Back when I was in my first year of High School, I was playing Escape Velocity Nova and had taken a mission to fly to a remote planet in an abandoned system. Still being something of a newbie, I had not considered where I would get the fuel to fly back to civilized space after the fact. The game autosaves every time you take off from a planet, and multiple save slots were not a thing that existed. This being my first file where I’d not run out of money completely, I was not eager to admit defeat. So I sat there, watching the radar screen. A wandering merchant could have charged me my entire account balance for a refill and I would have paid it. A Pirate Carrier could have jumped in, and I would have challenged it with my wimpy freighter just for a chance to get out of the system. After several minutes, something finally showed up on radar. I pulled up the comm screen without even looking at the ship I had targeted… and saw it was Captain Hector reminding me to buy the full version of the game. Capsule, released February 2012, is essentially that moment of desperation stretched out into an entire game.
The main component of it, more than the actual gameplay or story, is the UI. Your only window into the world of Capsule is a blurry, dusty screen that would make even those clumsy old CRT monitors feel technologically superior. You’ve got gauges showing your energy and air supplies, and the heading and distance to… some story relevant object, which functions as a checkpoint. As you move around the area (WASD keys), and send out radar pulses (Spacebar), any objects caught in the pulse with emit a ‘ding’ and have a progress bar appear beneath them as the ship computer tries to figure out what they are. At first, the descriptions are obvious, e.g. Air Pockets must be a thing I need, because I can see the air bar for the ship slowly depleting. It gets more confusing as it goes on, but I highly recommend taking a moment to figure out what everything does. There’s not a lot of it, and you’ll have discovered everything that exists in this world around the halfway point.
As you move around, you’ll hear things. An impressive variety of things. The rumble of your craft as you reach maximum speed, the sputtering and coughing of your pilot as the air supply runs low only to be met with relieved gasps as you find an air tank, the shrieks of… Well, I can’t spoil everything for you, now can I?
There are some moments that are more frustrating than anything else. Nothing scares me quite like setting off a radar pulse and seeing several pings fly at me like hungry carnivores, but nothing pisses me off quite like being struck by one and depleted of all energy, barely managing to jump-start the craft before my oxygen runs out… only to send out another pulse in search of resources and get sucker-punched by another one. And reaching what I thought was the final stop on this strange journey only to be told there’s another point, twice the distance away, quickly got on my nerves. Because the distance to your next target keeps increasing, the odds of running into a bad situation with no apparent right course of action increase in kind. I think they should have lowered the distances you have to travel towards the end, as the atmosphere of this game’s world started to falter as you repeatedly retried sections.
Capsule is $5 on Steam. I think the price is a little high, considering it’ll take you maybe a couple hours to beat it, but it’s definitely an enjoyable experience. Tense, but enjoyable.