What if outer space was a rehearsal studio for synth-y soundtrack artists? And what if, just for good measure, some abstract geometric shapes and puzzles were thrown into the mix? That would be pretty neat. If nothing else, it would be a good way to spend an hour or two.
That, in a nutshell, is Last Voyage, a new iOS game from Toronto’s Semidome. Divided into five chapters, it is a meditative journey through abstract, minimalist worlds. Insofar as said worlds are not the one we live in and feature what appear to be stars, one could say it is a game about space. Semidome sure does, describing it as: “A cinematic experience inspired by science-fiction movies.” You will not, however, find blatant references to science-fiction movies in Last Voyage.
Indeed, the space you are exploring is not so much NASA’s area of expertise as it is the concept of space itself. The challenges in Last Voyage—getting objects to line up, slaloming through gates in a shadow-less environment, matching patterns, navigating mazes—are all tests of spatial intelligence. These challenges and the chapters to which they belong, while simple, are generally compelling. Semidome’s abstractions of space and sci-fi hint at recognizable forms but leave much of the world building to your imagination.
The real star of Last Voyage, however, is its score. Chapters start with synths playing sonorous chords and gradually gain steam as you progress: notes are added to the initial chord, then rhythm, then you have a song on your hands. At its best moments, then, Last Voyage is basically a high-concept video. At the end of Chapter 2, for instance, the game stops requiring your input and goes into autopilot. Shapes flash before your eyes, creating an illusion of depth—imagine the music video for “Seven Nation Army,” only without the many faces of Jack White. The music, an abstract space opera for an abstract space, reaches its crescendo. At such moments, your inputs are entirely irrelevant.
That may be for the best. Last Voyage is captivating and generous if you are good at its chapters. If, on the other hand, you find yourself stumped, the game’s many positive qualities are quickly muted. Songs fail to build to a crescendo. You can spend the better part of an hour listening to an opening chord. Nor is there much guidance to be found in these—or any—moments. Last Voyage requires that you learn by failure, and preferably quickly. The nature of its puzzles can be as mysterious as their answers. Imagine, then, being stuck on the first bar of Gustav Holst’s “Uranus, the Magician.” Soaring music awaits but, in that first bar, all you get is blaring.
The good news is that Last Voyage, opaque thought it may sometimes be, usually soars. In its most frustrating moments, the promise of what is to come is more than enough to keep you playing. (The temptation to buy its soundtrack, however, may be hard to overcome. Do not resist it.) Semidome claims Last Voyage is “A game where you don’t master a single task but rather explore a range of concepts. As a result, the levels are sometimes mysterious, and other times very direct.” All of this is true, even if mystery and mastery are not really at the core of the Last Voyage experience. The game is Holst’s “Uranus” in abstracted form, and that is a virtue in its own right.
Images via Semidome.