I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of space and I haven’t even been there yet. I’ve been on one too many virtual walks around the ISS, and spent more than my fair share of time floating in zero gravity. If you’re going to take me back to the dark abyss, then you’ll need a really good reason to bring me there. Fortunately, Interkosmos has just that.
This upcoming HTC Vive title from indie developer Ovid Works isn’t about escaping some giant, Gravity-esque set piece, nor is it about going for yet another spin around the Earth’s orbit. Instead, this is a memory puzzle game of sorts that mixes a splash of comedy with a dab of simulation and then sprinkles on some arcade influences to boot. All of that and it’s set in one of the most detailed, convincing VR environments I’ve seen in some time. Not bad for a debut effort.
Interkosmos takes place inside a 70’s-inspired Soviet re-entry capsule that’s been lavishly assembled with help from the European Space Agency. Though the team’s Yashar Dehaghani never uses the term simulator as we chat, it’s not far from the mind as I explore a maze of buttons, switches and levers, each of which can be pressed, flicked or pulled. You’ll need them at specific times, because Interkosmos wants to give you an authentic feeling of attempting to land safely on Earth, though it doesn’t take itself as seriously as Apollo 13.
When you start up the game a thick Russian accent comes on the radio, barking instructions at you. Eventually your comrade will entangle himself in an argument with Americans that also gain access to the craft and try to convince you to steer your vessel towards the USA. The game has two branching paths and Ovid wants to encourage multiple playthroughs, especially as players’ first few attempts will likely result in death.
Getting home is easier said than done. For the purposes of the demo, switches I need are highlighted at the right time — I’d have been lost without them — but when the game is available for everyone to take at their own pace players will also have a mode that expects them to memorize the entire layout of the cockpit, which I suspect is where the real fun comes from.
Even with the guidance though, Interkosmos can be a frantic thrill. You’ll need to keep tabs on your oxygen and other meters as you busy yourself with other tasks; let them fall too low and you’ll die. Fill them up too much and, guess what, you’ll probably die. Or just start a fire, in which case you’ll very likely die a bit later. The game is rightly punishing in that regard, as it wants to push you, though I do wonder if everyone will take to the insistence on memorization very well. It could come off as a bit of a chore.
The capsule takes full advantage of VR, as you’re never really sure where to look and which of the many screens is the one you should be reading. At one point I’m using a lever to steer the capsule towards Earth, while the next I’m trying to put out a small fire that’s broken about because I’ve been neglecting other duties.
With a successful playthrough said to take around 30 minutes, I’m going to be interested to see how people take to Interkosmos’ unforgiving brand of survival. I had a great time scrambling around my cockpit desperately looking for the right buttons to push, and I hope that hardcore element resonates with the VR community.
Ovid is planning to launch Interkosmos on the HTC Vive towards the end of April for approximately €4.99.