If FTL: Faster Than Light (2012) and the Borderlands franchise had a baby, the freakishly hard offspring would invariably be From Other Suns, a first-person shooter/spaceship management sim from Gunfire Games, the makers of Dead & Buried (2017), Chronos (2016) and Herobound: Spirit Champion (2016). Like its procedurally generated spiritual progenitor FTL, FOS will leave you gasping for breath at every turn, never sure if the two to three hours you spent fighting pirates, aliens, or zombies will amount to a win, or (more likely) a soul-crushing loss.
Note to the reader: Before I start, I want to make it clear that system-to-system jumping in FOS is accomplished with a single button press. The map is finite, making you travel from left to right and the only piloting you’ll be doing is jumping system to system. If you’re looking to pilot your own ship and fly wherever you want, I would suggest you take a look at the Steam ‘space sim’ category for starters. Now, on with the review.
You’ve been thrown to the far edge of space after testing out an experimental warp drive, bringing with you a terrible virus-like alien species that nips at your heels on you way back to Earth. As a captain of a tiny Skimmer-class ship, you’ll have to collect enough scrap (the universal currency), and buy, scrounge, or steal enough fuel and missiles to fight your way safely back home. Sounds easy, right? Just grind around some star systems, complete some missions, shoot some fools and you’re home free! Not quite.
Servicing, upgrading, stocking missiles and fueling your ship is only a part of the game’s balancing act. You’ll also have to maintain an NPC crew, because when you die guns ablazing on an enemy ship, spare crew members become an extra life. Once you’re out of crew, you’re out of lives, so the challenge becomes keeping at least one meatbag alive on your ship so you can keep moving forward. This gets especially hectic when you’re in multiplayer mode and your whole three-person team is wiped out, which sometimes can leave you with a designated meatbag to protect as the rest of you continue on as robots. You can of course purchase new crew members, but they’re both rare and expensive.
Repairing internal systems in real-time while fending off enemy boarding parties during a ship-to-ship battle is only a taste of some of the desperation you’ll get as you scrape by before your inevitable death. And once you’re dead, you’re dead. Everything resets. You can quit during a private gate and save your progress, but you can’t revert to any sort of savepoint once you’re dead. This may sound like a damning appraisal of the game, but it really isn’t. It’s just fair warning that dying is an integral part of how you play the game. You’ll win eventually, but it’ll take luck, a hard-won understanding of the enemy types, and the help of permanent items awarded through in-game achievements.
As one of the only ways to truly get ahead in FOS, banging out the game’s achievements to get permanently-available high-spec guns and better ships essentially act as a difficulty slider that rewards Sisyphean persistence over technical skill. There is no other way to adjust difficulty. If you’re like me though, both lazy and inept, the only safe haven you’ll find will likely be in multiplayer, where other players have done the heavy lifting for you. That’s right, you can always be a designated meatbag if you don’t want to spend hours killing hundreds of pirates from a certain faction for that next ship-unlocking achievement. Just don’t expect to be popular.
Ship-to-ship battles are oftentimes forced upon you by an enemy’s FTL-jammers, so you either fight to the death or throw everything you’ve got at the overpowered pirates subsystems and hope to knock them hard enough to either releasing you from the jam, or bringing down their tactical capabilities so you can transport over and clean them out manually. That last part is my favorite, as it really amps up the feeling of danger. Ship-to-ship battles are fairly basic (fire on baddies, repair subsystems), and you’ll know almost immediately if you’re headed for an instant game over based on the enemy’s stats.
Because so much depends on your ship, the first-person shooter element offers a welcome pause to the otherwise technical resource management nature of the game. I wouldn’t call it a perfect VR shooting experience though, as the game’s slew of comically large blasters don’t provide any way of looking down sights, leaving you to spray and pray until you can get a feel for where and how the gun shoots. There are about 5 or 6 classes of guns that vary in strength and magazine capacity, so you’ll have to keep a look out for better guns as you stalk through enemy ships. In the end, I was hoping it wouldn’t be all about single-handed weapons and eventually offer some two-handed weapons too, but alas, you’ll find yourself wielding rocket rifle-sized “pistols” throughout.
Carried via a 5-gun max inventory and two hip holsters, the inventor system can leave you scratching your head as you accidentally grab a gun from the floor or wall instead of selecting the desired weapon, but you do get used to it over the course of the game, making sure to correctly highlight the gun and stay away from walls and other guns on your quest to find the biggest and baddest hand cannon available. The inventory, for all its flaws, is so much better than scrolling through a flat UI though.
Despite all your numerous problems to balance, ammo isn’t really one of them, as both enemy and your ship has enough recharge stations littered throughout to keep you refilled on pewpewpew juice. Shooting can become a tiring exercise after a while though due to the lack of visual indicator of enemy health, leaving you asking yourself just how many times you have to shoot an unshielded human in the head with an explosive grenade until he/she turns to plasmatic dust.
Along with guns, the game’s consumables—stimpacks and cargo hold hacking units—are found solely on other ships, so you’ll have to be lucky enough to find them and have enough room in your secondary inventory to bring them back for next time.
In all honesty, it might be a bit too masochistic in single player mode. It’s bad enough to have clueless AI crew members that get slaughtered at a moments notice, whereas in multiplayer mode you could send a real live person to do the job of defending the ship’s vital guts. Multiplayer lets you plan out strategies, sweep through levels quicker, and generally absorb more consumables to build out a respectable cache back at your ship. It’s also just more fun to play and learn from others as everyone tries to crack the code on how to get to Earth the fastest and most efficiency. This is somewhat hampered by a difficulty level that scales according to the number of live crew members aboard, but I’d wager multiplayer is still easier than single player by a long shot.
From Other Suns is massively fun with the right crew, just like Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew (2016), so if you’re thinking of going solo, you better have a hard head on your shoulders.
With the big bad alien mother ship jumping forward at a steady pace, leaving every ship and station destroyed in its wake, you’re never really given much time to grind for anything, as the 5-10 times playing through the game you’ll be mostly depending on sheer luck and maybe a wise tactical upgrade or two to get to the final goal. And even then, you may have just limped in with crappy upgrades, one last stimpack and a do-or-die attitude that you’ve honed after playing 10 hours spanning multiple runs at the game. This sort of existential panic, be it single or multiplayer, has a great way of robbing attention from you, snapping you into the action until the bitter end.
Risky fire fights aside, what falls flat on its face immersion-wise are the times when you’re just hanging out and exploring ships. Hardly anything is interactive, which feels like a missed opportunity of galactic proportions. Poker chips sit undisturbed in the mess room, a TV is dead and grey in the crew quarters, and your hand clips through everything completely in vain. Another small list of grievances: NPCs don’t react when you try to move them out of the way, and you aren’t afforded so much as a satisfying gun clank, as your weapons clip through each other too.
Because of the snap-to inventory system, even simply handing a gun to another player becomes a chore. You have to—and I’m not joking—either find a recharge station/wall holder to exchange guns or throw the gun on the ground which doesn’t always work. You’ll also have to learn how to throw guns on the ground so they don’t automatically snap back to your inventory too.
When nothing feels solid and hardly anything reacts to you presence, you learn to ignore an overwhelming bulk of the environment, scanning only for the few highlighted consumables and key cards. You sort of check out internally as the promise of switches and doohickeys is dashed within the first gameplay session. This is a true shame, because the procedurally generated interiors are visually rich, and they should ideally deliver equally rich object interaction.
That said, environmental audio is excellent, offering a variety of hums and whirs to make the ship really feel alive. The soundtrack too is something worth more praise than I can give, lending moments of true cinematic quality when needed. Voice acting is a grand mix of American and East London accents, most of them convincing and very well done too.
There’s a marked lack of positional VOIP, meaning your shipmate’s voice always sounds the same regardless of where you are, but this is a pretty minor grumbling.
There are a number of locomotion styles available, giving most everyone a style they’re used to and even one fairly underused one, something Gunfire calls ‘comfort mode’ but is more accurately described by calling it ‘third person teleportation’ mode. In this mode, you pilot a copy of yourself forward while your POV stays behind. Once you find the spot you want to be in, you instantly blink teleport there. This keeps you honest as your third-person copy is still vulnerable to damage, but gives you the added benefit of VR’s the most comfortable locomotion style outside of natural 1:1 room-scale locomotion.
There’s also head and hand-relative first-person locomotion, which gives you more of a traditional FPS feel. I tended to play mostly in seated mode, which gives you smooth forward motion relative to your body. This lets you move forward while looking left and right and doesn’t require a lot of body movement. Both smooth and snap-turning is available.
The inclusion of comfort mode and snap-turning along with ‘force grab’ for items makes this an exceedingly comfortable game that can be equally played sitting down or standing up.
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