America - Front
America - Back
By Lee Mehr 27th Oct 2019 | 2,543 views
For the uninitiated, it’s important to exercise caution about which game has been played by various critics and users. This isn’t developer KeokeN Interactive’s Kickstarter-funded project of last year, named Deliver Us The Moon: Fortuna. Deliver Us The Moon is the publisher-backed, complete work that’s now arrived one year later. That places me in an interesting spot, seeing broad anticipation for how this game would conclude. The result? Although this freshmen team intermittently fulfilled that sense of inhabiting an astronaut, both the puzzle-platforming foundation and the story’s intrigue loses oxygen over time.
In the near future, Earth has depleted its natural resources. A coalition of various nations created the World Space Agency (WSA) and looked to The Moon for answers. Colonization was a success: the WSA found an alternative energy source, Helium-3, which could be beamed home. The hope to right our wrongs returned for a time. Then, all communication went dark and Earth became re-ravaged by devastating droughts and dust-storms. Years later, you play the astronaut who is Earth’s last chance to regain the energy it so desperately needs.
The theatrics of it are hammed up, but are genuine in intent. In an era where marines and intergalactic empires are the expected sci-fi templates it’s nice to keep things simple. You’re just a smart everyman looking to re-plug the power cord and unfurl what initiated “The Blackout” in the first place. Easier said than done. What follows is a carefully-set roller coaster where data breadcrumbs illuminate the events of another crew between various gameplay moments. Despite well-considered pacing, the narrative itself is lacking.
The strangest issue simply comes from how inconsistently managed the dilemmas feel. Similar to Tacoma, you’ll find holographic video logs to watch and they’ll show minute-long snippets of a critical moment in the past. But even in some of these you won’t know the characters’ names; just “bossman told us to do this” clips in service to a rather banal reveal. The would-be antagonist in early video logs is eventually dropped altogether, aside from superfluous collectibles. Certain examples will reveal a darker, more paranoid side of him, but by the time they’re discovered I could only shrug my shoulders. Because of how frontloaded Moon’s story is upon reaching the surface, the audience could likely deduce what’s occurred before scripted revelations.
The silent protagonist trope is also mishandled. One could argue the setting allows for this; that by having a mute character it’s able to feel more ponderous and immersive. While I’m not against the trope outright, Moon doesn’t even maintain such a principle. He has a couple of throwaway lines, give or take. Oh, and his name is Rolf. That’s something I totally forgot about until the command center chimes in halfway through the game. This all seems nitpicky but I think it touches upon a missing dynamic, especially between him and his robot companion (ASE). Aside from a few pets or the ASE’s cutesy emotes in cutscenes, there’s no authentic comradery between them. Eventually, your character begins to feel more like an objective-driven automaton with less personality than your mechanical confidante.
In some ways, Moon feels more in service to Sarah Baker’s adventure than Rolf. She’s another ‘diary character’ but there’s more material here. She’s effectively the previous astronaut who witnessed The Blackout firsthand aboard the lunar space station and wants to rectify the issue. Virtually all audio logs and later video captures focus on her struggles. And though her and her companion, Isaac Johanson, share some compelling scenes the resolution dodders along—finishing in a safe, histrionic fashion.
Since I’m not privy to a souped-up gaming rig, I’m not going to be the best in assessing the technical aspects. But what I can say, even on lower settings, is that KeokeN did a tremendous job of inhabiting the space setting. Although later levels are heavily invested in interior spaces, the mixing with outdoor locations is handled in a comprehensible way. This begins even in the tutorial launch site: the architecture clearly communicates a believable location which you must navigate. The transition to Pearson Space Station may be the technical highlight altogether. Whether traversing through space or the cramped corridors, it feels legitimately grounded in its look. To recycle a hackneyed game-reviewer expression: Moon makes you feel like an astronaut!
Touching on sound, it’s quite competent in respect to design and soundtrack. There’s the expected aural-dampening effect when in the vacuum of space, especially atmospheric during the open-ended moon-rover areas. Sander van Zanten’s OST also deserves due credit in capturing both the majestic and nerve-racking. The whole range of voice actors were fine, with no individual tipping either towards laudable brilliance nor derision.
Moon’s motley gameplay templates hit between two considerations: there are several disparate mechanics thrown in and KeokeN seems unsure how to utilize them. Although the game does give a sense of a simpler 3D puzzle-platformer with driving bits, there’s an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink appeal you wouldn’t expect in a short amount of time. As mentioned earlier, there’s a transition to first-person/zero-gravity astronaut simulation for a brief time. It’s the most mechanically frustrating and exhilarating portion. Thinking about several different axes to remain centered emphasizes the time-limited parts when you’re losing oxygen. Even latching onto the space station places you in the role of carefully latching the shuttle to the docking port’s center. It’s great! It taps into dozens of space-movie blockbusters like Apollo 13 and Interstellar.
That’s not the meat of the gameplay, however. The routine is more of a typical third-person platformer wherein you’ll—occasionally—think of how to progress. Most solutions are easy if a bit tedious. Outdoor sections may register as having a “survival” element but there’s always enough oxygen, whether when exploring or during the set piece moments. I think that taps into the heart of the issue: artifice. Moon can’t go too long without introducing a game-y element, like contrived countdown timers or random quick-time events. I’ve never been one to resent a QTE; it’s just another tool in a developer’s toolbox. But Moon sporadically places them in cutscenes that I treated like resting moments for my keyboard hand. Better mash this specific button in a half-second or prepare for extended loading screens to do it all over again!
What Moon misses is poise after the well-constructed tutorial and subsequent first-person station levels. It treats concepts akin to an unsatisfied toddler: enjoying one shining bauble until they’re allured to the next. Even a superficial stealth section is tossed in. Because why not, at that point? There’s enough lift to gracefully get off the ground, but its booster rockets fizzle out too soon. And for a game priced at $25? I don’t believe the modest 5-6 hour runtime eases my overall critique, especially since the best parts I’ve been gushing over will run less than 1.5 hours.
Deliver Us The Moon is a shame to review. It’s easy to sense the enthusiastic space-faring adventure freshman KeokeN was striving to create. And they certainly demonstrate their capabilities in regards to visual consistency, technical sound design, and the momentary space-sim qualities in towards the beginning, but it’s ultimately a case of juggling the narrative exploration and platforming gameplay that other games have handled much better. It’s an also-ran structure supplemented by an also-ran story once the most stimulating parts have asphyxiated in the vacuum of space.
Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history goes back several console generations: having a N64 & old NES at home while also enjoying other console/PC titles elsewhere. Since then, he's always liked gaming across various systems--though real-life makes it burdensome at times. Lee's a General Contractor by trade, and has touched upon every critical aspect necessary to maintain a house: roofing, electrical, plumbing, and more. When not doing the daily grind, he can be found gaming (obviously!), writing about games (obviously again!), doing various recreational activities, or slowly grinding through the world's most-acclaimed books.