Space can be a lonely place.
The low hum of my ship’s engine confirms the status emblazoned on my helm monitor — everything’s running perfectly. I took an easy contract to deliver some cargo. Same sector, easy money. I check the nav map and see I’m about to hit my first waypoint. The autopilot slowly turns my tub to the left and into a new unexplored sector of space. I glance down at my phone and start reading Twitter, then Instagram. “Man, how does the Rock have the time to be this amazing?” I don’t hear the ship’s proximity alarms. “I should really work out more. I wonder what The Rock’s workout is like?” I glance back up to see my ship heading full speed into the middle of an asteroid field. I curse my momentary lapse of concentration and set about plotting a course out. I just hope my ship will hold together.
That’s what it’s like to play Objects in Space, the long in development Modempunk Space Trading Game from Flat Earth Games. Its roots are well and truly in hardcore RPGs and sci-fi, everything has high stakes, and the stories you’ll tell your friends are likely ones you’ll create yourself. A regular eye catcher at expos like PAX and GCAP, thanks to its ability to support full size, replica spaceship controls, Objects in Space has you traverse its vast open world in ships modelled after WWII submarines. Basically, instead of a glass windshield looking into the endless abyss of space, you’ll do the majority of your flying from behind a wall of monitors, each feeding vital information from one of your ship’s many systems.
A custom-built controller for Objects in Space.
Objects’ story sees you arriving at the Apollo cluster from Earth, your ship badly damaged and 44 years overdue. In your absence, humanity has started colonising the more mineral-rich systems, but it’s tough going. Wars have been fought, governments have risen and collapsed, and the promise of a wormhole travel system between Apollo and Earth has long been abandoned. All of this is set up in the game’s opening tutorial, after which you’re free to decide how best to eke out a living in this brave new world.
Dotted around the many clusters you’ll explore are space stations and colonies, each with terminals offering jobs, licenses, and upgrades for your chosen ship. NPC characters mill about the halls and bars of the bigger stations, some with requests for transport and others with more… shall we say legally grey errands. Instead of a free-roaming, first-person camera, Objects in Space moves you between static Myst-like screens, wherein you can interact with terminals and NPCs.
After carrying out some quick repairs on my battered ship, I get chatting to Scud Delavinci. He needs help setting up the sale of a drug called Sand. Sand was recently made illegal in this particular part of space and Scud has a contact in an adjacent cluster who could help.
Navigating Objects in Space’s expansive universe is intimidatingly complex at first glance, with a massive bank of screens and readouts to monitor as you trek deeper into uncharted territories. But this just adds to the feeling of traversing great expanses of nothingness in a steel tube. You can set waypoints on the nav console and leave everything up to your flight computer, or you can opt for manual control.
Monitoring your progress via an array of screens or through a tiny porthole in the engine room (your only window to the universe outside) is a slow, methodical experience, but thankfully you’re able to speed the passage of time up to 4x speed. Frequently though, the game will pull you out of this “time compression” when your sensors pick up an enemy ship, in order for you to deal with them as you see fit. After I jumped to the Tegra system I was pulled out when my sensors picked up a suspicious red dot heading straight for me.
This early in the game, I didn’t have anything these pirates could steal and I didn’t have anything to fight them with, either. While combat is possible in Objects in Space, during my six or so hours with the game, I’ve never engaged in anything close to a fight. Instead I flipped my ship’s EMCOM switch, which shuts down all non-essential systems, and drifted casually past the red dot on my screen, hoping my now silent ship would fool them into thinking I was just floating debris. It’s a testament to Objects in Space’s role-playing roots that in this moment, I actually held my breath as the enemy ship got closer to mine. As it drifted past and into uncharted space, I fired all engines and sped as quickly as I could to my destination.
Upon finding the contact, we bartered over the price per key of Sand. Branching conversations are part of the game, and I was able to sweet talk my way to 20 credits a key, which would ensure a nice bonus for me when I returned to Scud. On my way out though, a very out-of-place guard caught my attention. I wandered over and to my surprise I was given the option of spilling the beans on the meeting I’d just spent the last hour setting up. I considered it, I mean, surely there’d be a substantial reward. And how would they know it was me?
There’s so much more to Objects in Space than can be summarised here. It’s absolutely not going to be for everyone, but if it sounds intriguing, you can check it out in early access now.
Note: IGN Editor Lucy O’Brien contributed to Objects in Space as a writer.
Dan Crowd is a video editor at IGN Australia. He loves a good sim and will tell you all about it if you bother him on Twitter.