Remote Life is nothing if not ambitious. The work of solo developer NAME, it’s a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up with clear R-Type inspiration, an expansive campaign by arcade shmup standards, lots of variety, and impressive visual design that carries its alien horror vibes well. But for all its ambition, it’s a game that struggles with the genre’s fundamentals, and as a result, it struggles to get off the ground.
Shmups are, generally speaking, difficult games. Usually that’s by design, and overcoming those hurdles is a fun, rewarding experience. Remote Life is a difficult game, but mostly because your weapons are unreliable, your ship moves too slowly and its hitbox is too big, and enemies have a nasty habit of spawning right next to you and blending into the background. It’s difficult in a way that feels unfair at worst, and uninteresting at best.
Navigating Remote Life‘s alien caverns means piloting a ship that explodes at what feels like the slightest hint of contact with a wall or enemy shot. Instead of the usual leeway given with hitbox size relative to sprites, here your entire ship is a weak point—meaning a single pixel of contact means doom, which in practice just means a whole lot of “I swear I didn’t touch that!” whenever you die. Conversely, your own shots are tiny and inconsistent, and have a nasty habit of breezing by enemies they look like they should have hit.
That’s made worse by enemies that camouflage into the background and, in some cases, spawn randomly—often right next to you. Add to that ship movement that’s so painfully slow that it’s often not possible to avoid obstacles on reaction, instead requiring you to memorise level layouts and preemptively position accordingly, and you get a game that’s just odious to actually play. A stingy continue system just makes that even worse, though you can, at least, play each level on its own with a full set of lives rather than having to start from scratch each time.
A lack of polish can often be fine, even a strength, but Remote Life just feels unrefined—not charmingly janky, just undercooked almost to the point of being unplayable. That lack of refinement extends to things like a clunky menu, loading screens that bizarrely ask you to press a button before loading actually starts, and optional “arcade” and “8-bit” filters that just reduce the resolution and add scanlines—making it even harder to see what’s going on.
If nothing else, it’s at least conceptually intriguing. A 15-mission campaign includes some welcome variety in objectives, enemies, and threats, from tense escort missions to moments where you get to temporarily pilot bigger, far more powerful vehicles. While it’s no Rolling Gunner, a twin-stick control scheme rather than the usual linear shooting opens up new possibilities, especially when coupled with adventure levels that let you freely explore and put me focus on exploration. The art style and enemy designs are impressive, too, channelling that gritty alien horror vibe onto an atmosphere that feels suitably oppressive.
But whatever promise lies in those ideas is lost in the game’s fundamental flaws. Remote Life isn’t short on ambition, but without the precision, reliable hit detection, and sense of control that are so integral to a shoot-’em-up, actually playing it is a bigger nightmare than any of those extraterrestrial monsters.