The numbers on the counter slowly tick down, marking my distance from salvation. With each breath the oxygen levels dip, my laboured breathing beginning to drown out even the groans of the capsules protesting engine. The sound of my own breathing seems deafening ,growing more laboured with each gasp. Hunched over the sterile blue display I watch the distance to my destination tick down. The number is falling fast, but the oxygen levels are falling faster still. I increase power to the engine, pushing it to its limits as its protesting squeals reverberate throughout the capsule. 600m, 500m, 400m until the docking bay is within sight. Suddenly, with a heart stopping thunk the capsule slows and then stops. The engine power reads empty. Alone in the cold vastness of space, all I can do is listen as my breathing becomes more desperate and laboured as the oxygen levels are slowly depleted. Until with a final exhalation the screen fades to black.
It’s easy whilst playing Capsule to find yourself generating narratives like this. Unlike a lot of other games that do a lot of hand holding with their storytelling, the morsel of story that Capsule slowly feeds you serves as fuel for the imagination. Rather than heavy expository cut scenes you’re given a few cryptic emails to read before being flung into deep space with no objective other than a marker thousands of kilometers distant. These messages which appear at the arrival of each objective are short and give rise to more questions than answers, packing you off to the next distant marker with little time for recovery.
The minimalism of the story is repeated in every aspect of Capsule. The display screen has a monochromatic, retro look reminiscent of Asteroid or computer displays of the early 80’s. The slight curve of the display and the slow flicker as the screen refreshes show a high level of polish and attention to detail. Small things like the tiny cracks in the corner of the in game display add a touch of authenticity, so that you can almost imagine yourself bent over it as you wend your way through the cosmos in a poorly made mass fabrication capsule. Little touches like this add to the overall tone and feeling of immersion that the game so ably creates.
The soundscape is similarly minimalistic, yet powerfully atmospheric. Your characters breathing, which turn into wheezing gasps as the oxygen supply dwindles creates a sense of intense claustrophobia. Watchin’ that oxygen bar dwindle, the sudden realisation you’re not going to make it creates an almost survivor-horror style play experience. In particular the decision by the creators Adam Saltsman to end a mission only once you suffocate, rather than when you run out of fuel makes balancing this against dwindling fuel supplies all the more affecting affair. The powerlessness of sitting in the capsule,the protesting moans of the engine as you push it to its limits trying to outrun your own suffocation seem to shake the entire capsule. These along with the echoing metallic clang of docking are the sounds that dominate your lonely space quest and combines with the other elements to create incredibly tense and oppressive experience. Though no one can hear you scream in space, you can definitely hear yourself suffocate.
Gameplay is deceptively simple. Using the left and right arrow keys to turn and up and down to control speed you must carefully balance oxygen and fuel supplies in trying to reach your objective. Go too slowly and you risk running out of air, but going too fast drains fuel quickly and magnifies any course errors. Asteroids litter your path, and supply drops are few and far between. With such limited supplies every decision to veer off course to avoid collision or pick up fuel makes it that much harder to reach your goal.
Rarely have I been so immersed in a game as much as I have been while playing Capsule. Though its claustrophobic atmosphere can be almost overwhelming at times, I find myself coming back every time for one last mission.
Should you buy this game? Yes
Official Website: www.milsci.info