Many forms of media have taken us beyond this spherical place we call Earth: In Mass Effect, I’ve ventured across the solar system just to have sex with aliens; in Event Horizon, I boarded an abandoned spaceship that had been possessed by ‘something’ and in No Man’s Sky I just explored to my heart’s content.
But those are definitely classed as science-fiction. Space Science Investigations is what you could refer to as science-fact. The second ‘game’ to come from NASA themselves on Xbox – after To the Moon and Beyond – there is once again a far more grounded experience to be had.
In Space Science Investigations, the focus is once again on the International Space Station. SSI is set in the ISS if you will. But unlike To the Moon and Beyond, this time around you get a much better sense of what it is like to be on the ISS. That is, rather than just a card game full of hypothetical situations set aboard the ISS.
Space Science Investigations is first and foremost an educational tool, rather than an out and out videogame. It wants to give you a brief glimpse into what life is like on the ISS by tasking you with some day-to-day activities on there, alongside berthing the H-II Transfer Vehicle to resupply. The station is in orbit, so you get to experience microgravity, and all the pitfalls that come with it.
You will learn about the side effects of microgravity: mainly, nausea and muscle atrophy.
In any other game, we would be criticising the floaty movement right about now. But in a game with gravity at a premium, they actually really work. Played from a first-person perspective, Space Science Investigations has you floating round the space station with reckless abandon. Both thumbsticks and all shoulder buttons are required to navigate around, but if things get too vomit inducing, the X button acts as a brake and stops you from spinning out of control.
As well as preparing the station for the imminent arrival there are a few other jobs to tend to. The camera needs to be set-up, you need to do your exercise and open the cupola. This will give you a real sense of scale as you look down upon the Earth. Even with all these things to do, it will take you less than an hour to see everything on offer.
Even during that short time though, I did have to restart the game once as the game decided to overlay my inventory on top of the tablet where most of the learning resources can be found. Thankfully the game autosaves very frequently so no data was lost during the restart.
But this is an educational experience after all, and there are some good tools here; tools to inform. There are some short videos that look like they were plucked straight from a NASA training video, albeit one from the late ‘90s. Dotted around are also some fun little experiments you can give a bit of a try in the real world, along with plenty of items to interact with and learn a bit more about. There are also plenty of external links you can open in the Xbox browser to learn even more and sign up for additional information.
Failing that, you can continue to explore the station after completing your mission and discover everything at your leisure.
And you will do well to explore everywhere because there is an easy 1000G on offer! Most of Space Science Investigations’ twenty-one achievements are unlocked through playing the main quest, but a few can be unlocked after the berth has been completed. There are a couple of achievements for finding things you wouldn’t normally find on a space station, in particular something else you can see through the camera. Whether or not this is NASA confirming the existence of extra-terrestrials well, the jury is out on that one.
So, check, watch, read, click and search everything and you will have an easy 1000 Gamerscore. Along with a wealth of new knowledge about the International Space Station.
As a freebie, Space Science Investigations is a delight and despite its brief running time it packs a lot of information in. The microgravity might seem off-putting and confusing at first, but it all feels very natural. It can kickstart a child’s fascination with space, build upon it, or put them off completely. It doesn’t glamourise life on the International Space Station in anyway; in fact, it shows how hard it can be. Throw in a few fun easter eggs and it is a well-rounded freebie that we would have happily paid a few quid for.
And let’s not forget the easy Xbox achievements. The real reason the majority of us would ever play this.
Head to the International Space Station in Space Science Investigations from the Xbox Store