‘Moon Runner’ is ‘Death Stranding’ in space, and it’s free
Unfinished Business is NME’s weekly column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access games. This week, Rick Lane takes a lot of baby steps for the man in Moon Runner.
IIt is a universal truth that any premise can be invigorated by adding the words “in space”. Dealing with a heist seems like hard and tedious work, but add the words “in space” and you’ve just made it up Hardspace: Shipbreakers, one of the best games released this year. Even ideas that were brilliant to begin with can be refreshed and renewed by these magic words. Resident Evil 4 is a game that needs no improvement, but I still really enjoyed it when Visceral Games added “in space” to the concept.
That’s basically what moon runner Is. This free-to-play game from developer Fractal Interactive takes the heart of Kojima Productions’ hiking delivery sim Death Stranding, stuffs him into a space suit and launches him on a mission to the Moon. The result is a completely entertaining slice of space survivalism, which is surprisingly well-crafted considering it costs absolutely nothing.
The (somewhat contrived) premise is that you’re a lunar repairman tasked with fixing ten mysterious monoliths scattered around Earth’s main satellite. To do this, you approach them, then shoot them with a strange shoulder-mounted device. Which might sound simple enough, but you don’t know the exact location of these monoliths, and to access each of them you have to traverse the Moon’s rugged surface with an alarming amount of O2. Oh, and there are robots that will try to assassinate you, but we’ll talk about that later.
The core of the game revolves around a simplified set of Death Strandingprimary mechanics. You must walk between the monoliths before your air runs out, but much of the terrain is impassable on foot. Therefore, you have to deploy ladders to climb the hills and fill the gaps. You’ll find ladders on the surface (presumably left by other Moon Runners), but the main way to acquire them is to buy them with Credits. These credits can be earned by delivering “packages” between specific monoliths, which also allows you to upgrade your spacesuit to make it more durable, more energy efficient, and more.
Sounds like a bunch of nonsense out of context (although the same could be said for Death Stranding) but it fits into the game, especially because of the game’s production values. Not only does Moon Runner look great, the crossing has the same nice physics as Death Stranding. You really feel the sound of your Moon Runner’s weighted boots as it plods across the surface, while placing and climbing ladders is just as tactile as it is in Kojima’s game. Yet the lunar framework lends moon runner a personality of its own, not only its sterile weirdness, but also how the lower gravity affects your character’s movement.
moon runner also generates the same satisfaction in its route search. Each time you move away from a monolith you are timed, so you need to think carefully about where you are going and how you are going to get there. Ladders are necessary for climbing steep surfaces, but they also take a long time to climb, so it’s important to only use them when needed. Meanwhile, in addition to extra ladders and delivery packages, you can also bring extra “energy packs” with you that will replenish your O2, but all of this adds weight to your astronaut’s shoulders, making movement more cumbersome and increasing the damage inflicted when falling.
The whole is of an impressive finesse. The only difficult issue I encountered was that my Runner would sometimes get stuck in the environment, forcing a reboot. Beyond that, my main complaint is that there aren’t more tools to create routes. moon runner compensates for this somewhat with its odd collection of enemies and hazards, including spindly robots that hurl heat-seeking projectiles at you, and a purple skull cloud that scared me the first time it came down on me. Still, the real joy of this game is overcoming the challenges you face from the Moon itself, and I wish there were more ways to do that.
I think moon runner has the potential to be a much bigger game, but it doesn’t look like Fractal Interactive’s plans are heading in that direction. Currently, moon runnerThe early access period of is expected to last two to three months, with the main focus being on modifying existing content. Fractal states that new features “may be added” in Early Access but “the scope and scale of the game will remain the same”.
Either way, I highly recommend giving moon runner to try, especially if you are about to buy Death Stranding. moon runner will give you a good idea of what the main loop of Death Stranding is like, so you should find out if Kojima Productions’ game is right for you in the end. Plus, it’s a great little adventure in its own right, well worth the non-existent price of admission.
moon runner is now available in Early Access via Steam – check it out here.