60 Parsecs! Review – Xbox One
+ Good sense of player agency
+ Some entertaining stories
+ Improved UI
- Slow pacing
- Largely forgettable experiences
The middle of the twentieth century was a strange time for those looking to the future, with one angle seeing humanity wiped out in nuclear Armageddon but another positing the colonization of space. Developer Robot Gentleman have explored both options, first in 60 Seconds! which revolved around the former, but also in 60 Parsecs! which focuses on the extraterrestrial, more hopeful side of things. Both are based on the same structure, though: you have 60 seconds to gather as many belongings as you can before being forced to survive through a grueling series of scenarios, hoping for rescue on the other side.
While 60 Seconds! is focused on a suburban family and their attempts to survive in a bunker in their backyard, 60 Parsecs! is a little more otherworldly. You start as an astronaut on a space station, and it is here that you need to gather rations, resources and crewmembers as part of your escape. The following segment is divided into two parts: the search for a planet to land your escape craft on and the subsequent quest for survival on whichever plant you choose. Thankfully, 60 Parsecs! is a little more colorful and livelier than 60 Seconds!’s drab aesthetic, though the challenges facing you are no less severe.
The vast majority of your time in 60 Parsecs! is spent reading through updates on your crew with regards to both their activities and their health. As the captain, it is your job to dole out rations, assign duties and ensure that morale is kept at an acceptable level, which is just as difficult as it sounds. As you’re all living in a small spaceship, your food and water supplies are low, space is cramped, and emotions run high. While some crewmates will admire your approaches, others will start to question your orders or develop jealousy towards your position and as moods start to fluctuate, it’s your responsibility to ensure that as many people as possible survive until rescue arrives.
There’s more complexity to the systems in 60 Parsecs! than were on show in 60 Seconds!, with characters possessing various skill levels in certain areas such as intelligence and agility and being given the chance to improve these abilities with practice. There’s also the option to craft and improve items based around your stash of components, and you’re able to send survivors out on expeditions whenever you would like. Rather than feeling like a straight-up reading and reacting experience like 60 Seconds!, it feels like 60 Parsecs! is looking to give the player a little more agency and more of a feeling of control over their predicaments. However, it does still feel like a lot of days start to become a routine of reading through updates and crew statuses, waiting for the next big event to happen.
60 Parsecs! does contain a number of seemingly random events and encounters for the player to uncover, with some occurring as one-off events and some developing into fairly lengthy multi-level quests. The majority of them require certain pieces of equipment to activate or proceed in, or the sacrifice of a certain number of rations, so there’s always a gamble regarding the worthwhileness of pursuing a narrative when weighed against the potential harm it m ight do to the survivability rates of your crew. There’s often a decent payoff waiting at the end of these arcs, but the question often needs to be asked about whether your team will live long enough to see it.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty details, it feels like 60 Parsecs! is overall a better designed experience than 60 Seconds!, even with the additions that 60 Seconds! gained with the Reatomized edition. The initial 60 seconds of collecting items is smoother and more responsive, and the UI setup for the survival portion feels like it was designed more with a controller in mind, rather than the direct porting of mouse navigation that was present in 60 Seconds!. It definitely feels like Robot Gentleman evolved their approach for this sequel, and there’s a level of confidence in the approach in 60 Parsecs! that elevates the experience over its predecessor.
That’s not to say that all of my issues with the first game have been resolved, however. At the core, the experience of both games is the same, and that leads to some reservations that spread through both titles. Firstly, 60 Parsecs! isn’t the kind of game that I can see myself playing over and over, instead picking it up now and then for a playthrough when the mood strikes. While there’s enough variety between the events that pop-up, the core experience is similar enough that it does start to feel like you’re playing through the same parts over and over again. This is partly added to by the fact that although some of the stories are entertaining while in the middle of their narratives, they’re not exciting enough to stick with you once the game is shut off, and so there isn’t enough to discern one playthrough from another once all is said and done. It doesn’t feel like there’s enough emergent gameplay to make the experience feel like your own, and rather you’re being told a similar story by the same person time and again, just with slightly different beats.
However, much like people return to their favorite stories time and again, it feels like 60 Parsecs! would be a decent option to have on your hard drive for when the mood strikes. Alongside 60 Seconds!, it’s an experience that is difficult to find elsewhere in gaming, and so I can see myself returning to it now and then to see if I can make it out the other side with an extra crewmate or with better relations with a planet’s native inhabitants. I don’t think that 60 Parsecs! is ever going to be a game that gets my heart racing, but it’s a decent way to spend an hour or two on the couch in an evening.