to and from a planet or a solar system.
Survival of the Fittest
In true survival fashion, space and resources can be severely limited in the early goings of the game. Your ship’s interiors are modular at least, but it will cost resources to change a space or add an upgrade to your vessel. Some upgrades just give you better-living conditions, which in turn increase your morale, another tracked resource that can greatly affect your crew if you are not careful. Others can help you create new usable resources, find them through probes or drills, or simply allow you to hop through the galaxy.
The real meat of the game is basically inventory management and survival needs. As a roguelike, everything is basically random in some respects, so planning ahead for the worst-case scenario is often the only way to survive. Sacrificing the remainder of your fuel, for example, to land on a planet where you have a chance to barter with local aliens for more fuel might be your best bet, as no gas planets are around for you to probe.
These make-or-break choices are where Out There is at its strongest, although it does feel like deja vu each time you make a run. Planet biomes are more or less the same, even if they skin different rock and fungus formations on top of them. You have a small, hex-based slice to explore, and most of the time you are simply moving space by space, trying to avoid hazards and using your crew’s special abilities to gather unique resources, items, or intel. Crew members do level up and gain more health and abilities, but they are all relegated to one of three basic character classes when it comes to using abilities.
Exploring planets for extra rewards is necessary, but much like gathering resources, pretty plain in its presentation. Mechanically the game is solid enough, but the amount of variety feels pretty slight in the wake of the game’s presentation. It’s not visually interesting and lacks a lot of character or real need to explore a planet. You ultimately do it because you have to, not because you want to, and even then it’s for rewarding the player a chance to stay alive longer, versus satisfying their curiosity.
A Universe of Limited Potential | Final Thoughts
This is a missed opportunity for me. A game like Out There is solid in its mechanics with a few minor issues, but ultimately fails to stand out because it lacks character. Attempts to provide character and context are there, but they feel clinically distant and, as stated earlier, are tucked away into bouts of exposition. I just simply didn’t care about why I was going from planet to planet to stop the Archon, and that is a big problem for a game like this.
Out There: Oceans of Time is a game where if you engage it purely on its gameplay, it works well enough. There will be times when it becomes a very mechanical gameplay loop, but there is enough here to satisfy a roguelike fan. The promise of a rich world beyond the stars however feels incredibly distant, and ultimately makes the entire experience a very unremarkable one.
TechRaptor reviewed Out There: Oceans of Time on the PC with a copy provided by the publisher.