It seems to be tough times out in space for commerce and transportation. Galactic liners are looking for employees that can do it all on the cheap and get a shuttle from one end of the galaxy to the other. You’ve got to navigate all sorts of difficult and unforeseeable treks, but with good piloting, you just might arrive in one piece… as long as you remember that the customer is always right. That’s what's going on in Spacelines from the Far Out, which blends roguelike elements with business management like an arcade cooking sim. Whether alone or with friends, running this galactic transportation line is an exhilarating romp through the galaxy… when luck and circumstance are on your side that is.
The new employee on the station
Spacelines from the Far Out presents a unique premise. You work for a transportation company. It’s your job to pick up passengers and take them between various spots on the way to the vacation planet of Gambulon V. There’s just the issue that the stretches between every stop to Gambulon are a galactic minefield of asteroids and other hazards that can turn your ship to scrap in just a couple of conks. There’s also fuel, navigation, and looking after your passengers to worry about. So comes the question: Are you a good enough pilot to go all the way?
This game is presented in the way of a roguelike. You begin by picking your ship either from what you already own or via loans that let you pick out something to get you rolling. After that, you follow a star chart from your home base and main terminal to Gambulon V, choosing a series of checkpoints to try to fly between. Each checkpoint can be basic or feature things like banks to store your money, service shops to repair your ship, or upgrade stations to deck out your vessel. Either way, you must make it all the way to Gambulon V in one splintered voyage… or die trying.
This premise is made even more fun by the fact that you play both pilot and steward to your passengers. You have to fly and avoid obstacles outside the ship, but you must also keep your guests fed and entertained inside the ship. This includes cooking them food, dancing for them, and installing amenities like TVs, chairs, and restrooms. If their needs go unfulfilled, they’ll run around your ship causing mayhem. You won’t want to see what happens when they touch the gravity machine.
Put all of this together and Spacelines from the Far Out is a fun and arcade-y game delightfully delivered through amusingly cartoonish visuals and music. The characters, whether human or alien, are a menagerie of bulbous-eyed weirdos with disembodied hands. Meanwhile, the ships and stations are a colorful array of machinery and comfort one would expect out of a galactic cruise line. Every corner of the galaxy is full of amusements from cleaning aliens to upgrade shop robots trying to fit your ship with a bargain. Spacelines ties it all together with a wide variety of lounge jazz for that elevator music vibe and more eclectic jazz when your ship is in danger of being pummeled to oblivion. This is a game that delivers in a charming and comedic manner visually, musically, and mechanically, even when things get catastrophic.
In case of explosions, your pay may be docked
Gameplay is also a solid point of Spacelines. As I said previously, you’re both the pilot and the steward. At the start of the game, if you haven't collected enough money from a previously attempted trip, the game gives you a set amount of cash to pick out a basic vessel. Each features different upgrades that cater to various immediate needs. Some are more decked for hungry passengers, others for sanitation, and still others for comfort and entertainment. You can also unlock further vessels and layouts as you continue to play the game.
Once you have a ship picked out, you shove off on the long journey to Gambulon V. You choose a stop, taking note of what the destination checkpoint station has, what threats and boons can be found along the way, how many passengers you’ll have, and what they’ll pay you, then head out. On each stretch of the journey, you fly to the next checkpoint using your navigation systems. It always starts out easy with little to put you in harm’s way. You might even pick up extra passengers for more cash before your next stop. However, as you move checkpoint to checkpoint, it gets harder and harder.
Asteroid belts and fields will challenge you to carefully pilot around them. Massive asteroids and comets flying through will threaten you with swift death should you collide, and your electrical systems inside the ship will falter, forcing you to quickly fix them with your onboard wrench lest you lose their functionality. What’s more, your customers will demand your attention and it's your job to keep them fed, entertained, and healthy… or else they’ll run around stealing your tools and turning off your ship’s critical systems for fun. Handling all of these internal and external issues turns into a massive balancing act quickly and your ship is sure to become scrap metal more than a few times just learning the ropes.
However, Spacelines also does a great job of rewarding you for every success you achieve. Arriving at a new checkpoint almost always gets you an unlock, whether it be in the form of new playable crewmembers, paint jobs, company logos, purchasable ship layouts, or even free ship upgrades and money. I always felt like I was getting something out of a successful trip no matter how many times I crashed in the end.
Additionally, the game gives you various means to be better prepared for the next trip. If your ship explodes, you lose all the money you have on hand. However, you can reach banks at certain checkpoints to permanently store you cash. You can even insure your ship if you have the dough, which allows you to keep all of the upgrades you’ve loaded it with even if it gets scrapped by asteroids - a near-must if you’re to eventually succeed because otherwise you start from scratch.
I think one of the few issues I had with Spacelines was in terms of targeting in the game. You have a confirm and cancel button that act as your functions for most everything from piloting the ship to picking up a wrench and fixing something or dropping it. I had quite a few occurrences where that dang wrench outright killed me. I’d drop it to run to the steering wheel to dodge a critical asteroid only to have it grab the wrench instead of the wheel, causing me to hit the obstacle and explode. This game can become so much to handle so fast and when passengers, tools, and functions bunch up, it can result in some cheap deaths.
I also felt like I circulated through the available upgrades and ships in the game much faster than I should have. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a wide variety of vessels, parts, and gear that allow you to play and challenge yourself in a multitude of ways, but it also felt like I got the “optimum” parts I wanted quickly and didn’t have much to explore in that regard after maybe the 10th run. Still, there are tons of ways to challenge yourself in this game, not the least of which is going multiplayer with it. You can have up to three friends join you locally or online and it makes the chaos and/or well-oiled teamwork of your journey that much more fun.
No sleep till Gambulon V
Spacelines from the Far Out was an unexpected delight. The premise itself is just bananas, but the execution is also excellent as you figure out what will get you from A to B with as few holes in your spacecraft as possible. The cartoonish visuals, music, and gameplay were excellent even if the game could be stressful, but overcoming its challenge to arrive at Gambulon V is glorious. I wish there was more variety in upgrades and ships, and that targeting when performing activities in cramped spots wasn’t so nitpicky. However, whether you’re alone or playing with friends, Spacelines from the Far Out feels like a zany approach to customer service and roguelike elements that should make for quite a few sessions of challenges and fun.
This review based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Spacelines from the Far Out launches on Xbox Game Pass on June 7, 2022 and on PC on June 9, 2022.
Spacelines from the Far Out
- Premise is downright silly
- The challenge of piloting and customer service is fun
- Visuals and music are cartoonish and charming
- Every checkpoint usually means an unlock
- Online and offline multiplayer add to the chaos
- Interesting and randomized roguelike space journey
- Actions confounded by bunched up objects or passsengers
- Felt like I saw the gamut of upgrades and ships quickly