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Lacuna Passage First Look

“What the hell am I doing here?”, I found myself asking after I’d made another day long round trip from my home, 'Habitat Alpha', in my continuing efforts to locate something, anything, on the dusty, red expanse of Mars.

No, I’m not slogging my way through another attempt at trying to find reasons to love 'No Man’s Sky' (and failing). I’m cracking open Random Seed’s Kickstarter project, 'Lacuna Passage'.
The premise behind 'Lacuna Passage' is pretty simple: you’re stuck on Mars and you need to find a way to survive. Playing prior to its release, we were limited to exploring the Survival Sandbox mode, but a future update promises a story mode where you’ll play as the only survivor of the first manned mission to Mars, attempting to find out what has happened.

Check out the prologue trailer here. 

But, sticking to what we could get our hands on, and having awoken in a crashed escape pod, we stumble into a world where time and energy are not your friends.
Bored of walking? That’s fine, but run at your own peril as you see your oxygen levels quickly deplete with every step.

Fed up of stumbling about in the dark? Well get used to it, because keeping your headlamp on will quickly run down the battery charge in your suit.

'Lacuna Passage' is billed as a realistic Mars survival simulation, inspired by NASA’s Curiosity rover, and using real NASA satellite data to create 25 square miles of explorable terrain. Given I’ve never been to Mars, nor ever trained as an astronaut, it’s tricky to call them on that claim one way or another. But look at it through the lens of a space game that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, scares or aliens to make it what it is, and you have to conclude that they’ve succeeded.

There’s a brutality to constantly having to check your habitat’s life support equipment and carrying out repairs while balancing this with the need to find something more out there. And when you’ve finally dragged yourself away from making sure you’ve got a home to come back to, you’re always weighing up when you need to start heading back, whether you’ve found anything or not.

There’s an urgency to everything you do. And though that might mean you don’t have the time to stop and stare, eating in the desolate, yet impressive, landscape, the nature of your mission is never far from your mind.

Undeniably there is plenty to enjoy about 'Lacuna Passage', but the distinct lack of purpose that runs throughout the Sandbox Survival mode means that after the first few hours of gameplay, the lack of narrative really starts to irk. 

There’s seemingly no escape from the red planet. And while walking around in the dust is novel at first, it does get a bit, well, boring.

Running daily checks on equipment and stores, making sure you’ve eaten your breakfast and had a drink, planning your next hike (sans friends) and all the while wondering whether you’re going to stumble across something, anything, that will change things up a bit. It all begins to rankle.

The sense of isolation becomes quite intense. There’s none of the usual dialogue from a narrator and no NPCs and plot characters to interact with. There’s nothing. If I had to compare it to something, it would be 'Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture'.

Without a storyline, there’s only so much that you can love about this game. It’s hard to buy into why you should care about your character’s survival, outside of the time you’ve put in doing the menial tasks to try and keep them living for just one more day.

Ultimately, adding a narrative thread into the game via the Story mode is going to go a huge way to giving Lacuna Passage greater shelf-life with gamers, and I can’t wait to see how that helps to develop the experience. Just watching the prologue trailer adds more depth and context to the peril you’ve found yourself in, trapped on a planet and a long way from home.

Credit where credit is due though; Lacuna Passage has all the basics down for a great game, and more than that, it offers a unique experience that asks you to do more than just run, shoot and move on. It asks you to survive.

 Lacuna Passage launches on Steam Early Access on May 17th.

Check out 'Lacuna Passage' on Kickstarter

Gareth Jenkins

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