Just like after most of my nights out, Capsule finds you waking up the next day in a strange place, with no idea of where you are or how you got there. Unlike my morning afters, though, here you’re stuck in some kind of capsule that could be, for all you know, in the void of space, on the surface of some unfamiliar planet, deep underground or perhaps in the underwater depths. So you do what anyone in that situation would do: cruise through a hostile land to the nearest station, and read through people’s personal emails.
Capsule is one of those minimalist-atmospheric-chic games that embraces the fact that games aren’t real and you’re actually just some dude looking at a computer screen, by making it a game about… being some dude looking at a computer screen. Or a dudette/gal/unidentified/dragonkin, you know, or whatever.
So rather than being something implausible like an overweight plumber running around on a dinosaur, or a university graduate getting a well paying job, Capsule endorses a much more realistic environment where the entire game world is seen through some kind of computer radar system you’d expect to find in a real deep sea/space vehicle. Just like a submarine/shuttle operator, you are staring at a system display, using just shapes and symbols to indicate what is happening around you.
Gameplay in Capsule is basically about manoeuvring around the foreign landscape, trying to find and connect to the nearest abandoned station or node before your limited power or oxygen runs out. This allows you not only to refuel precious oxygen and power, but also read the logs of those before you to find out what happened.
Like many indie games, your nosying around in other people’s private business is key to progressing – as you learn more about the environment where, shockingly, something has gone terribly wrong but you don’t know what – and identifying another location to then travel to, and then continue the process.
This really, is basically all there is to it; Capsule is obviously more about the atmosphere and subtle narrative than anything else, but it does it well. The display could very well be a real Aliens era computer system and everything that is happening in the game could be imagined as happening around you in real life. The developers have also made fitting use of ambient sounds, with cold blips and beeps of the computer screen accompanied only by the creaking and groaning of your capsule, with some increasingly panicked breathing sounds as your oxygen supply rapidly diminishes.
It’s all very effectively done and fits the game world well. Of course, if you prefer colourful environments, and/or action, and aren’t a fan of minimalism, Capsule might be a tougher pill to swallow. The gameplay, while certainly good at creating tension, basically boils down to repeating an increasingly drawn out repetitive task. And, spoiler alert: like most minimalist indie offerings, the ending
empowers you to interpret the world for yourself doesn’t really explain anything at all.
How much you enjoy Capsule will no doubt be influenced by where your priorities lie – to some it will be an unspoken masterpiece, to others perhaps a repetitive dull grind with no purpose. If you are even the slightest bit interested in what Capsule does offer, though, it’s definitely worth examining.
There is both a free (pay what you want) version on Itch.io and a paid version on Steam. As far as I can tell, there are no ingame differences between the two – presumably the cost of paying for the Steam version is just there as a way to support the developer.