You are stranded on a gorgeous but deeply inhospitable world, and it is trying to kill you. Capsized is a return to the lonely science fiction of gaming's youth, a connective tissue stretching from 2D adventures like Another World andMetroid to early FPSes, particularly Doom. Though happy to declare itself a retro title, Alientrap's action-platformer is very much its own game – and an excellent one at that.
Jesse McGibney's art is the first indication that Capsized is special. Your headlong flight through this other world takes place against backdrops invested with extraordinary, handcrafted detail and rendered in vibrant colour. Incidental flora and fauna skitter and sway in the undergrowth; motes and spores drift on the wind alongside floating gas-bag creatures. Enemy design is enthralling throughout, striking a careful balance between cartoonish charm and alien menace – scary without trying too hard to scare, appealing without ever feeling familiar.
The only area of the game's presentation that does not excel is animation – characters articulate stiffly, sometimes wearing their origins as static art a little too openly. Beyond that, though, this is a singularly beautiful game, nicely offset by a soundtrack of sober electronica and a minimalist HUD.
It's all the more remarkable, then, that Capsized's greatest strength is actually in play. First impressions are of an accomplished but straightforward action-platformer. Mouse aiming takes some of the pressure off the minute-to-minute run and gun – a system that places greater emphasis on movement and positioning than twitch accuracy, and the source of Capsized most interesting features.
Besides running and jumping, Capsized has three overlapping traversal mechanics that take advantage of its low-gravity physics. A grappling hook allows you to swing and drag yourself across the landscape and grab enemies and objects; a 'gravity ram' can be used to shunt both foes and yourself through space; and a limited-use jetpack provides short-range flight. Each of these is available from the start of the game and each can be used in isolation to solve many of its environmental puzzles. It's in combining them, however, that the game's heart is found.
Capsized is a game of giddy action-hero improvisation and hilarious, crushing failure. Consistent enemy behaviours, a manipulable environment and its varied weaponry provide situations; your handling of those situations creates stories. The time you fended off a space crocodile with a flamethrower while dangling from a bloated alien mosquito; the hastily-engineered rockslide that saved you from a tunnel full of swarming insects; the perfectly timed hook-swing around a heavy foe that cast him down a pit and you into orbit. These are the moments that define the game.
A three-hour campaign is supported by a multitude of alternative modes, including deathmatch with bots, time trial, survival, and 'armless' mode, which challenges you to clear a stages' worth of enemies using only the environment. All variants upon a theme, they allow for quick drop-in sessions and provide replay value with the promise of highscore chasing and a handful of Steam achievements. Local co-op is also available, providing you have access to a gamepad.
There are, however, no online features – no leaderboards and no multiplayer. This is a huge shame, as Capsized's mechanics lend themselves perfectly to both. Friends list-based one-upmanship would add a tremendous incentive to return to the game – as rich as its intrinsic rewards are, this is a lonely experience for player and pint-sized spaceman alike. Beyond a certain point, telling your friends stories can't replace sharing those moments with them. It's this that holds Capsized back from being a classic – but it is, nonetheless, a great and progressive return to gaming’s adventuring roots.