It wasn’t too long ago that I was lucky enough to take a look at a preview build for the much anticipated sequel to Robot Gentleman’s smash-hit, 60 Seconds! That game challenged the player to take on the role of a dad who, when the nuclear warning sirens go off, must collect as many resources as possible in sixty real-time seconds, before ushering his family into the garden bunker. From there the decisions the player makes effect how the game plays out, as the fate of the family rests in your hands. 60 Parsecs! aims to build on this formula by taking the action into the last great unconquered frontier, space (assuming you aren’t one of those people who’s always banging on about little of the ocean we’ve explored), so how well does the game carry it off?
The game opens in much the same way as its predecessor, asking the player, after character selection, to run around their environment collecting resources in 60 seconds. This time around, the player takes control of one of a number of normal citizens who are living on a space station in an alternate 1950’s style timeline. When nukes start going off all over the shop back home on Planet Earth, the spaceship’s sensors begin to ding, as one missile barrels its way towards your floating home. The premise is the same, but why change what isn’t broken? The short tutorial and manic minute are great fun and a perfect way to lead into what is essentially a game of choices, similar to the very first text adventure games on PC. Your actions in this section of the game are critical, as there are a number of factors to take into consideration. You’ll need to pack cans of soup (for obvious reasons), as well as batteries and the small matter of gathering a crew for your galactic escape pod party.
Having begun the journey into the infinite void, the game becomes a series of choices designed to test your captaincy skills. It is up to the player to decide who gets food and when, as well as to confront problems as and when they arrive. Ideally the goal is to find a habitable planet to make a new life on, however unlikely that may be, but 60 Parsecs! is pretty much guaranteed to murder everyone involved a number of times before the player is able to generate even a marginally favourable outcome. It is this level of challenge that makes the game so thrilling, as one bad choice can condemn the entire play-through to failure. Whilst this may sound off putting to some, this is actually where the game’s strength lies. It is not designed to be played once, but rather as many times as possible with a litany of different endings the reward for the most persistent.
There is a rudimentary crafting system which allows the generation of more soup or equipment, assuming there is the necessary resources to do so, or even a sock puppet friend to wile away the lonely hours. The best features of this game lie, firstly, in the excellent writing. The script for random events is extremely funny, more than accounting for the lack of interactivity elsewhere through a witty narrative which I rarely see in this medium. It never feels sluggish and, if anything, sometimes feels brutally short (although this is largely because of my own incompetence, games got considerably longer as I began to overcome my own space-related idiocy). Secondly, the art style for the game is lovely. Although I wasn’t able to pinpoint individual influences from my conversations with a representative of the developer at Gamescom, it is clear there are cues taken from everywhere, particularly well-loved cartoons. As your choices begin to take effect, you will see how this manifests on the crew you have chosen to bring with you. If you ration soup too aggressively, or just run out, the faces of the characters will become gaunt and pallid. It’s a really nice touch to bring home the severity of the task at hand.
60 Parsecs! has proved to be a wonderful follow up to a well-loved original, overcoming the “difficult second album” syndrome which some developers fall victim to, unable to progress under the weight of the first release. All aspects of the original have been improved upon, with a deeper, more meaningful experience on offer for those willing to put the time in on multiple runs through the game. The writing is some of the sharpest around and, if nothing else, it’s great fun to look at. It’s not difficult to recommend this one to as many of you as I can, as Robot Gentleman seeks to secure its place as one of the most ingenious indie developers around.
60 Parsecs! is available now via the Steam digital distribution platform.