Last year, the folks at Fastermind Games surprised and impressed with Icebound: a decent fantasy title that showed off the potential of the group. Since then, they have been busy on their next big project Moonshot: an episodic sci-fi series that takes place on an Earth under alien subjugation. I immediately fell in love with the concept and have been following its quiet development cycle since its announcement. And when Fastermind announced that the beta for the first episode of Moonshot was available for testing, your humble reviewer was ready and waiting.
Unfortunately, anyone waiting for a full review will have to keep waiting. It is only a beta copy after all and doing a full public review of it now wouldn’t be fair to Fastermind. They’ll be getting something much more thorough in private however because yours truly has a LOT to say. However, I figured the least I could do is provide a quick feature on the game in the name of bald-faced hype. Why? As I said on Twitter a few days ago, if Moonshot plays its cards right then the series can be a real contender in 2016. However, that will depend on the state in which their first episode will be released and whether or not it takes full advantage of itself.
The strongest card in Moonshot’s hand is its story and the setup is actually very strong. Here the hostile race, called the Selenon, invaded Earth and after a brief but costly war destroyed most technological advancements and established a puppet human government in order to ensure peace and order. This puppet authority, the Bureau of Human Affairs, manages the regular civilian police force as well as SPECTRA; a special task force made up of investigators who have been granted psychic powers by the Selenon at the cost of their memories.
This is an idea that deserves far more use in science fiction because it showcases a departure from most science fiction. In most science fiction tales, extraterrestrial forces fit into one of two camps. The first one can be seen in series like Mass Effect where the universe operates similarly to our own geopolitical structure. Just replace ‘Systems Alliance’ with ‘United States of America’ and most of the universe is just trying to survive day to day and managing a sort of galactic multiculturalism in the core worlds. Of course, the suspiciously enticing aliens doesn’t hurt that whole ‘multiculturalism’ thingy.
The second camp comes from the majority of science fiction where extraterrestrial life is an active threat. From War of the Worlds to Halo, most alien species seem oddly determined to lay waste to this singular homo-sapien outpost. I’m not here to knock this particular camp as we’ve gotten some classic literature from it. However, whether they’re out to destroy us or somehow find harmony with us, neither camp acknowledges what historically happens when a technologically superior civilization meets another one.
That, my friends, is empire.
While the 19th century defined Imperialism in uniquely European terms, if you look humanity through a broad lens, conquest and imperialism have defined us as a species and has guided our advancement since mankind invented the wheel. Yet, it’s an ideology that is mostly foreign with science fiction aliens. Call me strange, but I would think that imperialism has just as much of a chance of spreading amongst a technologically superior, extraterrestrial race as it did with humanity. Moonshot seems to be using that as a backdrop and I commended them for trying something so bold.
We do see some of the theme used in Episode 1 and I really hope it is expounded on in subsequent episodes as I feel it is an untapped resource for the adventurous sci-fi writer. However, first you need to have a story set in this world that creates audience investment in order to even begin scratching the surface of a world under alien occupation. Unfortunately, this is where Moonshot trips pretty hard in the beta. I have to bite my tongue here because I cannot spoil anything overt, but I will say I have been telling EVN writers all year to slow down. Especially when you building an episodic game, there is literally no reason to rush anything and the incredibly awesome moments that a writer dreamed up can only work if the audience gives a damn.
Moonshot makes the exact same mistake many other EVN this year have, rushes through an integral part of its first episode and it is a damn near fatal mistake by the end. So, allow me to again make this call to all devs in the vane hope that it is heard: SLOW THE FUCK DOWN GODDAMMIT. If, at any point, you’re writing a scene and you think some variation of, ‘When I get to -insert ‘cool’ scene here-, so many people are going to flip out’, chances are you’re rushing it. And this goes double if you are working on an episodic game, because at that point there is no goddamn excuse for rushing anything. I won’t deny that there is an audience who will gladly swallow it up because it reaches the low bar of their expectations and standards, but your job as a dev IS NOT to reach someone’s low expectations of your work. Go slow. Dead Slow. UBER DEAD SLOW and make sure that what you are writing develops and deepens your story.
Other than that, the other thing of note is the gameplay. Moonshot is inspired by cop drama and the underlying storyline deals with a murder investigation. What makes the investigating fun is that you actually get to, believe it or not, investigate. Yes; a mystery visual novel that allows for actual detective work. The way it goes about it is simple yet ingenious as it borrows the same Ace Attorney-style questioning mechanics where you look for flaws in a witness’ statement using both your psychic abilities and evidence you collect via point-and-click.
Again, that seems like it would be the simplest thing for a developer to do as the AA mechanics is built for a mystery game. Yet here we are with Moonshot doing both the easiest and the most ingenious thing it can do to make Moonshot stand out from other visual novels. The detective segments are, admittedly, pretty straightforward but begin to add on a little complexity by the end of the game. One thing that I hope will come to future episodes and from other developers is that the potential to allow for presumptive detectives to experiment and even fail with their investigations and have to live with the consequences instead of getting a Game Over screen and being forced to start over; a la LA Noire. I hope Fastermind continues to develop this idea and gets the most out of their investigation system because it is fun and well worth the time put into it.
There are a handful of other positives in the game, including a solid third act and fantastic presentation. It does unfortunately suffer from what I am officially calling Orion Syndrome where the Event Graphics and Character Sprites are clearly two different artists. Like Sierra Ops before it, my expectations have been tempered a bit moving forward for when Moonshot leaves beta. However, unlike Sierra Ops, Moonshot is in a much better position to learn from its first episode and still build a solid series. Hell, depending on how they do this beta, they could still have a very strong first episode. So cautious optimism is the standing order on Moonshot until we get a full release.
If you want more information about Moonshot, please check out the official website. JP3: OUT.