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Deliver Us The Moon - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Rocket launch sequence
  • Zero-G gameplay
  • Atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and vulnerability
  • Character moments
  • Stark warning of deferring action against climate change
  • Packs a variety of content into its short play-time

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Performance problems on PS5
  • Late game stealth setpiece
  • Camera sensitivity too low
  • Bleak and exaggerated depiction of Earth's climate in near future
  • No VR support

Overall Impression : C
Performance and stability problems undercut
an otherwise solid sci-fi mystery

Deliver Us The Moon - cover

Developer:
KeokeN Interactive

Platforms:
PC (via Steam, Epic, or GoG),
PlayStation 4 | 5 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox One | X | S (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $25 USD

Original release date:
19 October 2019 (PC) | 24 April 2020 (PS4, XBox One) | 1 June 2022 (PS5, XBox X|S)

Genre:
Science fiction adventure puzzler

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
4 or 5 hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
fantasy violence, mild blood

Official site:
www.deliverusthemoon.com/

It's really nice to be seeing more pure science fiction games. Not sci-fi action games like Mass Effect or sci-fi horror games like Prey, in which the sci-fi is just incidental set dressing. But actual science fiction games that explore the human condition as it relates to our advancing technology and understanding of the universe. Games like Outer Wilds, Tacoma, Silicon Dreams, Event [0], and others have been a nice distraction from shooting endless hordes of zombies, demons, and robots.

This is especially true considering that most sci-fi movies and TV shows are more action-heavy and less cerebral. While a movie like Arrival or The Martian comes around every few years and totally blows me away, the days of movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are long gone. Even my beloved Star Trek is trying too hard to look and feel like Star Wars, instead of embracing the low-budget stories and techno-babble that helped make The Next Generation so beloved.

Well, the indie gaming sphere has been pumping out new sci-fi games pretty reliably over the past few years. But they can't all be gems like Outer Wilds. Most are pretty mediocre. Deliver Us The Moon has the potential to be a real gem, but it is held back by poor technical performance (on the PS5) and a final chapter that dragged on and had me more frustrated than contemplative.

The basic concept is that, in the coming decades, humans discover a new isotope of helium on the moon. This isotope is a potent energy source that is mined and processed on the moon, and beamed back to the Earth to supply almost all of humanity's energy needs. However, after years of successful operation (and after humans on Earth have become dependent on the cheap, abundant moon power), the moon colony suddenly shuts down with no word or warning as to why. After years of silence and darkness, our playable character is launched to the moon to figure out why the energy stopped flowing, and to hopefully turn it back on.

In space, no one can hear the game crash

Right off the bat, I was annoyed by the camera controls. Within 10 minutes or so of starting Deliver Us The Moon, I had to go into the settings to increase the camera's sensitivity on the X-axis. Even after doing this, rotating the camera still felt sluggish. I'm not sure how much of this is deliberate. An astronaut in a space suit should feel a bit clunky to move around. But movement and camera panning are different things, and I don't know if clunky movement for an astronaut should translate to sluggish movement by the camera. This wasn't helped by the fact that quickly panning the camera often caused the framerate to stutter (which may also have been a reason for the slow default camera speed).

Earth will be largely without electricity unless we can restore the moon colony.

I was surprised and disappointed by how poorly Deliver Us The Moon performs on the PS5, especially considering that it's a pretty small game that mostly takes place in the confines of a small moon base. It's not like it's rendering a massive open world, or computing enemy pathfinding, or combat A.I., or supporting dozens of players in multiplayer. Yet the framerate is constantly dropping while just walking around the station.

In one case, I walked around a desk to check if the computer had any open emails that I could read, the game just crashed completely. It autosaves frequently, so I only lost a minute or 2 of progress. But still, why does such a simple little game have such horrendous performance problems on a "next-gen" console? I don't know if the PC or XBox versions are this bad, but regardless of which platform you play on, be prepared for crashed, freezes, and framerate drops.

We have liftoff!

When Deliver Us The Moon isn't crashing or stuttering, the gameplay varies from bog-standard walking sim stuff to really awesome setpieces. Most of the cool stuff, however, is front-loaded. There's an awesome rocket launch sequence that requires the player to flip a bunch of switches in a specific sequence in order to launch the rocket. And I also enjoyed the zero-gravity chapter that takes place at the docking station at the top of the space elevator.

The rocket launch sequence would be really cool in VR.

It's a real shame that this game doesn't have support for the VR (specifically the PSVR2). It supports a first-person view for most of the early setpieces, so the whole game could probably be adapted to play pretty well in VR. The aforementioned rocket launch and zero-G sequences would have been great in VR -- assuming that they aren't completely nauseating.

If this game were given a free PSVR2 upgrade, I don't think I would feel compelled to go back and replay the whole thing. I might, however boot it up again to play the first chapter or 2 for the rocket launch and space elevator chapters.

Unfortunately, the rocket launch and space elevator are the first 2 chapters, and probably represent the best playable content in the game. After that, the rest of the game consists mostly of walking around a moon base (in third-person), reading emails and watching holograms of the events leading up to the disaster at the station.

Much of the last 2/3 of the game is walking around reading memos and listening to holograms.

If you played Tacoma (which released about a year and a half earlier than Deliver Us The Moon's initial PC release), it's basically that, but without the clever, multi-threaded conversations.

There's a little bit more variety though. There's a couple sections in which the player drives a rover around the surface of the moon, or has to walk outside the base with your oxygen reserve rapidly depleting. The last chapter even has some mild stealth. This sort of stuff helps to break up any apparent monotony, and helps the game to flow at a smoother pace. Though, I really did not like the stealth stuff, and wish that it had just been cut. The controls just aren't well suited to it, and are exacerbated by the slow camera movement and stuttering framerate. While each of the other chapters had taken me around 40 minutes to complete, the final chapter took over 2 hours, in large part because of all the times I had to restart and retry the stealth.

This is about as hard as any of the puzzles get.

There are also some basic puzzles. These range from simply finding a passcode on a sticky note on the wall, and using it to unlock a door; to putting the pieces of a broken robot back together in the right order; to pointing an antennae at another antennae. The most common puzzle involves hot-swapping batteries in order to give power to multiple places. There's nothing too mentally taxing here.

A cold, indifferent cosmos

As I said in the intro, Deliver Us The Moon isn't a trying to be a horror game. Even so, it does have a pretty strong atmosphere of loneliness and isolation. The abandoned moon base feels empty and lifeless, and the threat of the vacuum of space just beyond the walls is ever-present.

The player makes multiple trips outside the moon base, and only has 2 and a half minutes of breathable air. There's plenty of oxygen refill cannisters laying about, but the ticking clock makes the outside feel hostile. The game makes it very clear that you cannot survive here for very long. The station is falling apart and running out of power due to neglect, and you won't survive for more than a few minutes without the dwindling atmosphere, heat, and light that the station provides.

You'll have to occasionally use a rover to access remote sections of the mining colony.

Though the back half of the game is very lackluster in terms of mechanics and puzzles (and is plagued by constant performance problems), it is propped up a little bit by the excellent voice work and character performances. The little characters stories really do carry Deliver Us The Moon over the finish line. The voice deliveries sound earnest and sell the frustration, desperation, and hopelessness of the characters. And they have to do this entirely through the vocal performances because the hologram have no facial expressions, and limited body language.

The story itself is also kind of nihilistic. I don't know if the nihilism that I perceived in the story was intended by the creators. After all, the conspirators are framed as the villains, so I don't think the game's creators are sympathetic to their cause. But nevertheless, the outlook for humanity's future is bleak. Despite finding an abundant, clean energy source, population growth and consumerism still created a climate catastrophe far exceeding current projections of climate change impact. The game's events all happen within the next 30-ish years! Even the most dire of climate predictions don't predict Earth being a dry, withered dust ball by the 2050's. This game feels more like it should be set in 2159, instead of 2059.

Despite the severity of this exaggerated climate crisis, it doesn't look like humans have shown any willingness to change our selfish, greedy behaviors anytime soon. In fact, if anything, the miracle of unlimited moon power seems to have given people an excuse to consume even more. Even during the course of this game (and despite already having access to free, clean, abundant energy), people are still wistfully hoping for some heretofore un-invented miracle technology as the potential savior of the human race, and all we have to do is hold out long enough for that miracle technology to be invented. It's an awfully familiar refrain.

We have unlimited clean energy being beamed from the moon, and we still accelerated climate change?!

This exaggeratedly fast and severe climate crisis is all the more frustrating by the fact that many climate change skeptics like to pretend that scientists keep predicting the Earth will be "un-inhabitable" or literally "destroyed" by some arbitrarily close (or already passed) date. But that isn't what climate science predicts. It's never been what climate science has predicted. Much of that misconception comes from poor reporting of the science and deliberate disinformation from those who are more concerned with their own short-term wealth or appeasing shareholders, than they are with the long-term health and stability of the planet.

The actual science predicts that, at our current rates of greenhouse emissions, somewhere around 2050 will be a tipping point at which positive feedback loops will make it virtually impossible to stop additional warming and virtually impossible to avoid severe climate effects by the end of the century. And even then, those "severe climate effects" will be things like increasingly destructive storms, flooding of coastal cities from rising sea levels, draught, ocean acidification, and other effects that will make many parts of the world un-safe and uncomfortable for human habitation, and which will wreak trillions of dollars in economic damage on a yearly basis. But it won't render the entire surface of the planet an arid desert. And it definitely won't do that by 2050. Media like this that presents extreme climate catastrophe in the very near future only helps to perpetuate the misconceptions that are used to obfuscate or deny the actual science, and to stifle any meaningful effort to curb greenhouse emissions. So I consider entertainment like this to be a little irresponsible.

Again, if this took place in 2159, it would be more believable. But it's pretty ridiculous for being set in 2059.

Outward, to Mars!

Lastly, I do have a few minor nitpicks with science and depiction of space travel and moon colonization that is presented in Deliver Us The Moon. Deliver Us The Moon tries to depict a realistic vision of moon colonization, with technology that is plausible in the near future. There's no artificial gravity in space, no warp drives, or anything too exotic like that. It's a very grounded game, so the few incredible details of the story and mechanics stood out that much more to me.

For one thing, gravity is inconsistently implemented. Whenever the player is outside of the moon base, his jumps are exaggerated by the moon's low gravity. He jumps higher and floats in the air a little bit. That makes sense. The moon is a quarter the mass of the Earth, and so astronauts really do hump higher and float in the air a bit. However, whenever he is inside the moon base, he has a pretty normal, Earth-like jump, and his walk cycle mostly looks like a normal Earth gravity stride. Is the inside of the moon base generating extra gravity somehow? The astronaut's weight on the surface of the moon should be the same, regardless of whether the astronaut is indoors or outdoors.

How does this work, given the moon isn't in geo-synchronous orbit?

The MPT system also seems to work by projecting a laser from a space elevator on the moon to a satellite receiver on the surface of the Earth. But I don't think this would work, because even though the moon is tidally locked (always showing its same face to the Earth), the moon is not in geo-synchronous orbit! The MPT beam would only point at that one spot on the surface of the Earth for a short time.

There would either need to be a whole chain of receivers wrapped around the circumference of the Earth, with the MPT transmitting in bursts whenever the moon is directly over any given receiver. And even that might not account for any wobble in the moon's orbital plane or the Earth's rotation. I don't know, maybe the game mentions multiple receiver arrays, but I missed that detail? Or I suppose the receiver array could be mobile. Or the MPT would have to fire like a months' worth of energy all at once over the span of minutes before the moon's orbit moves it away from pointing directly at the receiver. And that probably wouldn't work because the amount of energy would be so high that it would cook the equipment intended to receive it. And if it ever mis-fired, it would basically be a super weapon.

I'm no astro-engineer, but I think if we were ever going to beam power from the moon to the earth, it would probably have to use a series of geo-synchronous satellites as an intermediary. Basically, the moon would have to transmit the energy to a series of satellites, which would then have to disperse that energy to other geo-synchronous satellites around the world, which would then beam the energy down to receiver arrays on the surface of the Earth.

Some questionable scientific details aside, I really wish that Deliver Us The Moon had more stable performance. I liked most of what Deliver Us The Moon had to offer, but the frame rate drops were a constant annoyance, and the forced stealth in the final chapter left me with a bad taste when the game ended. The story isn't the best sci-fi story that I've ever experienced (and definitely not the most optimistic one), but it is well presented with very solid voice performances. There is a sequel called Deliver Us Mars, which looks bigger and bolder, and I'm torn about whether I want to play it. Sadly, it does not seem to support VR either.

There's a wide variety of content in this short game.

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Comments (1) -

Max
Max
05/07/2023 03:51:00 #

The issues with the plot and game are less what you mention and more just the general, whole point of it: that humanity facing extinction sends this one guy on this mission to save the whole world? It's never fully explained how and why just this one guy and why he knows so much to single handedly launch a rocket into space and switch on this power station all by himself. And furthermore, keeping him quiet and personality/nameless just to add to the “twist” at the end of the game really ruins it and the story gets stripped of its potential emotional weight and blunted to the point of nonexistence by the protagonist’s lack of reaction.

They could've used a proper story-writer to flesh out the plot, main character, and world building a lot better.

06/25/2023 15:38:04 #

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