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Review: Lifeless Moon – Movies Games and Tech

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At 10:56 PM on July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong put the first human foot on the moon. With over half a billion people watching, he climbs down the ladder and utters the famous and oft-misquoted phrase, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. The jury is still out, though, whether he then looked up and said, ‘Wait, is that a diner?’ Well, that’s what I said when playing Lifeless Moon anyway.

The moon is rather fertile ground for video games, which is slightly ironic I suppose. No matter how many feet have climbed down lunar ladders, it’s always been a mysterious and, for lack of a better word, otherworldly place. Equal parts fascinating and horrifying. Lifeless Moon leans into that pretty well. While it has a lot of issues with its gameplay, the one thing Lifeless Moon gets right is the atmosphere. I promise I’m not doing this on purpose.

The Eagle Has Landed

Lifeless Moon opens with a pair of astronauts landing on the moon. In normal circumstances, a monumentous occasion. Time to leave some footprints; play some golf. This ritual is ruined by a portal opening, which they venture through, whisking them off somewhere else. That’s where the aforementioned diner comes into play. This gives way to places like a cabin in the woods or a giant, fragmented city. Through it all, we feel like a little tiny figure strutting through it all, putting the pieces together of what happened to pull all this stuff together. Lifeless Moon pulls the rug out from under you early on, allowing it to sink into the wonderful realms of bizarre.

What this creates is a wonderful atmosphere. After all, as Buzz Aldrin put it, the moon is ‘magnificient desolation’. It is full of broken, dusty landscapes which Lifeless Moon contrasts against the bright buildings and, later, the colourful landscapes. It remains eerie throughout, always brushing up against horror – save for one scene that pushes straight past it. I’ll say it features a man in a flight jacket and leave it there. The story that unfolds around this atmosphere is interesting too, as it slowly pieces together why this world is like it is. You’ll likely get most of your enjoyment from just tramping around, bathing in the weird things happening around you. I imagine it’s not for everyone, but I found myself quite engaged.

That’s No Moon

I like Lifeless Moon a lot when it’s trying to tell me an interesting story and show me an interesting world to tramp about in. I like it a lot less when it remembers it’s a game. Now, it’s worth remembering that we’re in an EMU suit. They aren’t known for being easy to skip around the glades in. Platforming was an awkward choice then but the broken landscapes give us a lot of opportunities for hopping around. It’s not bad, just a little uninspired. Once we jump, we’re locked into that course, making for a few annoying jumps. The lack of a shadow also makes it hard to judge distance. Those could be surmountable problems if there was any real challenge to overcome, but it’s usually just easy, obvious paths. The jetpack is a nice touch, but suffers from the same issue.

It’s a similar story with the puzzles. There’s some promise in the premise. To get to different worlds, we need to activate portals. To do that, we’ll be locating green stones, tuning beams of light and aiming lasers. There are even little investigation sections where we grab clues and arrange parts on a table. The issue is that it’s just busywork. The puzzles take no thinking to solve, you just push a few buttons and it’s done. The cursor during investigation sections only reacts to important bits and ignores everything else. Lifeless Moon is absolutely crying out for some sort of central gameplay mechanic to orbit around, beyond slowly strolling forward.

Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

And then it’s over. Lifeless Moon starts trying to ramp things up with the gameplay but after three and a half hours, it’s all over. It smacks a little of missed potential. The worlds here are ripe for exploration (admittedly, difficult with the slow EMU suit). There’s some – you can find some old bones or rocks – but it all feels a bit linear. When the plot started making moves towards the power of imagination, I was looking forward to seeing the world put through its paces. It wasn’t, outside a brief, promising section in the city. It’s weird and interesting, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t quite tie it together with the medium.

I think I like it because it reminds me of something like The Twilight Zone. It has that right level of strangeness, that grounds itself around protagonists who are as confused as we are. The difference is that The Twilight Zone is a TV show, but Lifeless Moon attempts to bring that to a video game. In terms of world and atmosphere, it’s a roaring success. It’s just unfortunate that the game part is so insubstantial.

(Lifeless Moon’s Steam Page)


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