Back on Track, and Off to the Moon

So yesterday was a bit of an anomaly. I was persistently angry with myself, mostly because I was angry, so it was a never-ending cycle. Today I woke up with the same feeling but was much better at dealing with it, and the feeling of being angry with myself passed very quickly. In fact, the weird dreams that I was having stuck around longer than the feeling of being angry. Other than that little morning blip, today’s been great.

Today I’ve been experimenting with a new-to-me game on Steam called Moonbase Alpha. (The game came out in 2010.) It’s the year 2025 and NASA has returned to the moon to establish a base on the south pole. It’s going well and expansions to the base are planned. However, as you’re off doing something on the lunar surface, a meteorite strikes somewhere close to the base, damaging key components of the life support system, and it’s up to you and your team to fix it.

Anywhere from one to six people can play the game, in either Competitive Mode or Freeplay Mode. Competitive Mode sets a timer for you to have to complete all tasks necessary to make life support operational again or you fail the mission, whereas Freeplay eliminates the timer for you to more leisurely carry out your objectives. Several tools are used in the process of fixing the life support system, and you can only carry one at a time, dropping one on the lunar surface in favor of another. In addition, the robots that you need to carry out certain tasks are limited by their battery life, so you’ll need to work quickly to resolve the situations that they’re necessary for. There are three maps, one for one to two players, one for three to four, and one for five to six. Each progressively larger map has more objectives to achieve, and part of the challenge (especially in Competitive Mode) is to most efficiently split objectives between team members and work quickly. Most repair objectives offer a minigame where you have to solder circuits together (essentially you’re tracing lines within borders without leaving the border, all while trying to beat a timer) to shave time off your repair cycle. Some items only need light repair, some could require heavy repair or may be outright destroyed, in which case you need to find a replacement part (oftentimes replacing the part if it is heavily damaged will save time too). Once the system is completely repaired, it will take some time for the living quarters to replenish with oxygen, and once the meter’s at 100%, the game is over and your time at completion is recorded.

If you are playing by yourself, I strongly, highly recommend that you play in Freeplay Mode, especially your first time through. Granted, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was playing it by ear a lot, but it took me just shy of an hour to completely repair the system and replenish the living quarters with oxygen. Competitive Mode gives you 25 minutes, and I don’t see even the most efficient execution of the game, complete with winning every minigame, cutting that much time off your mission. Competitive Mode also allows you to upload your scores to the leaderboard on Steam, so if that’s not that big of a deal for you, Freeplay is where you want to go.

Gameplay is very well-designed to be accurate to lunar conditions, and while the repairs are simplified to clicking your mouse and playing the minigames while the timer counts down, it still gives an adequate feel of complexity. NASA’s logo appears liberally throughout the game, and it’s intimated that the agency was involved in its development.

While I’ve only played this in solo mode, it’s my understanding that chat between teammates is converted from text to speech, and many reviewers of the game have commented on how much fun it was to play with this aspect of the game.

The game is free-to-play and only takes us just over a gigabyte of space on your hard drive. The graphics are pretty good for 2010, and the game can be played in either fullscreen or windowed modes.

I had fun with it, and maybe you will too. My only concern is that as a primarily solo player, there’s only the one scenario to play, and once you’ve got that down to a science, the challenge of the game is pretty much gone. I plan on playing it multiple times to see how much I can reduce my time, but I’ll be playing in Freeplay Mode to avoid the very constrictive 25 minute timer in Competitive Mode. If it seems that I can get my time close to that point in Freeplay Mode, then I might switch to see if I can do it in Competitive, but that’s not going to be happening any time soon. I also want to try multiplayer to see how that adds a new facet to play.

Anyway, that’s your unsolicited game review for the day. Back to the usual stuff in tomorrow’s post, most likely.


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