Peril on Gorgon is a good excuse to return to the Outer Worlds’ retro-futurist dystopia. I only wish doing so had finally given me some hope that its neo-feudalist colonies might someday be saved.
Out last week on PS4, Xbox One, and PC (it will arrive sometime later on Switch), Peril on Gorgon is the first of two planned DLC expansions, delivering a noir-esque mystery that surrounds an abandoned pharmaceutical plant and culminates in a tough choice between bad and worse outcomes. On the one hand it’s more of the same, adding new weapons, perks, and quests that will feel familiar to anyone who’s already played the base game. On the other hand, Peril on Gorgon is one of The Outer Worlds’ more involved storylines, set on a dark asteroid filled with ominous ambient synth tracks and a rocky wilderness overseen by a dazzling night sky. It also attempts to answer one of the biggest questions from the base game: Why do all of The Outer Worlds’ planets seem to be chock full of deranged “marauders” for you to kill? The answer isn’t disappointing, but what you’re able to do with that information is.
The DLC, situated into the middle of the base game, begins when you find a severed arm in a box clutching a recording about someone hiring for a dangerous job. This leads you to the mansion of the charming, tumbler-waving Minnie Ambrose on an asteroid called Gorgon. Spacer’s Choice, the corporation known for its economy-class products, used to run a sprawling research facility there but abandoned it following The Accident. She wants you to bring her the diary of the facility’s lead scientist, a task which requires navigating a multi-building dungeon and tracking down former employees for their credentials in order to gain access to restricted areas.
Along the way you shoot a lot of things. Peril on Gorgon is extremely combat-heavy, almost to a fault. While you can occasionally try to gain an advantage by sneaking around or keeping your distance, so many of the brawls take place in such confined spaces that eventually everything seemed to descend into free-for-alls of blasting enemies away with one hand and spamming my life-restoring inhaler with the other. One of the new perks, Nietzsche’s Reward, encouraged me to mess around with the game’s flaw system more by giving me a damage bonus for each new addiction or phobia I racked up, but on the whole Gorgon doesn’t introduce any new ways to approach fighting.
The Outer Worlds’ shooting has always felt serviceable but never fun to me, functioning better as a consequence for pursuing certain actions than a gameplay loop worth pursuing in its own right. Peril on Gorgon was no different. Though there’s plenty of computer terminals to snoop through and conversations to navigate, I kept wishing I was exploring the pharmaceutical plant before it had been abandoned. The game’s dialogue options have always been more interesting than its duels.
[Note: Spoilers for the end of Peril on Gorgon follow. If you don’t want to find out what happens stop reading now.]
The truth Peril on Gorgon later reveals is that the reason there are only faceless marauders left roaming the quiet factory floors is because a new drug that was being tested turned everyone into psychopaths. Adrena-Time, a sort of hyper-cocaine-as-coffee-supplement Spacer’s Choice was creating, boosted test subjects’ efficiency by making them unable to sleep and addicted to the drug, eventually resulting in violent outbursts and the brain shriveling up like a cantaloupe left out in the sun.
Dozens of computer terminals full of partial email exchanges between the facility’s workers outline the rise and fall of the project, but the TL;DR version is that corporations will do anything to make money, including selling stuff they know might kill you. The Outer Worlds is one giant parody of the profit motive, and in some ways Peril on Gorgon is its most unflinching exhibit, complete with a conveyor belt of meat cubes on their way to the incinerator showing the corporation’s former employees have literally been chewed up and spit out.
Hyperbolic critiques like this are nothing new to games. A famous scene in 1998’s Xenogears turns on the revelation that one civilisation with advanced technology living in the sky is turning the people living below it into food, an allusion to the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee similarly see’s a meat processing plant worker try to escape after learning he and his coworkers are to be turned into food.
Like these games, The Outer Worlds’ caricature of corporate excess and malfeasance can feel outlandish and divorced from humanity. Then you remember that cigarette companies knowingly gave people cancer for decades, while keeping that a secret from everyone else. DuPont similarly sold teflon-covered products for years despite being aware of its harmful effects. In 1962, DuPont even made some of its workers smoke teflon-laced cigarettes to get a better idea of its harmful effects. “Nine out of ten people in the highest-dosed group were noticeably ill for an average of nine hours with flu-like symptoms that included chills, backache, fever, and coughing,” according to company records reported on by The Intercept. What. The. Fuck.
Where Peril On Gorgon falls flat, similar to how The Outer Worlds as a whole left me cold, was in what it allowed me to do with this information. Upon gaining access to Spacer’s Choice’s company secrets, Minnie asks you to help her get the facility back up and running so that she can revisit its research, this time in a more ethical manner. The inventor of Adrena-Time, who happens to be Minnie’s mother, Olivia, turns out to still be alive, guarding the facility like Jacob Marley’s ghost, intent on preventing anyone else from repeating her mistakes. You can side with Minnie or Olivia, and even avoid bloodshed depending on how delicately you manoeuvre.
Peril on Gorgon’s “good” ending sees you successfully reunite the estranged family members who then get back to working on the wonder drug responsible for ruining thousands of lives. After all, how else can the colonies, running out of resources and headed toward collapse, be saved? The implication is that the colonies are so corrupt and the power of the corporate board members so absolute that the only play left is for a scientific miracle that will double or triple human productivity with minimal side effects. The goals are different but the fantasy of a free corporate lunch remains. I tried all three endings, but none of them left me satisfied. Presented with the existential horrors of the status quo, my options felt as toothless as “just vote” and as futile as “hopes and prayers.”
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this outcome, but it flies in the face of both the role-playing power fantasy at the core of The Outer Worlds and the knowing irony with which it lampoons everything. Peril on Gorgon is great at letting your companions remark in horror at everything they uncover as well as your own cynicism should you choose to respond like Twitter’s worst reply guys by saying “Well, what did you expect?” I just wish it had found a place for that same earnestness in the rest of the story.