Gateway takes place in the near future, shortly after the discovery of a massive space station situated between Mercury and Venus, built and abandoned thousands of years earlier by an ancient alien civilization called the Heechee. The Heechee left behind hundreds of fully operational spaceships, along with a database of navigational codes that can be easily entered into a ship’s computer, causing it to travel to a predetermined location. The station is given the name Gateway and placed under the control of the Gateway Corporation, which maintains the station and gives out navigational codes to enterprising people called prospectors, who fly out to random locations hoping to find valuable alien technology. There is no way to know beforehand where a particular code will lead, and many prospectors emerge in the middle of stars, black holes, or other dangers, and never return.
The player character is a new prospector, and the story involves moving up the ranks to first join the Corporation’s prestigious Orion Program, and finally discovering an important secret about the Heechee themselves. Although the story is linear, it gives a good illusion of non-linearity by often allowing the player to choose from multiple planets or other locations to visit.
The game is notable for the level of worldbuilding and sense of place it offers. The setting of Gateway Station in particular is very detailed, with a great deal of flavor text and optional content (such as a message board) to flesh out the world. The story of the game is structured so that the player spends some time on the station between each prospecting trip, learning more about the Gateway universe in general and interacting with the station and its inhabitants.
Like all of Legend Entertainment’s early games, Gateway is essentially a text adventure with some graphical elements added. Although the core gameplay is identical to other text adventures, in which the player types commands such as GET DEVICE, PUSH BUTTON, etc., every location in Gateway also has a picture or animated scene in addition to a text description. The player can click on objects in the scene to interact with them, much like in more modern point and click adventure games.
Gateway was well received, and a sequel, Gateway II: Homeworld, was released two years later. In it, the same character, now a wealthy celebrity on Earth, must save humanity from an alien threat that has become aware of humanity’s use of the Heechee ships to explore the galaxy.