Saturn 9 packs more atmosphere into 30 (or fewer) minutes than I thought possible for a video game. For $1 (80 points on Xbox Live), I got more genuine chills from Saturn 9 than I have from any Resident Evil game, past or present. This sci-fi game might deserve a sequel, but it is a cathartic experience by itself. Unless first-person games make you queasy, Xbox 360 owners have no reason to pass up this game.
Considering the $1 price tag, this game has impressive 3D graphics. The opening space ship sequence is brief but very much looks the part, channeling the camerawork of the better sci-fi movies and shows. During gameplay you rely on a flashlight for vision, which establishes a creepy visual style and a general feeling of unease, even more so than the underrated Dementium games on the DS. I don’t want to give away anything, but the enemy design is memorable and chilling. I really like how Saturn 9 avoids gore and cheesy cut scenes. Perhaps more survival horror games should have relatively measly budgets.
Sonically, Saturn 9 takes a minimalist approach. The music, for example, is largely atmospheric (think of a quieter Metroid Prime) and is combined brilliantly with subtle audio cues to deepen the game’s suspense and your sense of discovery. The sound effects are sparse but solid – most of the time, you’ll focus on the protagonist’s breathing, which builds immersion. The voice acting is straightforward, which serves the analytical dialogue and purpose of the game.
Like the game’s approach to sound, the gameplay elements are relatively sparse. What you’ll mainly be doing is walking and investigating your surroundings for clues to puzzles. There is no combat; while you don’t feel helpless, the lack of weapons plays into the game’s favor as far as scares are concerned. You can sprint a little, but you soon run out of energy and have to wait for the next sprint. Although you never see yourself, you have the understanding that you’re in a heavy space suit, so the no-weapon and sprinting rules make sense in addition to making the game’s survival horror that much more effective. Another element is that when you start to lose oxygen, you stumble and hallucinate, which results in one of the most eerie parts of the game. However, nothing beats the finale, when you’re scrambling through the extremely dark Cargo Bay for research data. This segment unnerved me more than any video game sequence I can recall; even the brilliant Chinese market sequence in Resident Evil 6 didn’t get to me as much.
This is the one area in which Saturn 9 is legitimately flawed. The game’s short length isn’t necessarily a problem (it’s refreshing in a way), but the fact that it’s so linear and puzzle-based means that there’s not much challenge in going through the game again. At the same time, I could see the Cargo Bay finale holding a similar level of challenge every time you play it, since the data files you must gather are hidden in different locations every time. If nothing else, the game sets a consistent tone that you might want to experience again, but one can’t deny that the sparseness of the gameplay might work against replayability.
Saturn 9 deserves an award for outdoing the majority of its big-budget counterparts. Developer Raoghard has set a high standard for all survival horror games with Saturn 9′s sophisticated design and mood. This game shows that money doesn’t buy chilling atmosphere.
- Developer: Raoghard
- Publisher: Raoghard
- Platforms: 360
- Release: 6-21-2013
- Time Stamp: 7-2-2013