There's something about the Moon as a location that's innately appealing to videogame designers. Maybe it's the simultaneously ubiquitous yet mysterious nature of the place that draws us in. Maybe it's the sense of history and pride that we feel when we look up at it and see the outer reach of mankind's collective footsteps, or maybe it's that dark half of it that's out of sight and shrouded in perpetual night - giving us endless fuel for the nightmares we find so endearing. Either way, it's been the setting for more books, movies and videogames than I can count, and Deliver Us The Moon now joins that long list.
The last time I was on the Moon in a videogame, it was in Destiny. The version of the Moon presented there is a place for more alien whack-a-mole, with buildings and tunnels dotting the surface. It's totally different to how it's presented here - which has far more in common with the Moon that we see in Mass Effect; a barren, partly colonised place. It's not a mission of vengeance or aggression that brings us here, it's a mission of mercy. On your shoulders rest the fate of an entire species.
The Moon, here, feels like a frontier. There are people here, and they've been here for a while - but contact has been lost. The foothold feels tenuous. The people here are risking their life for the greater good of Mother Earth - and without wanting to give away too much of the narrative, some of them are beginning to question their efforts. The question of whether or not what remains of Earth can be saved is something that these people are realistically confronting, with some of them wondering whether or not it's worth saving at all.
From a game design standpoint, Deliver Us The Moon doesn't do much that's new. It's a largely third-person and occasionally first-person narrative driven game that throws the occasional puzzle and set piece up along the way. What makes it special though is how those mechanics and the environment of the game all pull in one direction to reinforce a sense of pervasive loneliness and environmental threat. You don't actually see another human being during the entire run time of the game - but through holograms and diaries, you come to care about a cast of characters that you never meet. You come to understand the physical struggles that they face, and how those struggles are compounded in the face of the moral quandaries that some of them seem driven to confront.
The situation of those who came before comes alive in the abandoned spaces that you're exploring. Abandoned research, personal photographs and newspaper clippings build the universe. All the things you need to keep yourself alive (oxygen and power, for the most part) are in short supply. Every time you fix one thing, you break something else. While these moments primarily facilitate gameplay, it's all working to shore up that atmosphere. The game wants you to understand that doing pretty much anything in space is both difficult and dangerous - that it's a place where the slightest issue arising can jeopardise your ability to exist. Over the course of the game, you'll explore a space station in zero gravity, simultaneously battling the lack of gravity and a rapidly depleting oxygen supply. You'll drive a lunar vehicle across the surface, watching Earth spin in a lazy orbit above you. The sound design and music help add to the atmosphere - it's very immersive - and by the time you reach the end you'll be satisfied with how it all panned out.
Looking back over the words above, it's fair to say that I really enjoyed Deliver Us The Moon. It's the kind of game that I'm starting to associate Gamepass with - it's a tight experience, a narrative with the fat trimmed off. It knows what it is, and gets on and does it well. You can blast through the whole game in three or four hours, and the completion of it leaves a satisfying taste in the mouth instead of the sigh of relief you'll feel when you finish a game padded out to be three times longer than it needed to be. I've got a little list of fairly short, narrative driven games that I go back to when I need to escape a rainy afternoon. Firewatch is on it. What Remains of Edith Finch and Tacoma are on it, and there are a couple of others. That list just got its newest entry. If you're looking for a game about space in which you won't fire a shot but will be given something to think about, you could do far worse than checking this one out.