— DigiTales Interactive

For 24 years, security officer Stella has known nothing outside the metal walls of the Zephyr, a generation ship bound for a distant planet on a 130-year voyage. But on a day like any other, a routine equipment failure leads to an investigation that could tear its passengers apart and jeopardize the future of humanity itself. Over just a handful of hours, the mystery unfolds in Between Horizons, accompanied by gorgeous pixel art, an atmospheric soundtrack, and one of the best investigative gameplay systems I’ve seen in an adventure game.

Between Horizons first caught my eye when I played a demo on a whim at last October’s Steam Next Fest. Its intriguing sci-fi setting and detective mechanics immediately grabbed me, but some players may recognize developer DigiTales Interactive from its neo-noir mystery Lacuna. Like Lacuna, Between Horizons relies on players’ intuition and reasoning to solve a series of connected cases with imperfect evidence. The result is a game that truly sells the feeling of being a detective while telling a fascinating story of freedom and interdependence aboard a spaceship turned pressure cooker reminiscent of the stressful experiments of Fallout’s Vaults.

Playing as Stella, you start the game by investigating a communications glitch, which is quickly revealed to be an intentional hack, part of a large scheme threatening the ship’s stability. The story unfurls over 10 cases, with the first few serving as a tutorial for its investigative systems.

Every conversation you have and item you examine is stored away in Stella’s PDA as evidence. At any time, you’re free to read back through to find details you may have overlooked and consider how they may help in solving a case. Anything from a room’s decorations to an offhand comment could be the key to solving cases about sabotaged electronics, secret communiques, and decades-old convictions.

What’s most remarkable is how much freedom players have in collecting and using these clues. While you’re usually told where to start your search, some cases can only be cracked by intuition. You’ll have to keep character relationships and past discoveries in mind to go where you’re not told and look into hunches.

— DigiTales Interactive

After the first few cases, there aren’t a lot of smoking guns to find. Instead, it’s up to you to decide when you know enough and make the leap to submit your version of events. That can lead to moments where it seems like there’s no evidence left to find to collect, only for a conversation you have on a whim just in case to crack open a whole new side story that leads events in a totally unexpected direction.

Even knowing when to stop looking is up to you. Technically, you can submit your answer to a case as soon as you pick it up. If you get the wrong answer, the story simply moves on. More than any other game, it reminds me of my favorite detective game from 2020 in how it leaves both investigations and conclusions totally in players’ control.

Another of Between Horizons’ greatest strengths is how it doles out information to players slowly, matching the pace of Stella awakening to reality of life on the Zephyr.

— DigiTales Interactive

At first, things seem simple. Stella is a space cop on a peaceful ship making its way to a new home 100 years away as everyone aboard works to support the Mission (capitalized even in speech because it’s that important). But specifics of the Zephyr quickly shatter that illusion for players. Thanks to the ship’s hereditary caste system, Stella was assigned cop at birth, just as everyone is given the job of their parents. For that matter, babies are grown in vats to be adopted on strict schedules, and her role as a security officer is as much about state affairs as it is about keeping the peace. These are things Stella already knows, but as the player learns about them, she’s confronting for the first time that the social order might not sit right with everyone.

By the end of the game, these tensions lead to some spectacularly unexpected consequences and the chance to transform life on the Zephyr forever. As satisfying as its detective story is, my biggest critique of Between Horizons is that it pulls some of its punches. Near the game’s conclusion, I had a conversation with a previously unimportant character who used Stella’s role as space cop and the structure of the Zephyr to question the legitimacy of police and raise the idea of prison abolition. Throughout the game, characters speak of self-determination versus duty and the collective good versus personal freedom.

— DigiTales Interactive

While having these ideas threaded through the story helped me see the Zephyr in a new light, I kept wishing that Between Horizons would spend more time confronting these themes head on. Citizen Sleeper’s deep exploration of community interdependence aboard a space station made it one of my all-time favorite games when it launched in 2022, and while Between Horizons plays with similar ideas, they’re not given enough space in the story to have the same effect.

That gripe aside, I loved the roughly six hours I spent playing Between Horizons. Though I already know the conclusions to its cases, I’m still eager to return to its sci-fi detective vibes and see what happens if I approach cases differently (particularly, I want to know what happens if I pin all of the Zephyr’s crimes on Stella’s adorable space cat, Chichi). As an antidote to excessive hand-holding in games and a gripping detective mystery in its own right, Between Horizons is just about everything you could ask for from a cerebral sci-fi game.

Between Horizons is available now on PC with a console launch coming later in 2024.

Share This