When Inertia Game Studios' local co-op space title Catastronauts
was revealed three weeks ago, comparisons were made to a certain chaotic kitchen-based title. I'm loathe to also call this title "Overcooked
in space", because that almost seems too easy, but then it's also a fairly accurate description. Up to four players team up to crew a spaceship that needs to take down an enemy that always sits just off-screen to the right. While you're trying to shoot them down, they're also trying to take you down. The result is just the right amount of chaos to be fun, as long as your friendship can handle it.
The aim of each level is simple enough — take down your opponent before they destroy your ship. Levels are presented from a top-down perspective, where the full layout of the ship for that level is on screen at all times. At the top is a healthbar for your team (blue) and the enemy (red). The first level begins simply enough. There are three guns, each of which need to charge before you can press a button to fire them. In the meantime, the enemy's shots are causing cracks in the ship, or even small fires, each of which chip health away from your bar. If you fix the cracks and put out the fires, you'll restore some health back to your ship. Leave the fires for too long and they'll spread, causing further damage. Get too close to a fire and you'll also set yourself alight. No we're not talking from personal experience.
With up to four players on screen at once, the earlier levels are fairly easy, especially if each player is allocated a set task, be it to man the weapons, wield the repair kit, or run around with a fire extinguisher. As the levels progress, they become more challenging. Soon, the guns will be powered by batteries, which need replacing and recharging when they're empty. Some of those guns will also need two players to fire them to get the most out of a single charge. The enemy shots will start destroying your equipment as well as the general fabric of the ship, meaning you'll need to prioritise those repairs over a crack in the floor. Players will need to take on multiple jobs if the ship is to survive.
While the first couple of levels allowed all players to access all areas of the ship, later levels will divide players up. In one level, both sides of the ship had a toolkit. However, one pair had the fire extinguisher, while the other had the battery charger. This meant passing equipment back and forth through a teleporter as needed and communication became extremely important. By communication, we don't mean screaming at each other, as cathartic as that may be.
The other ship's guns aren't the only threat you'll be facing. In one level, solar flares threatened to incinerate any player who didn't make it to the ship's designated safe room in time (and shut the door behind them). The best thing to do is to drop what you're doing and run for safety, or you could be like me and make sure the fire extinguisher is also totally safe from the solar flare because you forgot to drop it on the way to the safe room. Then there are the mines that the other ship teleports onboard. These need throwing off the ship before they explode and cause catastrophic damage. If you somehow manage to die, be it by solar flare or your own lack of fire sense, you won't automatically respawn in the level. Instead, your team mates can make a clone of you at a cloning station located somewhere on the ship, and you can get straight back into the fight.
While the game is most fun with four players, the game will support parties fewer in numbers, but this doesn't mean it fills in the empty spots with AI team mates. Instead, the game scales the difficulty of the level to fit so that things never seem too overwhelming. Frantic, yes. Battling insurmountable odds, no. If you're up for a fun co-op experience with your friends in the same room, make sure to keep an eye on this title in the run up to its release later this year.