The cold war was a time when trust was a limited commodity. Everyone was looking over their shoulders and tensions were at an all-time high. Therefore, no matter the crime, the finger was always firmly pointed towards the enemy. The Song Out of Space captures this scenario but it adds a Lovecraftian twist for good measure.
Developed by Pixel Noire Games and published by Ratalaika Games, this is a detective visual novel. Its story comprises era accurate sexism that may be offensive to some. But these dated thoughts form a key component of the gameplay. You may select between 2 protagonists and their personalities and decisions help to develop the story to one of four unique conclusions.
The Song Out of Space is different.
It’s the 1960s, and the world isn’t ready for women to have a position of power. So, when a man is questioned by a female agent, it’s never going to end well. However, when 12 astronomers are found dead at a deep-space observatory, 2 FBI agents are sent in to investigate. Could the heinous crimes be an act of war, or could it be something more sinister? You control either Catherine Armstrong, a young recruit who excels at forensics, or Stuart Ross, who is old-school and relies on his connections. Both characters have strengths and weaknesses and whichever you choose will determine the course of the game.
Having played and reviewed many visual novels, I’ve learnt they all follow a similar pattern. However, The Song Out of Space is different! Unlike the traditional approach, where the dialogue dictates the direction of the gameplay, this one is more in-depth. Alongside the narrative choices, you must interact with items, make conclusions, and decide who to question. Moreover, all of these options are supported or undermined by the protagonist’s character traits.
A weird story full of twists.
I’m used to a visual novel throwing in the odd red herring to keep you guessing, but The Song out of Space goes one step further. Nearly every scene demands you question your intentions while thinking about the truth you’ve uncovered. Subsequently, there are plenty of twists and turns to the story.
What I particularly enjoyed was the cringeworthy dialogue. The sexist remarks and dated thoughts are uncomfortable to watch, yet this makes you empathise with the rookie agent. The ridiculous comments are only bettered by the strange happenings in the plot. The grisly story has a sci-fi nature that is wonderfully hidden behind a cast of dodgy townsfolk. You’ll collect evidence, form your conclusions, and then a spanner will be thrown into the works. Though the plot is absurd, the developers kept the key mechanics simple and this balances out the gameplay nicely.
The Song Out of Space is hard to look at.
Visual novels have free rein when it comes to their artistic style. As a genre, it tends to be OTT, bright, and striking. The majority I’ve experienced are influenced by Asian culture, and this makes them excellent to observe. The Song Out of Space, on the other hand, is dated, rough, and will leave you wanting.
It contains a grainy pixel art style combined with blurry photos. The gritty and dark imagery attempts to enhance the moody and creepy atmosphere. Instead, it simply makes it tough to look at. Subsequently, the extreme moments of the plot are lost as you struggle to understand what’s in on display. It was a shame as the developers have prioritised style over substance.
Though the graphics left much to be desired, the audio added drama and depth to the action. With clever use of silence and some simple sound effects, it created a suspenseful atmosphere that was both creepy and daunting. If the developers had taken a less stylistic visual approach, then the finish would have been much more appealing. Furthermore, it would have complemented the simplicity of the audio.
Point and click.
Most visual novels use a simple controller setup that allows you to press the A button to progress. The Song Out of Space however, is more in-depth. Thanks to its point and click style, you must move a cursor using the left analogue stick. This enhances the detective element of the gameplay as you can freely select any interactive items. You may worry that this would be clumsy on a console, but thankfully, it is not. Fortunately, this approach is both responsive and accurate and it makes it easy to play.
If you wish to see each ending and explore all possibilities, you’ll need to invest a considerable amount of time. This adds to the longevity and replay value while closing up many of the holes in the plot. With such a bizarre story, it is worth your effort to explore each finale.
The Song Out of Space is thoroughly old-school.
I didn’t like the artistic approach, but this was the only downside to The Song Out of Space. Every other element worked perfectly to convey this strange sci-fi detective tale. With some interesting yet candid people and a creepy isolated location, this is a wonderful visual novel to experience. I enjoyed it and I recommend you to buy it here! Who, or what committed this crime? It’s foul, despicable, but could it really have been caused by a creature from out of space?