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Lunar Lander Beyond makes a classic Atari game even more stressful

Key art for Lunar Lander Beyond.

If you asked me to make a list of the most stressful video games of all time, Lunar Lander would be pretty high up there. The Atari classic is a masterclass in minimalist tension, asking players to land spaceships on rocky planets very gingerly. Those who experienced that game when it launched could probably regale you with war stories about their space-faring escapades, but Atari is about to give players a new panic attack.

Lunar Lander Beyond is a new reimagining of the classic Atari game from developer Dreams Incorporated. It’s an in-depth modernization with flashy animated cutscenes, an XCOM-inspired approach to characters, and lots of little systems that reinvent the classic formula. What it doesn’t paint over, though, is the stress of piloting a fragile spacecraft. Instead, it turns the dial way past 11.

Risen stress levels in Lunar Lander Beyond.

The basic premise is the same, though with some added complexity. Players pilot around a tiny spaceship, using its thrusters to navigate around 360 degrees. Managing momentum is key, as committing too hard to a boost will leave the ship hurtling through space. Luckily, players have a stabilizer that can be used to stop the ship in place – something that’s crucial when trying to nab collectibles or making a safe landing.

While that’s a kind addition that makes flying easier, Lunar Lander Beyond’s most exciting feature is more antagonistic. Players don’t just need to pay attention to their ship’s health and fuel level. Bumping up against walls or other objects will inflict stress on the pilot. The more stressed players are, the weirder the world around them gets. If you played last year’s Dredge or GameCube cult classic Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, the system will feel familiar.

During my demo, I watched someone from Dreams Interactive bash his ship against a wall to raise the stress meter near its cap. Doing so caused some creepy, psychedelic effects. It began with some stray screen shakes and color flashes. As the stress level rose, giant eyeballs and gnashing teeth began popping up at random in the sky. Bumping into those would inflict even more stress, making the difficult job of landing a tiny ship even harder.

A ship traverses an alien landscape in Lunar Lander Beyond.

Dreams Interactive says that the idea was meant to expand the core emotions of the Atari original. The studio wanted to double down on that tension to bring Lunar Lander to its next logical step. To reinforce that, Beyond features a pilot management system that takes some surprising inspiration from the XCOM series. When a pilot gets too stressed out, players must enroll them in therapy to bring that stress level down, as it’ll carry over between missions. To make matters more diabolical, Beyond’s hardest difficulty mode introduces permadeath to the mix.

It’s a smart way to modernize a classic game without losing what makes it special. While more complex objectives and an array of ships that control differently make it feel new, Dreams Interactive keeps the core experience intact. It’s still an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master game with thoughtful new management layers. That makes it a neat fit within Atari’s wider catalog of retro revivals, which have respectfully built on its classics over the past few years. Get ready to feel the stress of the Atari age like never before.

Lunar Lander Beyond launches on April 23 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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