The latest game from independent developer “Freebird Games,” brings a heartwarming tale, sending players into the past of a dying man to fulfill his last wish. In PC gaming, “To the Moon,” the journey to satisfy this wish, is one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had with a game.
The game revolves around Johnny, an elderly man lying on his deathbed when the story begins. Knowing the end is near, he contacts the Sigmund Corporation, a peculiar organization whose agents can change a person’s memories by accessing the person’s past. Johnny wants a rather odd memory. He wants to go to the moon.
Players control Dr. Eva Rosaline and Dr. Neil Watts, two scientists employed by the Sigmund Corporation. Their contrasting personalities give the plot a nice balance between humor and seriousness. Eva portrays herself as a sincere character who takes interest in her work. Neil, on the other hand, has a more playful role to the game, giving fragments of comical relief to the sometimes intense storyline.
When they first depart into Johnny’s past, they treat it as little more than another day on the job, but as they began to shine light onto Johnny’s life and expose the root of his dream to go the the moon, Neil and Eva grow to respect and care for Johnny on a personal level.
At the start of the game, not much is known about Johnny. He has an enormous house with some rather odd objects strewn about, and his caretaker and her children are the only other inhabitants in the home. As the story progresses, players come to realize that behind this man is a past filled with both heartbreak and triumph.
There are multitudes of secrets and twists along the way that will keep players guessing about Johnny until the end, and overwhelmed by anticipation, I had a difficult time prying myself from the game until it was finished. The game has a mesmerizing plot fit for a full feature film, and the developers created a highly-original game with a wealthy story and a life-like cast.
Through rich dialogue, To The Moon presents a new meaning to character development. While playing I found myself growing attached to the various characters in the story, and when given the ability to relate to the cast, the overall experience of the game becomes much more intimate. All the characters have diverse personalities that contribute to their individuality, which in turn allows players to find a connection to the story.
While moving back through Johnny’s life and witnessing how the choices he made affected him later, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had done things differently. This is where Dr. Neil and Dr. Eva come into play. Equipped with the technology to travel through and manipulate a person’s memory of the past, they have the power to change the outcome of their patient’s future.
In this tale, the patient is Johnny, a feeble old man who is gravely ill and has one extraordinary wish. “The moon… He wants to go to the moon.” Now in order for this dream to come true, there must be alterations in the course of his childhood that will create a change in the future. Neil and Eva decide that the only way to send Johnny to the moon is to convince his child self to grow up to be an astronaut.
Players start their mission in the present and begin to move their way back through six stages of Johnny’s life, ending in his early childhood. When Neil and Eva peel back the pages of Johnny’s past, a tale unlike any other is unfolded.
As players explore the times that came before, they discover that there is much more to Johnny’s wish than they had anticipated. This isn’t just another childhood dream to travel to the moon, Johnny’s intentions are much more complex. Going beyond their duties, Neil and Eva discover the love, pain, and struggles that all hint at the underlying mystery surrounding Johnny’s wish.
A new take on gameplay
Gameplay in “To the Moon” is simple: to advance to the next stage in Johnny’s memories, players have to search the current memory for “mementos” that will all be applied to a particular object that links one time-frame to the next.
To successfully activate the next time-frame, players are required to complete a very simple puzzle—which is pretty much the extent of the challenge factor of the game. Players will control either Eva or Neil in varying intervals throughout the game.
With the exception to a few keyboard buttons here and there, the controls are a very straightforward point and click with a mouse.
Next: An original approach
The novice difficulty level and lack of traditional gameplay may deter some from this game, but “To the Moon” was not intended to be the every day game. The goal of “To The Moon” is to completely immerse players in what has to be one of the most well-written stories that can be classified as a video game.
An original approach
“To The Moon” is far different from any other game I have played before, but that’s a good thing.
There aren’t exactly any defining gameplay elements that classify the game in any particular genre. I wasn’t faced with boss fights or villains, nor did I have to liberate an entire fantasy world from an evil presence. Yet, what I did have to do was save an extraordinary man from his painful past, and in the process of doing so, I had the pleasure to experience an emotional masterpiece that defines what story telling should be.
In “To The Moon,” I didn’t play a game—I played a story that captures the fascinating life of an elderly man and I had the privilege to relive all the joy, trials, and tragedies that were hidden deep within his memories.
While breaking the traditional gameplay experience, “To The Moon” took an innovative and original approach to story telling that is incomparable to any other game.
In its roughly four hours from start to finish, “To The Moon” is a short but sweet game that is well deserving of a standing ovation. I highly recommend giving this game a go, as it is well worth the $11.99.
I applaud Freebird Games for creating a poetic journey that took an impressive leap away from the ordinary, and crafted a game revolving around an epic story of a human life that reminded us that “The ending isn’t any more important than the moments leading up to it.”
Corey Philipp is a writer based in San Diego.