Extrasolar – A Starter’s Guide to the Space Exploration ARG

Extrasolar – What We Think:

From the creator of indie smash hit COGS comes a decidedly different title inviting you to take an active role in the remote exploration of strange new worlds. As part of a small, crack team of qualified applicants (or so it says on your profile), you are given control of an advanced planetary rover. Use it to navigate alien expanses, snap still images of the landscapes, and transmit them back to the team on Earth.

Far from a third-person experience, Extrasolar’s reach extends beyond the game. Players will receive emails, PDF files and various other forms of media from the space exploration outfit XRI, as well as communiques from a shadowy character acting from the background. As the mysteries of the strange new worlds rise to the surface, you’ll need to weigh each side’s story and pick your allegiance.

Lose Your Mind

If you’re not familiar with ARGs (Alternative Reality Games), you’ll get a quick lesson as you register for the XRI exploration initiative. Be sure to enter a valid email address (and one you check regularly).

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Extrasolar screenshot: Scour the terrain for organisms.

Your first attempt to gain access to the program will fail, citing a lack of available rovers. Your application will be kept for consideration, but there isn’t much more you can do.

You’ve Got Mail

I must admit, I was vexed by this development, and assumed that for whatever reason, I was locked out of the game. It wasn’t until later in the day that I found out that the game had already begun, even if the action wasn’t taking place on screen.

Still hitting a wall? You did just enter a valid email address to register, didn’t you?

Red Rover, Red Rover

Once you’ve addressed the registration snag, you can issue commands to your very own planetary reconnaissance vehicle. You are tasked with guiding the rover to points of interest using points on a map. Once you’ve arrived at a location, a picture is taken. Because of the distance between earth and this mystery planet, you can issue one command every hour, with an image being generated at the end of each.

You’ll be told the time of day that the rover will reach a destination, and will have to consider light levels when planning your photo. If the shots don’t have enough light, or you didn’t use the right equipment, it will be harder to identify useful data in your pics. New image tools may also become available to you should you impress the brass at XRI.

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Extrasolar screenshot: Oh brave new world…

These images will appear in your profile once they have successfully traversed space to reach your console. Pore over them to tag and identify organisms indigenous to the planet. If you’ve met the criteria for solid image capture, the lab monkeys on earth will be able to pick out specimens from your efforts. You’ll even receive badges to commemorate certain numbers of discoveries.

As your journey progresses, you’ll have the occasional message come in asking for the completion of side tasks. You can take these on for additional accolades. The real meat of the game lies in unraveling the true secrets of the planet; as each new layer of the truth is exposed, a hidden drama begins to take shape.

Hurry Up and Wait

In a world where a quick microtransaction can have you instantly playing the next round of Candy Crush, you may find the pacing of Extrasolar to be a little daunting. You can make one move an hour, and that’s it. You can schedule up to four moves, and you can cancel any commands that aren’t already occurring, but other than that, you’ll just have to wait.

It’s a bit of a dual-edged sword, really: On the one hand, it feels as though the intensity of the narrative sluices through the cracks in the downtime. On the other, having played on and off for days now, I find that the really large discoveries pack an exceptional amount of punch.

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Extrasolar screenshot: Mission control

The pared back interface also means that I have very little to do when I do check on my rover. I generally read any new notifications, scan and tag my photos, and plot my next move. Then, I typically minimalize the Extrasolar tab in my browser until the next hour mark is reached.

Sometimes I’ll forget to check in on time, remembering only later that my rover will require additional instructions. Other times, I know I’m inching ever closer to a major find, and I’m eagerly checking back to see if I can catch it with my camera in this turn.

The inter-company propaganda flicks that play on occasion also help to construct a sensation of working your way through a complex business entity. Unfortunately, some of the vocal performances in “intercepted” phone calls feel a bit forced, muddying the illusion slightly.

Extravagant

However you choose to play, Extrasolar is surprisingly engaging for a title whose mechanic is so simple. The lushness of the interactive vistas captured in photos – combined with a story that twists as much as the path of your rover – help to create a sense of presence, even though you’ll likely spend less than an hour a day playing. A refreshingly daring creation from developer Rob Jagnow and company.

Play Extrasolar at the official website

Watch the launch trailer for Extrasolar

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