We are now living through the early days of Artificial Intelligence. The rise of the machines is no longer a dream of science fiction, but a reality with each day that passes. This inevitability brings with it many fears, as well as bringing into sharp focus one of the subjects oldest questions – what does it mean to be human?
CAT Interstellar transports you straight into the shell of a robotic “dog” in a near-future setting. Your purpose is to assist the other, more human-like Androids on the surface of Mars, as they attempt to terraform the planet for human habitation. The game cleverly keeps the real humans restrained on planet Earth, many millions of miles away, allowing the focus to remain solely on the AI inhabitants of the mission. As the story progresses, you soon start to look on the blank-faced robots the same way as you would living companions, with their own day-to-day problems, hopes and concerns.
The game is richly filled out with AI characters, all struggling to complete their tasks on a hostile, barren world. I particularly enjoyed hearing one Android muttering about having to work on the air ducts, while soon after witnessing another attempting to fix some broken machinery by giving it a firm kick. Throughout the game, the robots continually display a nosy curiosity coupled with their own opinions, much like humans would. The addition of recorded dialogue adds to the overall humanity of these characters.
The game eases you in with some fun tasks to accomplish on the Martian surface, such as collecting some boxes blown away in a sandstorm, or assisting with fertilizing plants within a fully functioning greenhouse. Soon, you will descend below the surface of the planet into the mines, in order to fulfill your main purpose: locating several drones that went missing in the lower caverns and retrieving their data banks.
I would recommend taking your time to properly explore the Martian surface before taking the lift down into the mines. The game’s visuals are stunning throughout. And no more so than on the surface, as you travail a bleak landscape of rock and sand, battered by the sun.
It is within the mines where the more adventurous aspects of the story begin. Following an accident, you “awake” deep inside a natural formation of caves, alongside your companion, Android 42. Working together, you must find a way back to the surface. Throughout this section of the game, I was hooked by the thrill of exploring the unknown. It felt like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth had been updated from the early 19th century to a futuristic sci-fi setting.
As I do not want to spoil anything for those who choose to play the game, I will only say that the Android’s mission up until this point now fades into unimportance. Soon, our two AI friends will stumble across something that could shed light on one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.
CAT Interstellar in a true Indie game, created by a one-man development team at Ionized Games. You can sense the amount of work and passion that has gone into creating the game, along with a true respect for the science fiction genre. At times, the game felt like stepping into an interactive short story from the likes of Robert A. Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke, which can only be a compliment.
As a sole labour of love, it is natural that the game can seem a bit rough around the edges, however, in true Indie fashion, this often adds to the charm. The game is currently free to play on Steam and only $4.99 on the US Playstation Store. Clocking in at around one and a half hours to complete, it is a perfect for a an evening where you want to experience a story without dedicating yourself to a lengthy gaming session. Nevertheless, I found the story to be so engaging that a part of me wished it had continued beyond the rather abrupt ending…