Many science fiction games are epic in scope. These use massive budgets to evoke wonder in the player, allowing them to zip from planet to planet on fancy, upgradable ships, visit amazing floating space stations twinkling in glowing nebulas, and engage in deep conversations with wild alien species. But there is another type of science fiction, which focuses on story and theme, eschewing the amazing big-budget visuals in favor of the straightforward delivery of heady ideas.
Lifeless Moon is one of the latter. I’m not trying to give the impression that Lifeless Moon is an unattractive game; the visuals are serviceable, if somewhat dated. It’s just that in a game like Lifeless Moon, the visuals are merely a means to an end. In filmic terms, the equivalent would be something along the lines of Primer, or Coherence; films that communicate amazing stories without breaking the bank on special effects.
Lifeless Moon is the spiritual successor to Lifeless Planet, a 2012 game with similar themes. In Lifeless Moon, a small team of astronauts land on the lunar surface in the early 1970s, only to discover that in a freak accident years before, a few square blocks of a small town were transported there. The town’s population was immediately killed in the vacuum on the moon, but the scientists responsible for the accident have clearly visited the site, leaving behind equipment and notes that help flesh out the history for the player.
From here the player is taken on an interplanetary journey (maybe), zipping and zapping from location to location through Stargate-style gateways, visiting a number of improbable locations. Along the way, more of the history of the scientific team is revealed, and things get more and more trippy. More than once, Lifeless Moon pulls off some stunning “It’s full of stars” moments, despite its limited scope.
Gameplay-wise, Lifeless Moon is too puzzle-oriented to be considered a simple walking simulator. There are occasional (very easy) platforming sections, assisted in the mid-game by a jetpack, and the game sometimes slows down for some simple puzzle solving.
I spent far too much time at the beginning of Lifeless Moon trying to climb onto roofs and explore every nook and cranny of the maps – but this isn’t that game. Everything you need is readily available, and once I got hip to the rhythm of how the game’s levels and puzzles were laid out, I was able to scoot through most obstacles without even slowing down. Objects are automatically picked up when you wander close to them, and the ease is such that sometimes I didn’t even realize I had what I needed to proceed.
Lifeless Moon clocks in at a very light three hour run time, which is enough to deliver the story beats it is aiming for, and little else. The player is kept apprised of current events via the in-game log, which contains story logs for the astronaut, notes and documents found from the science team, and a handy (and somewhat hand-holding) goal log, which pretty much tell the player exactly what they need to do next. It doesn’t go as far as telling the player where to find objects, but it certainly points them toward the next thing that needs to be done.
In many ways, Lifeless Moon reminds me of various VR games I’ve played over the last few years. You arrive on a strange planet, you wander around and solve a few puzzles, you solve the mysteries you discover along the way. In fact, Lifeless Moon would make a pretty great VR experience; it would be fun to guide your little astronaut around in 3D, and the length is similar to what you find in some VR games.
I want to make special mention of the pulsing score, which mixes string instruments with 70s synth elements to create some real cool and unique sounds. The judicious use of this score and sound effects lends a sense of mystery and tension to the entire game.
All of this adds up to a nice, story-driven experience that doesn’t demand too much from the player. As you discover different puzzle elements, it feels like learning the language of the game. Once you speak the language, you are able to knock down any barriers to completion with little difficulty.
This game isn’t going to go down in history as a groundbreaker, but it is a fun nugget of Twilight Zone-style fiction. The story in Lifeless Moon is interesting enough to reward the brief time commitment asked, and the surprises the exploration brings give cause to recommend the game to fans of old school weird science fiction tales.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here.View Profile