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Preview: Lacuna Passage

Introduction
Lacuna Passage shall be my second preview instead of a review, meaning that I will not give the game, a rating or highlight any strong/weak points. This will not mean however that I won’t offer as much constructive criticism, since that kind of treatment gets applied to all my Steam writings. I will do my best to keep it as honest and to the point as I can, regardless of a final rating or not.
This is the second Steam project from developer Random Seed Games, after their debut, TIMEframe. While both titles may be regarded as walking simulators within barren landscapes and powered by Unity Engine assets, Lacuna Passage is firmly planted into reality instead of containing the abstract symbolism prevalent in TIMEframe.
Story

I was half-expecting Lacuna Passage to be an actual place on Mars. Hence the added link above, with a high-res map of the Red Planet itself. I must confess, I’m a huge fan of anything Mars-related. Seen most, if not all movies which featured the fourth planet from the Sun. But Lacuna Passage is a fictional place and the word “lacuna” is a fancier term for “gap”. Plenty of procedurally generated gaps in the game I’m previewing today. You know what’s truly missing though? The storyline. To their credit, the dev team acknowledges this while promising that in a future update, players will be able to uncover astronaut Jessica Rainer’s story and help her survive a failed mission to Mars, from which she’s the sole survivor.
Graphics
By the looks of it (and in-game settings menu), we’re dealing with another quality title making good use of Unity Engine 5 assets. The frame rate is a bit unstable at 4K resolution (I was getting around 45fps outdoors and 60 while inside the Habitats), which is a rare case from the several dozens of Unity-powered Steam games I had the privilege of testing and writing about. So it’s most likely a matter of pure optimization since it’s obvious that the barren Martian landscapes shouldn’t take a toll on the frame rate, when other Unity titles would render lush forests in stable 60fps.

Lacuna Passage is a beautiful simulation, that much cannot be contested. From the aforementioned landscapes, to the man-made structures, it’s all skillfully textured and the insides of the Habitats show great attention to detail. A bit of wear & tear would increase the immersion even further. These are abandoned/rarely used assets after all. They shouldn’t look as if they’ve just been unpacked and assembled. Mars itself is known for its fierce, planet-encircling dust storms.

Overall, I took 45 Lacuna Passage screenshots of which I’m proud to add to my wallpaper collection. You just have to look close enough and you’ll realize that even random rock formations can offer the right conditions for a superb picture. Speaking of which, the game has its built-in gameplay mechanic about taking pictures and using them for future technical reference. Be sure to get acquainted to the control scheme and the astronaut’s best friend: a rugged tablet.
Audio
It’s still an Early Access title, so I have high hopes that a soundtrack shall be added eventually. So far, I’m not pleased at all by Lacuna Passage’s extremely limited number of sounds. The breath and several beeping sound effects from all the EVA (extra-vehicular activity) suit sensors, can hardly replace an OST or the need for voice acting once a storyline shall be implemented. Being stranded in a hostile environment and with no one to keep you company, can take a heavy toll on the sanity of even the most anti-social human. At least allow some music, to ease a stressed mind. The Martian’s (novel and film) Mark Watney may not be a fan of disco tracks, yet when he’s choosing between a musical genre he dislikes and the silence of the grave, a compromise has to be reached. Hot stuff or not, just add some music to Lacuna, Random Seed Games.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whldh8bivXQ
Gameplay
You saw the rover in that link? It is this seemingly small feature that stops Lacuna Passage from being a perfect, first person Mars experience. It won’t be an insignificant detail in the end, when you’re forced to go for a walk over a 20 square miles (51 square kilometers) wide map and you can’t seem to reach the nearest Habitat before you’ll suffocate to death. A vehicular means of transportation is crucial to long-term survival and exploration across the planet’s surface. And I want to point out the importance of walking instead of sprinting. You consume a lot more oxygen while running and you’ll only die faster and more tired, than in a situation in which you remain calm and composed, while picking the shortest route back to safety. That’s useful tip in real life as well. Panic leads to mistakes that may seal your fate.

So what can you actually do in this game and not feel way too lonely? The Sandbox Mode is currently available and offering sufficient activities to avoid boredom. You can keep yourself busy by constantly repairing the equipment which ultimately ensures your survival. The crafting and repairing sections are simulated quite in-depth, with options for initial diagnostics in order to troubleshoot the issue, reading the part’s manual (don’t skip this under any circumstance) and finally remove (and salvage) or fix the component by case. No one said that life on Mars would be easy, but fixing the auxiliary systems near the Habs, will be the least of your in-game worries.

A lot more challenging, shall be the exploration of derelict Habitats and supply caches, which are required for sustained nourishment. Unlike some movies about the Red Planet, you can’t grow your own food in Lacuna Passage. No miraculous crop of space potatoes this time around. Just some “delicious” sealed packs containing dried fruit or nuts which would make even canned dog food seem like a gourmet alternative. At least water, heat, oxygen and electricity are renewable resources and you can rest (and save game progress) while sleeping inside one of the Hab’s many bunk beds. A shower unit is present, but you cannot interact with it. Lots of potential for expansion, if the Habitat shall receive even more attention from the developer.
Verdict
So far, Lacuna Passage shows the kind of promise and stability that places it above many other Early Access titles on Steam. Even if I won’t rate it, I can say this much: I recommend any Sci-fi fan of hardcore simulations, to give Lacuna a chance. There are currently no Achievements or Trading Cards, but I’m certain the dev can sort that out, by the time retail versions roll out. It’s not overpriced but if Lacuna Passage is out of your financial reach, wait for an inevitable Steam Sale and purchase it then. It’s still more affordable than Take On Mars. I can hardly wait to write about the Lacuna’s story mode.
All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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