Solitude is something that doesn’t occur in games all too often. Sure, there’s loneliness, sometimes even isolation, but there is rarely solitude. Even in the most singular single-player games, there are always other people. People to talk to, people to interact with, people to temporarily join forces with, people to fight and kill. You are never truly alone in games. Then something like Noctis comes along.
Noctis is a game about floating through the void of space. You, as an astronaut with no name, pilot a spaceship, also with no name. You fly from planet to planet, moon to moon, galaxy to galaxy, all nameless. You direct your ship’s navigation systems to a celestial body, land, explore it for a little while, then return to your ship. You are then given the option to name the planet or moon you’ve explored, and even write out a series of notes about it. That’s the entire game.
Noctis does not have any combat. There are no survival mechanics. There’s no trade. Nothing else but exploration. There aren’t even other people in the universe. The closest you’ll find are a very rare sighting of small birds and frogs on various planets. Or, if your fuel runs empty and you’re stranded (the one resource in this game you have to worry about), you can send out a distress signal, where another ship will give you just enough of its reserve fuel to get you somewhere to resupply. The thing is, you never see the other pilot, or speak to them. You merely see their ship outside your cockpit window until they finish helping you out, where they then fly away, never to be seen again. Any contact you encounter is fleeting.
Noctis does not even feature any music or sound effects. Everything is dead silent. You may do what I do and try to break that silence by listening to your best selection of ambient music, but it doesn’t do much to change the overbearing atmosphere of the game: you are ALONE.
motoro faam- “…and precipitation”
I like to load up Noctis from time to time, usually whenever I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed with life. It’s a very meditative experience. Me, in my spaceship, floating through a cold and dark void, cataloguing planet after planet for no other reason than my own curiosity. There’s no goal or storyline that I have to follow, I simply exist in a sterile, single-room ship. The game has an option to turn off the ship’s lighting, and allow everything to be illuminated solely by the brightness of the stars, or a lack thereof. I like to turn this option on, further isolate myself while I look at the majesty of the universe.
I spend a couple of hours alone with my thoughts, as I walk the surface of another world, or as I climb out onto my ship’s roof and admire the stars with less obstruction, or as I sit in the darkness, listening to my droning music and letting a passing moon brighten things for a while. Spend my time deciding if the notes I’ll be taking on each world will be clinical, poetic, or even juvenile. I’ve been doing this ever since I discovered the game back in 2007, where it became one of those games I played to wind down after a particularly shitty day at The Job. Tend to find it more relaxing to play it around this time of year: where the weather begins to cool, the sun goes down earlier, and I can wrap myself in a small blanket, maybe pull up the hood on my hoodie if I’m wearing one (rarely am I not). Losing myself in the kind of solitude that would drive a normal person mad, but brings me comfort.
I like to look at those images I’ve taken and notes I’ve kept all this time. It’s like looking at old memories, in a way. Speaking of, I was looking for old screenshots of this game on an external hard drive I’ve had almost as long as I’ve been playing this game. Looking at digital memories of over a decade ago, I found this old drawing a friend of mine had given me. We’ve since lost contact, as a long time has passed and life likes to get in the way of relationships like that, so I can’t give them credit for this, as much as I’d like to. It’s a picture of an astronaut. This astronaut is an average man, not the physically fit, shave them sideburns, jingoistic ideal that America has for them. I used to look at this image a lot, not just because it looked cool, but it was honestly pretty inspiring. Some regular dude getting to travel the stars. That concept is not something that will ever happen in this lifetime, and based on who’s running things now, will never happen in the next lifetime, either. I’ve been obsessed with space travel my entire life, and it’s still good to want to dream.
This is one of my all-time favorite games. It is everything that I want in a game about space travel. A game that I was disappointed No Man’s Sky wasn’t. The atmosphere. The visuals. The sound, and the lack thereof. Most importantly, the solitude. Next time the world I live on becomes too much, I know that, even if it’s only for a short time and also imaginary, I can take off, and be alone on my ship.