Reviewed On: PC
Review copy provided free of charge by the developer.
Science fiction is one of the most beautiful genres, its very premise allowing readers, viewers and players to be amazed by visions of the future or glimpses of alternate timelines while also exploring complex issues that relate to us and our planet under a more comfortable guise. When you combine the sci-fi genre with puzzles you have my undivided attention, because despite not always being that great at them puzzle games are something I love. Lemuria: Lost in Space could just be the game for me, right? Right? Oh.
Dumped onto the Lemuria 7 – which has been lost for years – as Abrix, a robot containing an A.I. capable of exploring the ship, the first problem becomes apparent: the movement system is taken from the days of Myst. If that name doesn’t ring a bell with you then I would not be surprised because it’s a style of movement that went out of fashion long ago, for good reason. Basically, rather than moving around using the WASD keys or anything similar you’ll instead be able to move the mouse around and select from two or three potential directions to go in, with clicking on any of them sending the camera hurtling toward the destinaton, often curving in strange ways and stopping at an odd angle. It’s strange to be moving around a game like this in 2017, but it would be bearable, and even a potentially enjoyable nostalgic step backwards, if it wasn’t for the fact that when you wish to retread your steps’ll literally go backwards along the paths, something that feels genuinely disorientating, at least to me. It doesn’t even make sense; why would an A.I. capable of doing so much try to move backwards rather than simply turning around or at least spinning the camera?
All the while you have to monitor your robots coolant levels, energy and radiation because Abrix is a fairly fragile machine. Failure to do so instantly ends the game, a bold design decision in what is essentially a puzzler. To refuel these meters you need to grab the batteries and coolant tanks found within chests that typically require a colored card to access, adding a sort of survival mechanic into the game where resources must constantly be monitored. Occasionally you’ll even get mechanical failures, including losing your on-screen coolant, radiation and power stats, leaving you to guess how much you have left or wait for a voice-over to announce, using broken English, that you’re dangerously low on something. To fix this you need to find a repair kit but those are surprisingly rare. Basically, this resource system feels like a royal pain in the backside designed purely to…eh, I’m not actually sure. Its existence alongside the game’s puzzles creates an awkward relationship between the two. On the one hand it does give you more impetus to complete sections quickly or else fail completely, and on the other hand it’s really damn annoying to be half-way through something and end up having to load up the last save and repeat everything you just did, especially since some areas can be quite skimpy on the resources. It also creates a completely false sense of difficulty. You’ll fail not because you were not good enough, but because you spent time figuring out the layout of the area and determining what needs to be done as the game sometimes fails to communicate its intentions with you as well as it needs to. It’s also worth pointing out that multiple saves do need to be kept otherwise it’s possible to become completely stuck due to not having enough power or coolant to make it past some enemies or something else.
Ah yes, the puzzles which make up the core of what Lumeria is. Like every good spaceship the Lumeria 7 has a huge amount of locked doors that need to be opened with handy-dandy ID cards, many of which are in improbable areas or involve having to meander through roundabout routes to acquire. It’s in these puzzles that the game manages to show tantalizing glimpses of something more enjoyable, but sadly they exist more as a tease for something far better. The majority of your time is spent going back and forth with keycards or doing simple things such as slotting pipes into other pipes or navigating an easy series of forcefield doorways or turning a few mirrors around to redirect a beam. A lot of time will also be spent “hacking” computers by answering math or trivia questions, including things like being asked which author wrote Discworld. And by the way developers, Sir Terry Pratchett never wrote a book called Discworld. A slightly more intriguing form of hacking is presented at certain terminals where you play a mini-game against the computer, deploying trojan horses, viruses and worms in order to capture the enemy base. It’s a neat idea let down by poor design leading to frustrating matches where victory can feel more like luck because the A.I. did something stupid.
Speaking of stupid stuff, there’s combat in the game. Well, sort of. Quite often you’ll encounter mechs roaming the ship that will open fire on your hapless drone, so you’ll need to select a weapon from the inventory and shoot back, which mechanically boils down to clicking on the enemy until it blows up or you do. The only bit of potential “strategy” comes from the fact that occasionally an enemy will be patrolling a very short route and you may be able to time your arrival so that you can get a few free shots in, or from picking the right gun to match the situation.
There’s even some light leveling mechanics, letting you sink points into increasing the effectiveness of the coolant usage by an exciting 1% or bumping up how much juice a battery will provide when used. Much like the combat it feels like a useless system tossed into the game merely to tick a box because they were worried that without combat or RPG mechanics nobody would be interested. There’s nothing exciting about leveling up and you barely notice the difference, rendering the whole thing a waste of time.
When you toss it all together it’s…well, boring, to be honest, which is arguably worse than just being terrible. Most of the problem lies within the puzzles which aren’t particularly creative nor challenging, while the bolted on fighting and leveling bring nothing interesting to the table. Indeed, in the case of the leveling up it doesn’t even make thematic sense. Before long I found myself struggling to muster up any enthuiasm to keep playing. I kept waiting for the story to finally kick in proper or for an awesome puzzle to pop up, but those moments never came.
Tying everything together is the tale of what happened to the Lumeria 7, as told via the crew aboard your ship and a variety of messages you find along the way. Cringe-worthy dialogue and poor voice acting smash together to form something that made me wince whenever a chunk of story had to be delivered. To be fair, though, great acting talent isn’t something most indie game developers can get their hands on and writing good dialogue is tough business. The poor overarching story is a harder thing to forgive, though, with most of the plot treading incredibly familiar ground and not managing to do it well. It lacks any depth, humour or pure entertainment.
It honestly sucks to play any indie game and then heavily criticize it, because obviously with such small teams of dedicated people and low budgets it feels like you’re bullying the little kid on the playground. Still, my loyalty lies with the customer and thus I have to say that I don’t believe Lemuria 7 to be worth your time or money. Weak writing, a forgettable story and awkward acting make this a dissapointing sci-fi story while the lackluster puzzles fail to challenge intellectually nor impress with creativity.