STAFF REVIEW of Deliver Us The Moon (Xbox One)

Sunday, May 17, 2020.
by Royce Dean

Deliver Us The Moon Box art Space. The final frontier. Something so vast and expanding so quickly that nothing in the past, present or future of existence could ever hope to see it all. Do you know what that means? That means it's the easiest thing in the world to write about, baby! Upside-down galaxy? Maybe! Planet made of chocolate pudding!? Possibly! A parallel universe where every tinder date is successful? Definitely not. It's no wonder why space is so compelling to human beings. It represents an infinite potential where anything is plausible because we just can't say for sure what all is out there. Children dream of going to space because it's so damn cool. Well... most children. I dreamed about playing video games my whole life and here I am. However, literal endless possibility can have an opposing effect and hamper rather than inspire. Some people want to work within a set of rules. Boundaries. Structure. What does that result in? Plenty of great stories that we know and love. Personally I'll take the pudding planet any day of the week. But, until that day comes, give me a horrifyingly close to home hitting story about the failings of man and their exploits on that little thing in the sky we call the moon.

Under most circumstances, watching the trailer for a game before playing it will give you a decent idea of what to expect. That cannot be said for Deliver Us the Moon. The trailer, while compelling, was delightfully ambiguous and could well have been cinematic pre-rendered clips. As it turns out, it was showing me in-game footage. Deliver Us the Moon falls into a category of game that I rarely play or even think about but is a welcome change of pace when I embrace it. It's almost strictly exploratory, like early No Man Sky or Journey.

You find yourself in Earth's not so distant future where humanity is struggling through its worst nightmare, a global power crisis. Fossil fuels have dried up and forced the world to scramble in search of an alternative. Earth's remaining resources are pooled into one organization tasked with looking to the stars, and a solution is found on the moon within a variant of helium. A satellite and a moon base are established to send this new energy back to earth via an energy beam transmission, and all seems well for a time. Then, years later in the 2050's, the moon base goes dark, energy transmission halts and Earth's crisis is renewed. Now you, the player, need to leave earth to figure out what happened and save the world. If you can. A nice light story to take your mind off of the stresses of modern life, you know?

Out of the gate, Deliver us the Moon feels a little strange. Not horrible, but strange. Unpolished. Segments of the game are broken up into first and third person. While you are in first person a lot of these problems are less apparent, but when you enter the third person suddenly everything feels like you're walking on, well, the moon. Here's the problem. You start on earth. Movement is slide-y, and when you jump you get waaaay too much air-time. I look forward to the prequel; "Deliver Us the Hoops" where your character navigates the ups and downs of a career in the NBA. Turning and looking around takes a long time too. This can be partially remedied by cracking open your options menu and cranking your horizontal and vertical sensitivity, but even then you still feel slow. So if you can mentalize it you feel both overly loose and incredibly sluggish. "But this is an exploration game! It's not like you're fighting things and need quick responses!" Quite right, random internet voice I conjured to make a point. Those don't necessarily need to be better to make your way through this game, but how a game feels from the beginning, much like the first cup of coffee in the morning will define the rest of your experiences.

The story is told by inspectable and interactable objects sprinkled throughout the world. Some of these are simple pieces of paper or books laying on tables. When holding an item you can pan, tilt and zoom it in 3-dimensions using button commands shown on screen. Most of the time these are just for flavor, but other times you find pass codes to progress through locked doors. Some objects will have a blue glow about them and can be scanned and added to your log for more valuable lore regarding the events that led to the story up until that point. These blue objects are also the primary reason you may find replayability in Deliver Us the Moon beyond achievements because they are easily missed. And lastly, there are voice recordings that play snippets of interaction between characters during key moments. You could easily skip through all of this to blast through the game, but I would have to wonder why. The story, after all, is the whole point of Deliver Us the Moon. You might as well lay face down on a concrete sidewalk then ask what the point of going outside was.

The game is not without its challenges. This isn't something you boot up with a mug of earl grey while wearing your crimson housecoat. If you do, prepare to have your monocle blown off. The dangers of venturing into the great void are present. What do I mean? Oxygen! While floating about in space and on the moon you'll be slapped in the face with timer after timer usually indicating oxygen levels. Quick thinking, problem solving and spare oxygen tanks will get you safely through to the other end without harm... in theory. Now, I don't consider myself a big dumb-dumb, but either the time segments are tuned way too tightly, or I've greatly overestimated my intelligence. Not once during my time with Deliver Us the Moon did I solve a puzzle within the time limit on my first try. Knowing what to do saw me finish my objective with a wide margin remaining, but omnipotence isn't a human-beings M.O..

Folks are going to play this for their first time and not know what to do. Challenge is important, but it should also be fair. Flip-flopping between segments of measured exploration and timers ending in failure not only felt bad, but in my mind, made the vision of what this game was trying to be blurrier. Of course timers aren't the only obstacle. You can die when exposed to elements like steam and electricity for too long, so caution should be taken, especially when you don't know what's just around the corner.

For when you can't see what's in front of you, you have a flashlight. This plays a critical role throughout the game because, as you'd imagine, derelict structures in space don't have a lot of electricity to spare. While very cool for the fantasy of the setting, it actually limited how much I could play in one sitting. Overall, the game is very dark. I wouldn't change that in the slightest, but the rest of the art style and lighting combined with the inherent darkness gave me headaches while I played. Too many overly dark environments combined with overly reflective surfaces wore on me very quickly and made the game hard to play. This is especially true in the later legs of the game when almost everything is cloaked in darkness and the use of your flashlight is absolutely mandatory. That said, Deliver Us the Moon looks good otherwise. The settings are beautifully crafted and look convincingly like they were lived in. Each of the environments feel unique despite their similarity and proximity to one another. There is a strange gritty filter that has been overlaid across everything which is distracting, but only if you look closely and really focus on it... So let that serve as a warning to all you billionaires with 500 inch TVs. I should note that many textures load slowly too, resulting in the inspection of very fuzzy and unintelligible documents.

There isn't much to be said about how the game sounds because of its limited soundtrack, which works in its favor. Most sounds are atmospheric and lend themselves to the solitude of being on a solo mission into space. Every creak and every groan of the structure around you feels more real. The surging and buzzing of mechanical instruments carries weight. And, if you hear something strange... it probably means something. The voice acting in the audio playback collectibles is good as well. I found myself sucked into the world while listening along, for however briefly the clips would play. My only reservation is that sometimes something would come out a little tinny. I was disappointed that the moon rover didn't have an AUX jack though. If nobody can hear you scream in space then that's the perfect place for the kind of metal I'm into.

Being taken off guard by a game you had no expectations for is one of my absolutely favorite things, and something I've been able to celebrate seldom. Discovery of something new you enjoy is perhaps something we all get to celebrate too little. Deliver Us the Moon isn't perfect; in fact at one point the game broke transforming my screen into a rave light-show you'd have to warm people with epilepsy about. It's hard on the eyes, the challenges can feel impossible on their first shot, you control like a block of ice filled with helium but I'm glad I played it. It's different and doesn't demand much. It's a relatively short and sweet game with a story to tell and is done in a way that makes you listen. Maybe, should the developers feel compelled to fix a few of these problems, Deliver Us the Moon could go down as a truly great game. But, until that happens, I guess we'll have to settle with an okay game that shouldn't be passed over with at least some consideration.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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