It’s lonely out in space. “Oh, Elton John, how right you are,” I thought to myself as I slowly trudged across the uninhabited planet Tellurus, my space boots kicking up space dust. White cliffs soared into the air. Strange blue mushroom-trees sprouted from stretches of barren white sand. This was a thoroughly alien world. The proverbial final frontier.
Somewhere out there was a cache of rare metals to send back to Earth. Somewhere there were parts to fix my landing craft. Somewhere there was a way for me to get home. I just had to find it.
At fifteen frames per second.
Time in a bottle
Corpse of Discovery is a first-person adventure game, or—if you’re feeling derogatory—a “walking simulator” in the vein of Dear Esther or Gone Home. There’s little in the way of challenge here. It’s mainly “Go here, receive story, go to next place.”
And that’s fine with me! Unlike some people, I don’t have anything in particular against this sort of game/experience. If you do, well, don’t play Corpse of Discovery.
The title is a play on the Corps of Discovery, the official Army unit of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the 1800s. Here, the Corps of Discovery name has been resurrected and applied to a division handling far-flung space expeditions.
You were a member of one of these spacefaring expeditions, sent to the distant planet of Tellurus to look for…anything, really. Intelligent life, mysterious radio signals, rare metals—it’s all on the table. Accomplish your mission and you can return home, retire, and live out the rest of your life with your wife and kids.
Everything went wrong though. Your shuttle crashed to the surface of Tellurus and there’s no telling whether anyone is coming to your rescue. Nevertheless, you set out to explore the barren planet you’re on and finish your mission. Hopefully accomplishing the mission will incentivize someone to rescue you. Hopefully.
There are some pretty obvious parallels here to recent sci-fi touchstones The Martian, Moon, and Interstellar: Isolation, introspection, the inexorable passage of time, the realization that even if you make it back home everything will be different. Corpse of Discovery even straight-up drops a none-too-subtle Interstellar reference partway through.
In fact, “none-too-subtle” is maybe the best way to describe Corpse of Discovery. I’m a sucker for the themes on display in Corpse of Discovery, but to say the game is heavy-handed is a bit of an understatement. At one point I clicked on the treadmill in my home base and the text literally said “This treadmill is like a metaphor for something, but who cares.” That’s too obvious to even be read tongue-in-cheek.
The game’s a bit more active than your average walking simulator though, with a jetpack and enormous spans of empty planet to “explore” on the way to each waypoint. The story gets especially hard-hitting towards the end, though it never explains a few of its more intriguing mysteries and I was forced to wonder if it could’ve gotten to the point a bit faster. All told I spent about three hours on the game, with literal minutes of rote traversal for each dribble of story—a bit too much even for a walking sim-type game. The jetpack helps break up the walking dreariness a bit, but at times I wearied of mindlessly holding down “W” with no indication how much progress I’d made.
That goes doubly because traversal is Corpse of Discovery‘s Achilles heel. I cannot—absolutely cannot—in good faith recommend the game in its current state, and honestly don’t understand how it passed muster to release. The game is either poorly optimized or suffers from a massive memory leak or both. Either way, the end result is the same: Running on a rig equipped with a hulking Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti, I dipped down to 15 frames per second during some scenes. On medium quality. For minutes at a time.
There’s something vaguely funny about playing a game obsessed with squandered time, with “Doing something for a job,” when your job is literally to play said game at sub-30 frames per second and mutter curses under your breath for three hours.
If those (pervasive) problems are solved, I think there’s a solid core to Corpse of Discovery, provided you’re the type of person to mull on aging, to obsess over work and then regret obsessing over work, to sacrifice parts of your life that probably shouldn’t be sacrificed. If the game succeeds in spite of its sometimes-overwrought writing, it’s because these themes are easy to exploit. “Carpe Diem” or “Live life to the fullest” or “YOLO” seems like a frat-house cliché until you’re actually confronted with dying. Then suddenly, regrets.
I don’t think Corpse of Discovery is nearly as strong as its influences, but there’s something raw about it—an emotional intensity and earnestness—I find lacking in many games.
Unfortunately it’s broken. This is one of those instances where I find the idea of a game more interesting than the game itself, not least because I quickly tired of trying to first-person platform at a herky-jerky 12 frames per second crawl. I’ll try and update this review if it gets fixed, but in its current state Corpse of Discovery is nigh-unplayable.
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