FBT orders next day delivery for the Moon.
In the near future, humanity has exhausted the Earth’s natural resources, and so naturally, starts strip-mining the Moon instead. For years, Earth survives on energy supplies beamed from there, until the moonbase suddenly goes offline. After an investigation crew from the orbiting hub fails to find answers, it’s down to a NASA-like group to cobble together a ship and rocket a volunteer to the Moon before Earth dies. No pressure.
Usually in those sorts of save-the-world games, we’re just chucked into a location and get on with it, but in DUtM we really feel the entire mission bearing down on us; we even have to prep our own spaceship. It seems like padding to be darting about turning on this and filling up that, but it helps to set the scene of a decimated, no longer functioning Earth, and once you’re in and press ‘Go’ it becomes a fraught panic to actually launch the thing. Once you do though, you feel a great sense of achievement. Briefly. I barely have time to consider myself The Right Stuff before we’re trying to dock, navigate the hub, survive being blown into space; it’s real seat-of-your-pants stuff just to reach the Moon, let alone save Earth.
But once we reach the Moonbase it all changes. Everything still keeps going wrong, and the simple task of saving the Earth seems overwhelming, but now we’re walking around a futuristic Marie Celeste, uncovering clues and explanations of what happened to the crew and the investigators. You’re constantly reminded that it’s all on you and you’re all alone, and not even seeing the face of the astronaut we’re playing feeds into that; they don’t talk to themselves, have no contact with Earth, don’t interact with anyone. The lack of voices really gets to you. It’s lonely. We’re the only one here.
Still, like Tom Hanks on that island, we have a kind of Wilson. Most of the Moon staff were accompanied by an ‘ASE’, a floating orb-shaped robot, and we build one early on which you can use to navigate ahead and fix things. I was expecting the ASE to become a chatty mission giver, or a distant cousin of Wheatly perhaps, but it’s more R2D2, providing holograms of past events and occasionally letting out a whistle or bleep. Given it’s the only companion we have, you get strangely attached to it.
As we bounce our way through the base, we uncover the events and within that narrative, smaller, more intimate stories emerge as well as the recordings of the first team to reach the base. What happened to them? What happened to the Moon people? We’re chasing ghosts you start to hope you’ll find alive.
Although our astrohero is the silent type, there are hints about why they took this near-suicide mission. They react to the holograms with increasing worry; not only are we trying to save earth, we’ve clearly got a personal reason to be here. DUtM is incredibly ambitious – several intertwining stories, a realistic sci-fi setting, puzzles, saving the earth, all with a solo silent protagonist and a mute floating ball - and totally pulls it off. It all becomes very compelling as you scramble to navigate the base and reach the on switch.
Although this is largely a walking-sim, especially when you reach the base, there are obstructions but they’re not ‘why is this here’ frustrations. They’re all satisfying logic problems and engineering hacks that make sense in the environment. Some do tip into the old-school era of platforming over inconvenient, firey gas pipes and moving parts that take you out of the moment, but for the most part you’re up against believable problems – in so much as a Moonbase sending energy via microwaves to Earth is believable. Oh, that is possible too.
There are niggles – the holograms move in jerky stills like a Dear Deidre Photo story, and they trigger memories of Tacoma (which to be fair, went into production after DUtM) but it is an Indie title and you still get pulled in – that your character is seriously wounded and you’re more desperate to reach the last hologram than look for a medikit is a testament to its great storytelling.
Another annoyance is oxygen. Our hero is often in zero-oxygen environments, but they’re filled with floating air canisters, so it’s just a diversion rather than a challenge – there’s even oxy stations you can top up at; just carry it, we're weightless. It’s an annoyance rather than tense, and it doesn’t need it – the story and problems are compelling enough, although one scene were we’re launched into space and have to direct our orbit to grab oxygen while being blasted toward safety is a great, Gravity-inspired standout. See, even its criticisms are actually cool really.
Besides Gravity, there’s obviously some 2001 in here, a heavy dose of Interstellar, a dash of Moon plus more, but it doesn’t feel derivative - it’s taking its cues from believable sci-fi and that’s refreshing compared to most sci-fi games. You’re jury-rigging you way toward the power station, just finding ways to get through it.
One reason for not reaching the power is being distracted by some great vistas. The opening where you watch blue sky turn to stars, floating over the moon, seeing the earth in the sky, the Moon buggy trips, that terrifying spacewalk, they’re realistic yet operatically epic, while the station feels functional and unfussy. It just all feels so real, almost normal.
And so are the characters; they’re all understated yet affecting, and when we do reach the finale, it’s incredibly moving and satisfying, one of those rare games where you did it yourself, not through QTE or brainlessly following some mission giver’s commands.
Deliver Us the Moon is just brilliant. It’s a walking sim with some cracking obstacles, but it’s also the most realistic-feeling space game I’ve ever played. Yet again, a small dev team shows the majors how it’s done. This is gaming’s Space Odyssey.