It’s been only six weeks since Atari announce Asteroids: Outpost, reimagining of the possibilities in the Asteroids name by turning it into a survival game, and now it’s out on Early Access. It’s got as much in common with its namesake as Final Fantasy Theatrhythm has with Final Fantasy (less, actually, unless your Outpost spaceship is a triangle with a wedge carved from its butt) but it’s still an interesting take on the survival genre. You’re an astronaut in a multiplayer asteroid belt carving out your stake, mining the asteroids for resources, and building a base that can withstand the larcenous intent of your fellow gamers.
While the game itself may end up decent, the launch trailer and marketing materials seem designed to keep as much information away from the potential player as possible. The video below starts off with an exploding fishbowl, then time stops as the camera pulls back to a much larger field of destruction that shows a raid on a base on an asteroid above Jupiter, indicating action will happen without actually showing how any of it will play. It’s not the worst trailer by a long shot, and simply one of hundreds designed to look nice rather than be informative, but it’s not at all helpful for anyone trying to learn about the game.
The press release, though. Oof! The actual press release kind of hurts. “Asteroids: Outpost updates the asteroid-blasting action of the original by putting players in the role of deep-space miners, harvesting rare ore and expanding their bases, while protecting themselves from deadly asteroid showers and claim jumpers.” No, no it doesn’t update the original game. I’m not saying anything bad against the game because, honestly, I think Asteroids: Outpost sounds like it’s got potential and I hope it lives up to its promise, but a game that would qualify as an update to Asteroids would be the utterly excellent Spheres of Chaos. It’s obvious on the face of it that Asteroids: Outpost is an all-new game using a familiar name to generate interest, and that’s fine. Just don’t pretend otherwise.
Then, after the press release settles down for a bit, Atari decides poking at fresh wounds is the smart thing to do-
“This is part of our new strategy. We are going to be teaming up with young and innovative studios to take a refreshing look at each game from our extensive portfolio,” said Todd Shallbetter, Chief Operating Officer, Atari. “Releasing Asteroids: Outpost through the Early Access program will also help us get feedback from the community. Asteroids is the first of a long series of re-births, and we are considering doing the same for our other iconic games such as Warlords, Adventure, Tempest, Missile Command and many more.”
Tempest. “Considering” a “re-birth” of Tempest, the week after forcing Llamasoft to abandon plans to release a nearly-completed, award-winning game (runner up in the Hardcore Gamer Vita 2014 category) because lawyer-fights are insanely expensive. Atari is the black-hat gang in that confrontation, twirling its Snidely Whiplash moustache while tying TxK to the train tracks, and maybe reminding people of this is a bad idea. Especially (and this is the important bit) in a press release trying to generate positive impressions for a game that people are unsure of due to its tangential, at best, relation to a much-loved classic of arcade gaming.
Asteroids: Outpost is on Steam Early Access as of Thursday and, while the player reviews mention tons of bugs, overall reaction is very positive. I’ll be playing it myself soon for a more in-depth look at the game, rather than the badly-considered marketing surrounding the poor thing, and I’m going in feeling guardedly optimistic. The developer, Salty Games, is already responding to bug reports and has completed a few fixes in the two days the game has been out. It’s a good start to a very long development process, and if someone can slap a muzzle on Atari’s marketing and legal departments it promises to be fun to watch.