There is an exile that is worse than a deserted island or the hinterlands of Asia, and that is to be a member of a space-faring race trapped by the invisible walls of atmosphere and gravity onto the surface of an alien world. With all realizable technology and an understanding of the physics required, space travel, especially the launch of an object to orbit, requires powerful technology, rare materials and hefty financing. This combination makes distant hunks of orbiting rock a more secure prison than any deep dungeon or high tower for those people used to plying the stars. With the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, humanity itself is sadly close to shutting its own door on the universe. On the other hand, the protagonists of many sci-fi video games aren’t going to let a little thing like the impossible keep them from slipping the surly bonds.
Escape From: Stygia
Amid the quantified chaos of Bulletstorm’s “slay with style” FPS gameplay is a sci-fi plot driven by the need of a band of space pirates to catch (hijack really) the last ship off the world they and their enemy has crashed onto. Failure means to be stranded for all time on a world overrun by dangerous radiation that has mutated the local populous into savage cannibal gangs and turned the local flora and fauna giant and carnivorous. Throughout the game, the persistent need to find a way off Stygia serves as a device to push all the characters together and forward even when their individual goals are at odds.
Escape From: Earth?
An asteroid collision has ruined Captain Olimar’s outer space vacation, causing his ship to break up and crash onto a planet filled with (relatively, to the tiny alien) gigantic plants and animals that thrive in the poisonous-to-Olimar oxygen atmosphere. He has only 30 days of life support to reassemble his ship and escape before he suffocates. Fortunately, he has the help of a species of semi-sentient plant life called Pikmin, color-coded by ability, that he can control en masse, RTS style to help him lift heavy objects and do battle with ladybugs and the like. Though never explicitly stated, it’s implied that this adventure take place on Earth, only in tiny scale with simple flowers towering like skyscrapers and ocean-like puddles.
The Dig (1995)
Escape From: Cocytus
Coming in at the tail end of the golden age of LucasArts adventure games, The Dig is the story of three astronauts who, after averting a global catastrophe, encounter a crisis of their own when they are suddenly transported to a barren world with no clear way back. This world, dubbed Cocytus by one of the astronauts, was the home of a highly advanced alien civilization, but its population have disappeared or died off. Alone on this strange world, the stranded earthlings have to learn from scratch how this world works. The exploration is perilous, and with no clues as to what of the alien technology is benign and what is dangerous, any wrong move could be their last.
Spare Parts (2011)
Escape From: Unidentified junk planet
Whether the goal is to get rid of people or materials, the gravity well of a planet makes for an excellent garbage disposal, sucking down trash, burning most of it during atmospheric entry and leaving what’s left out of sight and mind. It’s also a great way keep down the level of intra-system space junk, improving navigational safety and keeping the skies black. In Spare Parts, a pair of robots are thrown out with a load of space-trash, and with the help of an abandoned starship’s computer, explore the world with their platforming action to find other allies, fend off space pirates and repair the ship with scrounged up components so that they can escape.
ToeJam & Earl (1991)
Escape From: Earth
It’s the unusual context that sets this dungeon crawler apart from other titles that use the ‘randomly generated level’ mechanic. In ToeJam & Earl the heroes are aliens, funky, funky aliens from planet Funkotron. They have crash-landed on planet Earth and must negotiate a funhouse version of the blue planet, avoiding satirical depictions of humans while searching for the parts of their (also funky) space ship. Here the Earth is the threat when viewed through the lens of an alien’s perspective; everything takes on a sinister edge. Subtlety perhaps, making a point about the kind of cultural alienation that doesn’t require one to be from another planet to feel lost and alone.