The Away Team review — The Oregon Trail of the future

The Away Team offers an enticing premise for any sci-fi fan. In this game from Underflow Studios, you take on the role of a ship’s AI system, responsible for shepherding the last handful of humans left in the universe to a new home planet.

At the start of The Away Team, you choose your team from a variety of passengers. This process, in and of itself, is deeply engaging, especially if you’re invested in game narrative. Each passenger has a distinct background that impacts the way that they function in the team. Some have mechanical skills, while others are natural leaders. When playing on ‘easy,’ your team can be quite large, while you can only select a few when playing on ‘hard.’

Once the gameplay begins, it’s easy to see why a limited crew increases the difficulty of The Away Team. As you travel from planet to planet your crew is exposed to all sorts of dangers, and no one’s survival is guaranteed. Threats pop up randomly throughout the universe, and you are forced to make difficult decisions to keep your passengers safe. In this sense, The Away Team is reminiscent of that old classic, The Oregon Trail from 1971, which also follows a treacherous journey to a new home. The two most pressing concerns of The Away Team are always the supply of food and fuel, but you may face murderous robots, hostile aliens, faulty machinery, toxic habitats, and more as you traverse the stars.

Experiencing some mechanical difficulties.

All the events in The Away Team are presented in an interesting way. The game is narrated through the use of an events log that relays to you the crew’s dialogue, the ship’s surroundings, descriptions of nearby planets and more. This interface is clever and adds to the immersion of the experience, as you feel that you are interacting with the ship itself. However, this immersion comes with some flaws. The text is presented in bright green against a black background in an alarmingly small font. While this evokes a strong sci-fi nostalgia, it quickly becomes grating. I wasn’t bothered too much for the first half hour of playtime, but my roommate couldn’t stand to look at it.

If you’re able to look past a somewhat irritating interface, The Away Team has a lot to offer in terms of narrative. True to the sci-fi genre, The Away Team seems more interested in creating a true feeling of discovery and exploration than in character development. And in that aspect, it certainly succeeds. It was hard not to feel genuinely eager to investigate a planet I stumbled upon, and the stories hidden away in the corners of this universe consistently engaged me.

The Away Team also left me hoping until the very end that I would find a viable home for humanity. While the player is presented with a series of difficult decisions with dire consequences, it never feels like you are being cheated out of a victory. Like many text-based games of old, it may take several attempts before you succeed, but that’s part of this story’s appeal. Even defeat feels like an invitation to start again and pursue different strategies with a different crew.

The Away Team's collection of characters.
Who will you choose?

The Away Team is currently available on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux.

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