It's easy to guess that I'm pretty excited about the arrival of the next generation consoles to arrive. The current hardware is slow, aged technology, policies in need of revision, and there's a definite feeling of stagnation in the imagination of the larger budget titles. This is partly why in the past year or so I've really embraced the PC to play more exciting and unique titles that you won't see on Microsoft or Sony's boxes that are out right now. Someone out there has to make me still excited about this whole video games nonsense.
The latest of these fascinating titles that I've played is Santa Ragione's MirrorMoon EP, a first-person puzzle/exploration game in the vein of a Portal or Proteus. MirrorMoon EP celebrates the concept of space travel, exploring the unknown and the belief of the natural gathering of humanity to conquer the stars. It revels in esoteric concepts and images, making even the simple ability of navigating the world an abstract puzzle. It's a game that requires you to commit a decent chunk of your time and cognizance, for both great reward and incredible tedium.
MirrorMoon EP begins with you staring at a strange and abstract control console and gives you zero explanation apart from some slight color cues in how to operate it. This device is how you explore space, with the majority of the space dedicated to a map of the space you're traversing. The console is a great summary of the MirrorMoon EP experience, and will probably quickly tell you whether you'll be into this game or not.
As soon as you figure out the base functions of the console, you're transported to a tutorial planet where the game allows you to figure out most of the gameplay and puzzle mechanics. Here you are also introduced to MirrorMoon EP's incredibly simple artstyle which revolves around crude bits of geometry and a super ambient soundtrack that frequently hums in strange electronica tones.
This onslaught of weird is first dizzying and alien to the senses, especially when you find out the main gameplay tool is the neighboring moon which is present on every world is your primary method of solving the puzzles present on these planets. As indicated by the title, this moon serves as your minimap, and by gathering various tools you can also manipulate it like moving or rotating it around in some novel ways. Your goal is to unlock the beacon on each planet by exploring the world and completing its abstract puzzles. Once activated by running up to it, the beacon will teleport you back to your starship and you get the opportunity to name the planet, as long as anyone else hasn't already.
There's a communal aspect of MirrorMoon EP in which you can choose to participate with other players who are also exploring the universe and solving puzzles, activating beacons and naming planets which you will see as you look at your star chart. You'll never see another player or starship flying around, but simply knowing that others have been around is comforting as you explore the dark depths of space (Especially when I ran into a planet called "ENDGAM" which was useful in getting to the credits quickly.). Currently 100% of the universe has been discovered and named (UPDATE: A new season has launched with a new set of worlds to explore, so out there and space it up!), which is a bummer for new players, but you can opt to start a game without connecting to the servers, which gives you a blank universe to blast around in.
If only the act of traveling, both in the starship and land side weren't so boring. After you lock in your destination and engage your mandatory autopilot it will frequently take about five real-life minutes to get to a new planet, which while feels authentic to the space exploring business, quickly becomes very time-consuming.
This is even more unfortunate when after a long journey you land on the planet to discover that the planet has no puzzle and the beacon is already waiting for you to activate, or the puzzle is a simple three-step process taking barely a minute to solve. This is a massive waste of time, which happened to me more often than not. But if your planet does have a more involved puzzle to solve, you have to deal with the clumsy movement controls. In the ground game you cant maneuver your view with the mouse, with your view frustrating locked to your WASD movement. Also while the local moon will be your minimap, it's often locked to a single location which makes exploration a chore as you simply have to point yourself in a direction and hope you run into something.
I love space a lot, and it's easy to tell that developer Santa Ragione does too. The social aspect of exploring space with a bunch of strangers is a fascinating concept, one that consoles like the Xbox One promise with the "power of the cloud", but MirrorMoon EP does a decent job of doing this before any of the shiny new boxes show up. There are some incredible moments that I had with MirrorMoon EP in discovering some truly awe-inspiring planets, but most of the game felt like a chore and I usually left a planet more often than not disappointed or frustrated.
THREE OUT OF FIVE
(A balanced game that has a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, meaning that it alternates between being good and bad in mostly equal measure)