Game makers are very generous. If you so desire, you can get just about everything you want about a game before it is released. Fifteen minutes of gameplay on Youtube? No problem. Generous demo? Done. The bounty of material before a game's release rides right along side the disappearing history of gaming. So much pre-release info, but ultimately, so little.
With that in mind and having recently resigned from an online retailer I had been with since the 2000 bubble I went in search of a game I knew nothing about. Even these days, for me, I figured that it wouldn't be too difficult to do as I rarely keep up with the gaming PR press (which is almost all of it) outside of dropping in on Polygon or Gamasutra but alas, I was wrong. At first glance it seemed as if I've gotten bits and pieces of just about everything in the popular console market.
Armed with the motivation to sink my teeth into something new I found Lifeless Planet. A self described "old school science fiction game" by David Board and Stage 2 Studios and scored by Rich Douglas about an astronaut that crash lands on a distant world.
Turns out it was right up my alley. Outside the fact that it quenched my thirst for an unknown-to-me game, the game itself lent itself to mystery. By design, creator David Board clues you into little other than your character's sparse inner monologue and the notes he occasionally finds along the way.
After starting, things happened quick for me. After 10 minutes of impressive artwork, design, style and moving music, I was hooked. A little further along I was done running through the list of obvious science fiction movies this game felt like (a game achieving a "feel" is an amazing achievement, in and of itself) and started slowing down my forward movement because I wanted to stay in this place for as long as I could instead of powering through to the next thing.
Early on I was overwhelmed by how much the game captured the atmosphere in beginning of Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 Planet of the Apes except here you are the main character. No instructions and given no direction. Just empty space as far as you can see. The game, refreshingly, lets you figure it the rules without being demanding or treating you like an idiot.
As you explore, the game maintains a level of consistent amazement. The environment never disappoints and the tension, narrative and feel of the game is never broken. It's a slow burn affair that pulls back from overarching crescendos and never dips too terribly far into the loneliness and despair that comes with any form of art set in space.
Playing Lifeless Planet is similar to sight reading a wonderful piece of music. I don't want to draw too many similarities to it, but Thatgamecompany's Journey comes to mind in this way. No complicated set of button mashing or learning a complicated set of weapons and tools to be had here - and rarely even times where you couldn't progress at your own pace. All of which adds up to a game that might seem flat and tension free, but it is anything but.
Lifeless Planet is one of those rare games that allow you to fill in many blanks yourself before it ultimately starts filling them for you. For me, personally, it couldn't have been more satisfying in this way because the discovery process is similar to what I'm going through in my life now.
We shared a moment, Lifeless Planet and I. What's around the next corner is unknown and exciting - but I'm not in much of a hurry to get there.