It’s been four years since first-person, survival-horror-in-space game Routine first pinged on my radar, and I barely know more about it now than I did then. This isn’t due to negligence on my part—Lunar Software, the team making it, have been very stringent on what info they put out into the wild.
This hasn’t changed with the latest update on the game’s progress: specifically, a trailer and the reveal that it should be out in March 2017. There’s little in this new trailer that we haven’t seen before, including an abandoned lunar base, the handheld scanner-cum-gun, and a nasty man-robot stomping on our face.
What does make this new footage different is that we now live in a post-Alien Isolation (2014) world, and many people commenting on YouTube have saw fit to compare the two games. They’re not wrong to—both take place in a space base where some shit has gone down (people are either dead or missing), they both have a 1970s tech aesthetic, and in each there is something terrible stalking the player.
It is with this in mind that I decided to ask designer Aaron Foster how he would explain Routine differs from Alien Isolation. He actually gave a better answer than I was expecting. “There are a lot of differences with Routine but I would say that the most obvious one is that we are a completely different IP and with that comes the unknown,” Foster began.
“People probably don’t know what to quite expect from the game as we’ve tried very hard to be as vague and spoiler free as possible with all the stuff we put out. We could go bloody crazy and start throwing supernatural elements in there and people may not expect or question it (if done well) because it would be part of the world we have created.”
And it’s true. Like I said, I’m not sure what to expect from Routine other than to be dominated by my new robot-daddy. It’s why another of one of my questions was desperately asking about Routine‘s themes, making the comparison to SOMA (2015), which used the survival horror format to explore ideas of consciousness in humans and machines. I thought Routine might go a similar path, but nope, Foster denied that outright: “We don’t have a super strong philosophical story like SOMA, its not something we ever planned for with Routine.”
The most I could get out of him was to explain how the death system in the game works. I dunno about you, but I don’t expect a game like Routine to have “permadeath,” but it does. I guess that’s proper survival horror—Foster said he wanted to engineer a way for players to have a “fear of actually losing something.”
To alleviate your worst fears, the game does have an autosave system, so you can leave the game at any time and come back to the same spot. But if you die then you have to start again from scratch. “We are still tinkering with one or two elements of permadeath as we want to make sure there is never a cheap death,” Foster said.
“We know it is really important for us to balance as we know it can be frustrating to a lot of people, but Routine isn’t completely linear either and with multiple endings the act of playing through again shouldn’t be too painful.”
After getting this answer from Foster, my biggest hope for the game is that it does something clever with this repetitious format—it’s called Routine after all. But honestly I don’t know what to expect, really, and that’s kinda rare for a game these days. There’s something to admire in Lunar Software’s laconic approach.
You can find out more about Routine on its website.