Is this the time I get to big note myself and say I know someone in the biz?! Because, for transparency sake, I should mention that I have been very good friends with the Lead Artist for PlayCorp for many years now and even caught up with them recently in Melbourne for a mutual friends 40th birthday party. It was there that I told him I’d finally gotten around to playing his game, after watching him work on it for many years and go through several different revisions before they settled on the concept that we now see today. In that time I’ve seen it go through many revisions although, I’ll admit, never as someone who’d played it. With the 1.0 release though all holds are off and I put a solid number of hours into it. There are many aspects of the game that echo others I’ve enjoyed thoroughly in the past, but there’s definitely room for polish in others that would elevate the core game loop significantly.
You are Quinn Hicks, member of the Space Corps and one of its lead scientists. You’ve been tasked with studying the far reaches of space and reporting back what you find to the UWC. Whilst you’re on mission one day though you’re called to engage in a time critical mission: the unexplored world of Ketern is being ripped apart from unknown forces and your team is the only one who can get there in time to evacuate its residents. However when you get there the same mysterious force that’s tearing the planet apart pulls you and your crew unceremoniously down to the surface, shipwrecking you. Left with not much but your spacesuit and a keen understanding of science you set about saving the world and, hopefully, yourself as well.
Visually Beyond Contact is stylized and simple with liberal applications of lighting effects and widely varied colour palettes for the different biomes you’ll be exploring. The environments are quite detailed, tying directly into the core game loop of exploration/resource gathering. Overlaid on all of this is a fully realised weather system with day/night cycles, which also plays directly into the core game loop. The focus towards a more simple art style definitely helps with keeping visual confusion down, something that other developers don’t always get right.
The core game loop of Beyond Contact reminded me of Subnautica, whereby you’re stranded on an alien world and then tasked with figuring out a way to survive. Initially this is done by living directly off the land, using what little you had with you and what you can scrounge up with the minimal tools you have at your disposal. As you progress through different biomes though it becomes clear you’ll need to craft better gear, and the only way to do that is to setup a base to house the required tools. That base will have its own needs as well which you’ll need to meet, lest you come back home to a dark and oxygen deprived environment that’s not much better than sleeping on the ground outside. There’s a story to follow as well, driven by your interactions with the natives and their requests for help, further pushing you to build out your base so you can accommodate them.
As with other base building/survival games the core game loop usually goes something like this: I want to do/build a thing, to do that thing I need to build/acquire these things, go out and collect said things, bring them back to base, build/do the thing and then repeat the cycle again. Each of those trips out should hopefully be another step towards you unlocking another biome, a critical piece of tech or something that leaves you in a slightly better place than you were at before. At times this won’t be exactly clear as whilst the story mode provides a bit of tutorial it doesn’t take long before you’re left on your own to figure things out.
Which was probably my main gripe for the first few hours as, past a certain point, you’re flying a little blind on what you need to do. For sure some things are obvious, like if I need “Refined Carapace” then I should probably try to refine some carapace, but which creatures drop carapace and which don’t, where to look and other detail is unfortunately missing. Other survival games usually have a compendium where you can look up creatures and get an understanding of what they are, where you can find them and what items they will drop. After a while you’ll get a feel for how to track things down and what you should be focusing your research on at any one point, but I wouldn’t push back on getting a little more direction for a few more hours.
Progression comes mainly through the resource gathering activities that you’ll be doing to fill your need to constantly build something. Each of the 3 types of resources you’ll collect also drop “data” as well, which you’ll then spend on researching new items or upgrades to existing ones. Thankfully none of this data is particularly hard to come by so upgrades are never that far away. What will really do your head in though is when you go to craft those upgrades, as that’s where whatever resources you’ve gathered up until this point will be tested. You’ll almost always find yourself out of a particular item, necessitating another round of gathering. This is no different to other survival games, but I can’t say I didn’t get frustrated when I needed to get some random item again after running out yet again.
At the same time though there definitely was a sense of achievement when you unlocked a particular piece of tech that solved an ongoing quality of life issue. For me it was definitely the suit that prevented freezing, allowing me to roam around at night unhindered which then also unlocked the frozen biomes scattered around the place. I didn’t manage to unlock the final armor set but I’d hope that it combined basically all the disparate ones together as I was carrying no less than 3 sets of gear around at any one time; precious space that could be used for gathering more shinies.
There is combat in Beyond Contact although it’s not particular deep. You’re only given a handful of weapons to craft, with a few more available by defeating other enemies who wield them. Engaging an enemy is mostly a dance of avoiding their telegraphed moves before landing your own, being careful not to get too greedy lest you cop a few hits yourself. Most of the harder enemies are more a test of endurance rather than anything else, forcing you to be on point with your dodging, getting a single hit in, and repeating the process until they fall over.
The narrative isn’t much to write home about. It starts out strong, with the pacing coming along rather nicely, but after that it kind of hits a wall whilst you engage in the core game loop. The Keteran’s quests for you provide a good direction for your base building efforts, but given the amount of time taken to achieve them the pace of the story really does suffer. Potentially it feels a bit better paced if you were faster at progressing through the tech trees than I was but either way it didn’t feel like there was a whole lot to chew on.
Beyond Contact is a game that rewards coming back to every so often. There were numerous times where I’d achieved something and thought that was enough, only to come back around the next day to keep on doing more. It’s all too easy to go out to gather resources for that “one thing” only to spend an hour exploring whilst you fill up every available slot in your inventory. That being said there’s definitely room for improvement here, mostly focused around quality of life improvements like the addition of a compendium/guide book, extended tutorials (for those of us who want them) and perhaps a slight reduction in the grind needed to achieve certain things. As someone who forays into this genre by exception and not rule I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Beyond Contact, even if I think it still has room to grow.
Beyond Contact is available on PC right now for $26.95. Total play time was 10.5 hours with 24% of the achievements unlocked.