No beating around the bush on this one; I owe Saturn 9 (80 MSP) and developer Raoghard some serious credit. After ragging on the studios’ previous, multiplayer-only efforts, Vampire Slayer and Bulkhead (which serves as the visual inspiration / foundation for this new game), I wondered if the effort wouldn’t be better spent in crafting a single-player, adventure-minded game that combined the Sunburn Engine’s penchant for gorgeous visuals with a meatier premise.
Saturn 9 is the answer to that criticism, or perhaps the developer’s plan all along, a sci-fi horror adventure that channels Event Horizon’s hellish hallucinations, Eternal Darkness’ psychological / meta-mindfucks, and tops it off with a well done twist of Slender. Those individual ingredients all add up to a pretty good recipe, one of the strongest (and, sadly, shortest) horror adventures you’ll come across.
Given the previous games, that focused on gunplay and constantly being in combat, you might be surprised to find there is none of that in Saturn 9. While you’ll make use of a small assortment of tools (trusty flashlight, screwdriver, …a man’s hand), you won’t be killing anything. The game is all about setting a mood, be it through the excellent lighting / shadow work, or the scientists’ journal entries that catalog the ship’s slow decent into chaos (narrated to you via some very decent voice-acting). There’s no heavy story arc or much explanation in the end, but it is effective in creating a palpable unease.
Instead, your chief impediment is the ship itself, dark and cold as a tomb, locked away from the prying eyes of ‘The Company’ that sent you to investigate. Moving through the incredibly claustrophobic halls and rooms, there is some light puzzle work to be done (almost entirely in spotting clues for the various password-locked computers) that’s also completely optional if you prefer to cheat your way to open doors.
Through some scares and cleverly-done hallucinations (that I won’t spoil), you’ll eventually wind your way down to the cargo hold of the ship. The final act of the game is a tense showdown with the menace aboard the station, though it’s not a fight, but flight, as you gather up the data (all Slender-like) you were sent to collect and make your escape. The game will last you just under an hour, but that hour, preferably spent alone in the dark, is well worth it.
It’s light on puzzles, difficulty, and playtime, but Saturn 9 is a very pleasant surprise, one of the best ‘cerebral horror’ adventures you’re likely to find on the indie channel. If there is a sequel or expansion that continues in this style of storytelling, I will definitely be the first in line to play it. Easily recommended.