The Starfield Show on Sunday (June 11) promises to give us a big look at the “NASA-punk” sci-fi game for Xbox Series X, Series S, and Windows.
Right now, we don’t know much about Starfield, other than some core elements like planetary exploration, base building, space battles, a story based on different factions and the discovery of alien artifacts.
While it looks like Starfield will lean more into the hard sci-fi style of The Expanse, rather than the more popular sci-fi of Star Trek, I’m still imagining how the ‘world’ of Starfield will shape up. But I hope it’s taken the same trajectory as Prospect, a low-budget but excellent sci-fi thriller.
That’s because Prospect is a master at simple world building, something I hope Starfield will highlight as a brand new IP from Bethesda.
Prospect makes excellent science fiction
In broad strokes, the plot of Prospect centers around harvesting alien gems from a green planet where the air appears to be choked with toxic “dust”. We join the perspective of father-daughter duo, Damon and Sy (played by Jay Duplass and Sophie Thatcher, respectively).
We are introduced to them aboard their small ship attached to a larger long distance station/ship that makes one final loop of the planet before the “propelled back” – from my knowledge of sci-fi, I understand this to mean using a planet’s gravity to help the ship gather speed on the return trip.
What makes Prospect intriguing is that none of this is explicitly stated. English is used, but there are phrases and names that sound both technical and specific to whatever region of the human-occupied Prospect galaxy. Words that refer to specific types of ships, weapons, gadgets, and events are given without a gallery block.
So you need to listen and infer some details by understanding the context in which the conversations and advertisements are happening. This is environmental storytelling that’s not light years away from what Elden Ring has brought us.
The stakes are already raised, since this is proven to be the last run on the green planet the Prospectors will get, and if they miss the capture, they get the standard. That provides intense tension throughout the movie.
The use of tight shots of woods, ship designs and a few expanses of tall grass means Prospect keeps the action both intimate and intense. This puts you in the eyes of people who are just trying to get you through a ruthless galaxy, where your way home is to get the money. And you can’t risk stumbling across the grainy black of outer space.
This narrow frame also allows us to get a strong sense of low-key sci-fi from Prospect. The compact ship feels as claustrophobic as I imagine the Saturn V’s interior should be. And although Bethesda has coined the term NASA-punk via Starfield, the interior of Damon and Cee’s ship has a similar look. All slots, straps, and packages contain the supplies, with analog buttons and switches instead of holographic screens and AI systems.
You could easily see this type of technology being used in a current NASA rocket, if it were taken to a different solar system/galaxy where long-distance space travel is a realistic possibility. Even the Cee’s wireless headphones are pretty similar to the ones you can get today, perhaps with a bit more of an analog art deco feel (anyone who’s played Prey might be familiar with that aesthetic).
Less is more
By avoiding too much CGI – likely due to budget constraints as a stylistic choice – the small details of Prospect bubble to the surface, allowing viewers to get a sense of where Cee and Damon occupy. It also means that acting and character building can shine through, too.
Thatcher C. at first appears to be a slightly detached and rambunctious teenager with little choice but to accompany her father on excavations. But as the plot unfolds, we see that Cee is a much more capable and tough person than first meets the eye. Likewise, Damon has a good dose of lost soul energy mixed with a slight whiff of failed ambition, but we soon see he has a more determined streak with a dose of mercenary when called upon.
The current sweetheart of the acting world, Pedro Pascal also stars as Ezra, a mysterious figure who is both antagonist and savior. I felt like Pascal was having a great time here, with an accent a few steps deeper in the Deep South than his portrayal of Texan Joel in The Last of Us, with the scene-stealing verbiage.
While I had to rewind some scenes to piece together bits of dialogue, I found Prospect’s whole approach to character and world-building very compelling. In the end, the overall story is nothing short of incredible, but the way it evokes a feeling of a Wild West frontier in a challenging sci-fi setting is fascinating and lingers in my mind.
Future outlook: Let’s hope Starfield is convincing
All of this is exactly what I would hope for from Starfield.
Sure, the game might have a few CGI bells and whistles. But I’m crossing my toes and toes that Bethesda makes sure that the characters, missions, and feel of Starfield are engaging and detailed, rather than just giving players a big ‘open world’ to explore. There are enough games with extensive maps to reveal it, and the challenge is to make it compelling enough to sink 100+ hours into it.
I suggest watching Prospect in one of our picks for the best OLED TVs to get a real sense of the film’s color palette that can reveal some of its details.