Trapped on remote planet Zaga-33 with a hostile alien population, there is only one way to escape.
The alien cortex must die.
This planet is a giant dance floor. An alien dance floor of death. This is your first lesson on Zaga-33.
To leave this planet, I must kill the alien cortex before it kills me. The brutal way is the only way. But the cortex is somewhere deep inside the planet... miles from here. Right now, I had better get my dance shoes on and learn some steps.
Here's how this works. Once I take a step, the aliens will take a step. I need to choose my moves carefully, otherwise I'll bump into my many alien partners all of whom respond with lasers and blades and hooks and heat rays and bites and spikes.
So this is the first chamber. I should be able to sneak through without interacting with the local populace. Also, I’ve only got one alien artefact to my name and need to stock up in preparation for the terrors that await. This turn-based dance should not be too stressful as the two guards are a bit robotic and the goblin is a little short-sighted. As long as I don’t snuggle up against one of the guards, I should be fine. I just hope the goblin’s beady eyes don’t spot me.
I sneak through the chamber, picking up the two artefacts. One looks like a bobbin and the other appears to be an Xbox. I have no idea what they do at this point. The goblin sees me but it’s too late. Despite his pursuit, I escape the room cleanly with three alien artefacts in tow.
This is a good start, but there’s no getting cocky on Zaga-33.
This planet is sometimes a bit stingy when it comes to healing artefacts, so the one over there is like bloody treasure. I want.
But at what cost? I’ll have to face down the Shogg that skulks beside it and those bastards really go for you once they’ve got a bee in their bonnet. These guards have me pincered as well.
So I go down which turns out to be a good, wholesome choice. The guard veers away and gives me room to escape. I make my way to the corner with the beautiful healing artefact but things go bad. I’ve ended up surrounded by two guards and the goblin. My worry about the shogg was misguided; he’s now miles away.
Okay, this room is to become an artefact exchange. I'll use one of my unknown artefacts, the one shaped like a bobbin, to hopefully make a clean getaway with the healing artefact. Let's find out what it does.
It’s a repel artefact which thrusts the aliens back against the nearest wall. It’s not a great discovery all told and I’d rather it had turned out to be a laser, something with lethal characteristics. There are no moral choices here. The planet will not kill me less if I jostle rather than stab my way to the exit. I suppose it's possible that similar short-sighted attitudes led to this place becoming so hostile. Whatever. Listen to me; there are no moral choices here.
I grab the artefact but the shogg finds me. Bloody shoggs are fixated on horizontal movement. This means I can’t sidestep around its formless mass, the thing just won’t play ball, tracking my movements left and right. I engage in battle because the outcome is preordained. There are no dice rolls here. Aliens only need two hits before they go down; I’ll suffer one blow during the exchange which will heal when I progress to the next chamber.
The moment of escape is always bittersweet. A rush of euphoria coupled with the dread of the next level, unknown and threatening. I said there are no dice rolls and I was wrong. Every time you walk out the door, you're throwing some big fucking dice, with edges like razors.
Did you hear the one about the guard, two shoggs and a goblin? Me neither, but apparently I’m the bloody punch line.
It’s a breeze picking up the Xbox artefact at the top of the chamber but the one down the bottom… that’s not looking too cool from where I’m standing. Not sure I want another repel artefact, anyway. I’m only three chambers into the labyrinth of Zaga-33 and we’re reaching the point where escaping a room undamaged becomes unlikely.
I cross into the right-half of the room and have not drawn any attention – but the aliens still form a blockade around the exit. Okay, alright. I’m going to use an Xbox near the exit which will hopefully deliver me from alien evil.
Except luck goes my way and I see an opening. I save the Xbox for another day and take a chance walking towards a guard. He slashes me but I waltz around him and make for the exit.
No one else trifles with me. The damage will heal.
What you start to understand, though, is that all these creatures are here to protect the cortex. This isn’t some natural habitat. Everything is just a cog in the Zaga-33 bio-horror machine. The alien cortex wants you dead. That’s all that matters.
According to my Zaga-33 Zoology Handbook, the floating squids are called “anemos”. I call them squids and I don’t care if you want to call them jellyfish. I’m the one stranded on this godforsaken rock so I get to do the etymology.
Understand that these squids are pretty big and have these long appendages with hooks and everything but boy, are they stupid. They move like rooks on a clockwork chessboard; once agitated they won’t stop going until they hit a wall. Or soft flesh to sink those hooks into.
The squids, if you’re clever, can sometimes be used to cover your ass. More often than not, however, you tend to forget they are there, lurking in your mental blind spot. Suddenly they rush out of the dark to throw a tentacle into your perfect exit plan.
My plan here is to grab the disc artefact. And it does not go well.
The shoggs ambush me and one of the squids also pile in. I escape the room... after receiving four wounds. This is a catastrophe.
Sometimes you can feel yourself caught on a downward spiral, that the planet is so determined to kill you that all you can do is play the role of redshirt and wait for the planet to eviscerate you. After the unmitigated disaster of the previous chamber, I need this one to go well.
So I am happy to discover there are no shoggs in this town! On top of that, the artefacts look like an easy grab, although I’m more uncertain about escape. That healing artefact looks mighty tasty.
In the end, most of the denizens ended up moving down the chamber while I went around them. I had to brave the squid – got smacked again – but I think it was the safer route out.
Not too shabby.
Oh sweet mother of fuck. Mawths.
Next Week: "Beaten and bruised, but alive."