Black Science – The Away Team Review
The Away Team gives players the chance to play out their science fiction fantasy of leading a planetary exploration team. The drama of excursions plays out through a text based choose your own adventure. My initial reaction skeptical, how entertaining would this actually be? I was pleasantly surprised at just how engaging the game turned out to be.
The story of Away Team has the players assume the identity of the ship AI. The AI is snarky at times and written with a humorous level of inhuman detachment. One of my favorite examples of this is, as the AI knowing the water systems on the ship are actually recycled urine but, neglecting to tell the crew this detail. Another great example, tricking the crew into eating meat from a deceased crew member they thought was jettisoned into space. In the eyes of the AI, that would just be wasteful when their are no food supplies. These moments of dark comedy help “lighten” the mood of the overall story which is one that is bleak and seemingly hopeless. The crew aboard the ship are the last humans in existence. Their mission is to find a new home, as Earth has been destroyed from overpopulation and planetary instability. The tone of the game can be utterly tragic at times, but it at it’s best when it’s darkly comical. Whenever a crew member dies it states, ” The loss is tragic, but the mission must continue.” and the remaining crew just move on with the mission. Space life is apparently soul numbingly hard. It’s not all death and tragedy, there are some genuinely bizarre sci fi moments. In my travels I came across a sentient tar monster, an AI that wrote shakespearean plays, and planet with a massive smiley face etched into it.
Each crew member has their own quirks which range from humorous idiosyncrasies to down right liabilities. The nature and deposition of crew needs to be considered when embarking on missions as they will at times act on their own free will. In one mission, a rather aggressive crew member ignored my commands to seek cover and ran blindly into an alien ambush. That same crew member murdered a crewmen out of hunger in order to consume them when food supplies had been depleted for weeks. The personalities add a new wrinkle to each play through and there are about a dozen different crew to choose from.
A minor complaint I have of the game is the navigation of the ship. It’s not interesting and I never felt like I accomplished anything despite planet hopping multiple times. A galactic overview would have helped me visualize what progress I had made within the game. The light jump mechanic, which is how players progress to a new section of the galaxy isn’t explained at all. My first two playthroughs, I ran out of food and fuel mindlessly roaming the map waiting for my lightspeed to engage. It will only engage when you reach a border. I’m not sure if the border you travel from determines where you end up or if everything is procedurally generated. Again, a map would help clear this up.
I was unsure what to expect from The Away Team, and frankly I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. If you don’t like reading in your games, you won’t like it, but the wit and dark comedy is what won me over. I never found a new Earth, but my travels through the galaxy was rewarding enough for me. Despite, the multiple crews I’ve lost to planetary implosion or intercrew cannibalism I can’t help but think, The loss is tragic, but the mission must continue.