Lunar Lander Beyond Review – PlayStation 5

Atari has been crushing it these past few years with their Recharged series of games that have brought legendary classics like Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, and many more to a new generation of gamers.  I had always been hoping for a Lunar Lander remake, and when Gravitar: Recharged arrived in 2022, I figured that was as close as I was going to get, but once again, Atari is keeping the classics alive with Lunar Lander Beyond.

A lot has changed since those black and white vector graphics in 1979, but the underlying principles of gravity and inertia remain at the core of Lunar Lander Beyond.  A spectacular opening cartoon greets and excites players; it’s fun to watch once but thankfully you can skip the 2+ minute movie on future replays.  Once in the game, you are presented with a stylish retro menu system with that high-intensity green phosphor CRT and movable selection bar.  It’s got that DOS/UNIX vibe with a splash of colored text and fun graphics that would be appropriate for 80’s sci-fi.  The story beats are delivered with stationary art combined with excellent voice acting for cutscenes and communications during missions, and the soundtrack is worthy of a TRON sequel.

There’s not much in the way of settings for the PS5 version other than audio levels, but the game does offer multiple save slots and four difficulty levels.  While Lunar Lander Beyond plays out in a linear story fashion there is a mission select option that will allow you to replay missions already completed in order to get higher scores or try with a new pilot.  You’ll be assisted by HARA, an AI who sounds a lot like a first-gen Alexa but will help you navigate the surprisingly complex game ahead.

Once in the actual game screen, I was delighted with the colorful backgrounds and the subtle parallax effect that gave the scenery extra depth for each of the five themed systems.  Animation is smooth and controls feel great, allowing for precision flying, and once you start to feel the ebb and flow of the gravity and how to thrust against it, you can find and fly that ideal path through increasingly complex level designs.

Much like the 1979 game, Lunar Lander Beyond is all about managing thrust, direction, and momentum.  There is always a downward pull you’re resisting, while simultaneously trying to fly through checkpoints, rescue stranded pilots, or hack into data terminals.  You’ll need to monitor ship health and fuel levels, often refueling or repairing in-flight.  There are four ships you can unlock, and a dozen upgrades to play with and find what works best, as only four can be equipped.  You’ll rescue pilots that can be added to your own growing flight crew, each with their own abilities, which makes them more useful on certain missions than others.

Supposedly, being a lander pilot is the most stressful job in the galaxy, so get ready to do a little self-therapy in Pilot Healthcare.  During flight, any bump or collision will result in additional stress on the pilot based on the severity of the impact.  This can be reduced by collecting special pills while flying around in missions or treating your pilots directly in the healthcare screen.  If pilots get too stressed hallucinations may appear on screen, and the DualSense trigger used for thrust will get very hard to press – a clever way to physicalize emotional distress and incentivize clean and cautious flying.

Lunar Lander Beyond has quickly become one of my favorite arcade pastimes on the PS5.  The 30 missions will take you hours to complete and months to perfect.  There are so many options and variable ship configurations to experiment with, and the variety of mission types is diverse and increasingly difficult.  There is even a level that plays like Missile Command.  If you have any love of retro games, especially those from Atari, then you are going to lose yourself in Lunar Lander Beyond.

To see the game in action you can watch the first hour of gameplay in our video review.

Author: Mark Smith
I've been an avid gamer since I stumbled upon ZORK running in my local Radio Shack in 1980. Ten years later I was working for Sierra Online. Since then I've owned nearly every game system and most of the games to go with them. Not sure if 40+ years of gaming qualifies me to write reviews, but I do it anyway.

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