The thriller genre is one that attracts mixed reviews given its innate need for a riveting story and immersive atmosphere, especially when the gameplay focuses on exploration rather than combat or other action-packed features. If the tale is banal, half the potential thrill is lost, crushed beneath disappointment’s overbearing weight. However, when thrillers are done correctly, they give prominence to the same adrenaline a first-person shooter or racing game produces through a story that ensnares the mind. Outreach, an upcoming Cold War conspiracy thriller set in the 1980s, puts players in control of a Russian cosmonaut tasked with investigating the disappearance of a Soviet space team. OnlySP took the opportunity to preview Pixel Spill’s project, and the results were promising.

When media in which outer space is the central setting, developers attempt to create a setting in which consumers expect the visual construct to be appropriately ominous, something that can make someone feel dwarfed by the sheer vastness of infinite stars. Outreach looks to be achieving this minimizing effect with the enormity of the space station alone, not to mention the points where players spend time floating around outside trying to navigate in zero gravity. Space’s blackness spotted with stars covers gamers like a blanket riddled with holes. Clutter crams the station, complete with antique computers from the 1980s, tables, paper, aluminum cans, and several other items both useless and important. Every image in Outreach gives off an air of eerie uncertainty as players try to uncover the secrets behind the missing astronauts. At every turn or unopened latch, gamers expect something to jump out at them, but as far as the preview is concerned, nothing does. The perpetual state of heart-pounding anxiety keeps players glued to their controllers and screen, all in an effort to absorb every freaky facet of the space station and its awesome exterior. Working in conjunction with this ghostly atmosphere is an audio style that reinforces the mysterious ambiance.

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Many of the sound effects that help thrillers achieve their foreboding aura, such as abrupt music that uses shock value to make players jump, is nonexistent in Outreach. However, the lack of a musical score during gameplay augments the enigmatic tone, as the relative silence makes surprises more valuable and startling. Moreover, the voicework—consisting of a couple of actors using Russian accents—is convincing, conjuring a believable universe that guides players through the story as they float through zero gravity. Additionally, interacting with objects both in and outside the space station offers its own set of sound effects. For example, opening a latch inside the station emanates a mechanical squeak or clang depending on whether or not the door is malfunctioning, just as using the obsolete computers gives off the rapid tapping of keyboards and ticking of machines processing information. These subtle details go a long way in providing an authentic experience, and are further enhanced by Outreach’s gameplay mechanics.

Journeying through a space station in zero gravity is an interesting endeavor, and proper execution is scarce within the video game industry, especially with the abundance of science fiction platforms that use technology to overcome a lack of gravity. Outreach, however, succeeds in delivering a genuinely weightless feel. While playing, gamers will notice the sluggish speed at which they progress through the environment, and the game’s controls cement zero gravity’s constant presence. Unlike most first-person games, players control their character using the left and right triggers (right to go forward, left to go backward). This type of control scheme is normally reserved for driving a vehicle or piloting an aircraft. Pixel Spill, nevertheless, applies this concept to Outreach, and it works well given the atmosphere and the space suit through which players view the entirety of their experience. Furthermore, the right analog stick is used as the camera to rotate the player-character (PC), acting as the method of changing direction.

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When traversing the space station’s exterior to reach areas blocked off from the inside (usually because of locked or malfunctioning doors), gamers must use caution while floating from point to point. Using the A button (on the Xbox One controller), players will reach out and grab onto certain railings to remain attached to the station. Neglecting to grab these rails will result in floating out into space and becoming lost to the universe’s black abyss, killing the character. Luckily, should users find themselves having trouble, they can try repeatedly, as the game will fade to black and reset at a recent position. Given the looming threat of casting one’s self off into space’s infinite crevasse, players will be motivated to make wise, calculated decisions before releasing from one railing and trying to grab another. Naturally, some points are farther than others, and once players leap from one point, they cannot change direction, thus the initial jump must be an accurate one.

Outreach is a welcome change from the norm, combining cryptic thrills with mentally stimulating mechanics that offer a less mainstream challenge. The game’s quality is looking bright, sporting realistic graphics, authentic audio, intriguing mechanics, and a curious story, all of which promises an ominous and gripping playthrough. No official release date has been announced, but the game is slated for a general release this year.

Dylan Warman

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