Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!
That sentence is credited to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to go to space. RymdResa begins with a cosmonaut who, much like Yuri Gagarin, sailed alone into space. There were no people to receive his messages, no control center in Krasnoznamensk or Houston to guide him as he ventured into the final frontier, however, as he was the last man of a planet which has ceased to exist.
Developed by swedish couple/development team Morgondag, RymdResa is a game about space exploration, poetry and survival. You begin the game as the last hope of a planet that is no more, venturing into space to find a suitable planet to colonize – something that will take you several, lonesome years. As its name implies (RymdResa translates to “Space Travel”, a literal allusion present in many of the game’s elements), RymdResa’s main element is to drift through space.
Space travel is, unsurprisingly (well, perhaps surprisingly considering it’s a game), lonesome. There are no enemies to speak of, the only dangers being those natural to space: asteroids, radiation from stars and your depleting resources (fuel and hull strength) will define your longevity in the game – which won’t be long, even more-so at the start. RymdResa is a roguelike and dying, and subsequently starting over, is a frequent and expected consequence. Progression is marked as you gather experience and upgrade your pilot, acquire new pieces – engines, sentries, etc. – for your ship and buy one-time bonuses, from better ships to increased XP gain, that last a single run.
Fortunately, death is not that much of a setback. Bar the first chapter, where you must complete all objectives in a single voyage, RymdResa removes any notion of being needlessly punishing and instead rewards you for your previous travels with plenty of rewards and experience. At no point did I feel angry or as if my death had been unfair – specially because it is often the accruement of several bad decisions that lead to your death, rather than a single, fatal accident.
Gameplay-wise, navigation is simple: you can increase your speed – and, being in space, whatever speed you acquire is kept – and decrease it by thrusting in the opposite direction, using a cooldown-based special thrust to quickly accelerate when needed; and increase your attributes to improve the yields from exploring, your ship’s attributes and enable the acquirement of research pieces you find in abandoned stations. The game’s aspects you have to manage are also all very minimalist and literal: a single pool of resources that contain your health, fuel, food and all things needed for space travel; materials, during the second chapter, which encompasses everything you need to build your planet’s improvements; and items that improve self-evident attributes, such as maximum speed and acceleration.
The most heavily featured element in RymdResa’s space-faring is the exploration of space artifacts (planets, satellites, abandoned ships and research stations, etc.), which can go either way in terms of being helpful. Cause and consequence aren’t always immediately obvious, and I found it was a safer bet to decide on things based on my personal desire rather than what I thought would be the best – at times you’ll gain experience and resources, and other times you will lose them. The procedurally generated world means the universe’s geography is changed each time, and there are no set locations or places to explore and find specific things.
The game features poetry scattered in verses written against space’s background, and poems and stories are read to you by one heavily-modfied Eric Reed. While the fine line between needless pretension and valid use is one hard to set, RymdResa’s poetry, specially because it is voiced, offers a relaxing break in the otherwise bleak and lonesome universe. As years pass by and as you visit planets, abandoned spaceships and all other things that float in space, the cosmonaut’s occasional forays into art will be your sole companion.
You’ll play the game across three chapters, each with their own distinctions but all based on the same, previously mentioned core mechanic: exploring. And it is somewhat surprising that RymdResa manages to keep itself interesting throughout all three chapters without offering you the accustomed adrenaline-induced, laser-full space combat. Without spoiling too much of their particularities, the chapters are set in the following way: the first one will have you exploring nine locations in space, having to do all of them at a single time; the second chapter will have you gathering materials to improve a colony with buildings, which in turn yield you benefits depending on which buildings you unlock; the third one is the most different one, as the difficulty ramps up and you have to face increasingly difficult zones and, different from what had been true so far, actual enemies. No, you still won’t be able to attack them with guns – you’re in an exploration vessel, and you’ll have to use your wits to defeat them, not your brawn.
All of this is wrapped up with great care in appropriately bleak graphics, different zones varying only in their chromatic tone, managing to convey a feeling of solitude and silence despite the soundtrack – a soothing, industrial tone that stands out just enough not to bother you. I did, however, feel the game could benefit from a less intrusive hud, as space would seem more facsimile if you didn’t have tabs and bars (or at least an appropriately themed hud).
When all is said and done, RymdResa was a different enough entry in the roguelike genre to draw my attention, even if only for the course of a single playthrough. You may find yourself bored of its scenario if you fail too often at the start, or once you’ve completed the game – space can only contain so many things in it while still being space. The poetry, an element that could feel very awkward in other games, is an intelligent addition as a means to break the solitude of discovering the final frontier. By casting aside lasers and space battles, and limiting the things you have to worry about to just a couple of resource pools, RymdResa paints a much prettier and likelier picture of space: empty, lonesome and full of hazards that are a threat to you due to their mere existence, rather than some evil intelligence behind them.
RymdResa was played on retail code provided by the developers.