Lacuna Passage is a soon to be released survival simulator set on the little red planet of our solar system, Mars, by Random Seed Games. You wake up in a landing pod, with no back story to say where you are, where you came from or why you are there, get told to check your equipment and are promptly sent out to explore the planet. Mars has been semi-colonised, with no real means of supporting a long-term colony, and indeed, no colonists on the Martian soil. But there are signs that there were. You venture between habitat to habitat, monitoring your vitals, looking for randomised landmarks and searching for purpose.
The game is beautifully rendered, with stunning vistas of the hazy red terrain, which goes from flat sand/soil, to rocky low mountains. What is even more incredible is that all of this terrain is real! The developers used details from the HiRISE project and painstakingly recreated 25 square miles of Mars’ desolate terrain for you to explore. In their own words: ‘this is as close as you can get to visiting the true Red Planet.’ Although I will point out that there are no structures of human creation on the planet currently, but I think we can give the creators some artistic license. Along with the stunning scenery is the simple yet effective UI you use, which tells you everything you need to know about your location and the suits condition. This carries on to the handheld tablets UI, which is once again visually pleasing, if a little difficult to use. After more than 3 hours I still found myself hitting more natural keys I would prefer to use, but I suppose that would pass eventually.
The actual survival aspect of the game is very detailed too, with a large number of real health metrics to monitor from your tablet such as blood glucose levels, heart rate, caloric intake, and more. On top of this is monitoring the ‘health’ of the habitats, where any critical failure in one of four systems (electricity, water, oxygen and heat) can lead to your death, which requires maintenance, such as replacing fuses, crafting new solar panels and rewiring to name a few.
So far, the game is an absolute treat, however I fear that this does not continue past the first hour of gameplay. The interesting scenery quickly becomes dull and repetitive, spending more time looking at your pad as you walk or just spaced out (if you’ll pardon the pun) walking from A to B. And you better get used to doing that. Walking seems to be something they are very keen on, and I found myself holding down the W key for 10 minutes at a time without any alterations in course.
At the time of writing the game will be released without a story mode, with sandbox mode available. However, sandbox mode is, frankly, boring. I am sure there are lots of people where the purest form of survival, i.e. you vs the element, sounds very appealing, but to me, not having an objective other than to see how long you can survive for (which you could maximise by simply not moving about much and conserving supplies) is dull. Not having any background story, any objectives except finding landmarks and more supplies, not being able to have any impact on your surroundings except changing solar panels and fuses, or really having any effect on your game made this in my opinion, a bad game. I felt like I was watching rather than interacting.
Really the game could be saved with story mode, the sense of purpose in an otherwise ‘point and click’ adventure.
The game is not irredeemable, with a few minor changes the game could be enjoyable. The big one is purpose, my current suggestion would be to add horticulture or some other means to create sustainable food and water to elongate survival. An overhaul of the tedious micromanagement, which took me roughly an hour to understand in total the different effects it would have. The argument against hand-holding guidance is that the developers want you to survive off your own back, but surely a person who has been sent to the planet would have the necessary knowledge to be able to justify tooltips. A minor one is the sprint mechanic, make it longer or make the buggy repairable, the insane amount of walking you have to do sucks the fun out of it. A big one is the silence, or would be silence if you didn’t have to listen to the female protagonists breathing constantly. Apart from short bursts of music when you arrive at a landmark, you walk around listening to her breath, which drove me up the wall!
A difference in the purpose of the different habitats could make it more interesting too, along with perhaps modifications inside to make it feel more like your own, as currently they feel like a copy and paste with a bit of a reshuffle inside.
If you enjoy rough, tough, realistic survival without NPC’s, or enemies, then this is the game for you. But if you are looking for an ARK, Rust or Osiris style survival game, I suggest looking elsewhere.