I almost did not play Aurora. It uses the Unity plugin and I have had bad experiences with Unity games in the past. Some have run dreadfully slowly on my laptop. Others have actually crashed my browser. So when I spotted the Unity loading screen, my first reaction was to immediately close down the game. I am glad I resisted this urge because Aurora is an absolute gem of a game. Certainly, it is one of the most beautiful browser games I have ever played.
This is not to say the game is perfect. It is still in beta mode so is a bit rough around the edges in places but there is so much to love about the game. The premise is fascinating, for starters. The game transports you (playing a nameless, invisible god) to the middle of a new solar system soon after its star is born. These are chaotic times for the inchoate system - rocks and small asteroids are spinning about all around you, occasionally crashing into each other.
Out of this chaos, you must create order. You do this by making gravity wells by holding the mouse button down. These wells attract space debris into their gravitational field and eventually - when enough rocks have been captured - give rise to a new planet. You then send the planet into orbit around the sun. Take care doing this because the planet's orbit will determine whether it can sustain life. Get the orbit too close to the sun and the planet will be too hot for life to evolve there.
Once you have a planet in a good orbit, you can double click on it to customise it and view its stats via a popup panel. Here, you can also choose for the planet to evolve life. Once life has kicked off, the planet's population will steadily increase. Create more life-sustaining planets and eventually your solar system will have enough people that your sphere of influence will increase, allowing you to create an ever larger solar system.
Growing your solar system is fraught with problems, however. There are still loads of space debris flying around and if these hit your planets, they can cause huge loss of life. Worse still, as I found out the hard way, using gravity wells to create new planets can have unexpected side effects. After I had created my first planet and carefully built up its population, I decided to create a new planet. Unfortunately, the gravity well I used to create the new planet spun my existing planet out of its stable orbit, and slammed it into the sun. No-one survived, of course.
There are no fixed goals for the game. You can aim to achieve the biggest population possible, before the sun goes supernovae. Or you can try to get as many planets to achieve ultra intelligent life. Or, if you are the destructive type, you can pleasure yourself by simply sending your planets hurtling into the sun. So the game-play could do with a little more work and focus, something that will probably be fixed in the next iteration of the game.
One thing that can't be improved on are the game's visuals and audio. Aurora is nothing less than a sensory feast, the ambient music and Technicolor graphics providing a mesmeric, almost hypnotic experience. This is a game that you could play to wind down after a hard day in the office. Aurora can be played for free here.