Meet 4gency and its or­bital scrapheap chal­lenge


PC, Xbox One

An awk­ward at­tempt to ma­noeu­vre our scrap-metal space sta­tion closer to the float­ing sev­ered head of the Statue Of Lib­erty has ended in dis­as­ter. A pass­ing as­ter­oid just wrecked our port-side thruster and so now, hav­ing pow­ered down its op­po­site num­ber too late, we’re out of con­trol, spin­ning in con­cen­tric cir­cles to­wards a nu­clear bomb. The belt of de­bris that or­bits this far-fu­ture Earth was our last hope of sur­vival, but clearly it also threat­ens it.

In Habi­tat, your goal is to build sanc­tu­ar­ies from space junk. The or­bital mess is made up of lots of dif­fer­ent ob­jects, or nodes, which range from small gas can­is­ters right up to a crooked Eif­fel Tower. This de­bris was ejected from Earth by the for­merly waste­ful, and now con­trite, hu­man race, which is at­tempt­ing to es­cape a nanobot scourge that has over­run our planet. And ev­ery bit of scrap can be bent to your will, whether that’s mak­ing more space for refugees or weapon­is­ing a ship­ping container to fend off other colonies. In its cur­rent state, the game plays iso­met­ri­cally, let­ting you nav­i­gate space with the left stick and plac­ing cur­sor con­trol on the right on a pad. Se­lect an ob­ject and a translu­cent out­line of it will ap­pear, which you can then ro­tate (only on the x axis at the mo­ment), at­tach to your habi­tat, or place some­where else, ready to at­tach to other ob­jects. Once an in­struc­tion is is­sued, one of a num­ber of en­gi­neers un­der your com­mand will use a jet­pack to reach the ob­ject and ma­nip­u­late or weld it as re­quired.

These space­suited min­ions may be face­less, but are nonethe­less charm­ing, cling­ing for dear life to vi­o­lently spin­ning ob­jects and cry­ing out if they’re hurled into

space or hit by some­thing. You can cy­cle through the avail­able en­gi­neers us­ing the left and right bumpers, and a dis­play in the top right of the screen re­lays a mono­chrome fish­eye feed from their hel­met cams. Paired with static and their heavy breath­ing, what ini­tially ap­pears to be a de­tached re­source man­age­ment sim quickly re­veals it­self to be highly at­mo­spheric, and fre­quently amus­ing.

As­sum­ing you can keep your en­gi­neers from per­ish­ing by as­phyx­i­a­tion or in other calami­ties, you’re free to build habi­tats of sur­pris­ing scale. Dur­ing our time with this early build of the game, we were limited to a play area around 0.04 times the size of the one that Seat­tle-based cre­ator 4gency plans to let play­ers loose in, but it still con­tained hun­dreds of physics-en­abled ob­jects to toy with. Each has one or more con­nec­tion points, which snap to­gether sat­is­fy­ingly when you line them up. Once joined, you can choose what role you want each node to per­form. Some can only do one thing – a rocket, for ex­am­ple, can only ever be that, but it’s up to you whether it’s used for propul­sion or ag­gres­sion – while oth­ers have mul­ti­ple uses, such as liv­ing quar­ters, power gen­er­a­tion or even food cre­ation.

The larger your sta­tion, how­ever, the more un­wieldy it will be to re­lo­cate. You won’t need to travel at first, given the de­bris field will pro­vide rich pick­ings. As you con­tinue to scav­enge, how­ever, there will be more and more dis­tance be­tween you and the next batch of use­ful re­sources, ne­ces­si­tat­ing in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous trips for your frag­ile en­gi­neers un­less you move the sta­tion closer. But fly­ing your junk fortress is a mix of good in­ten­tions and blind panic as you cy­cle be­tween the rock­ets you’ve at­tached to var­i­ous points, met­ing out throt­tle with the right stick and

You’re con­strained only by your imag­i­na­tion and the al­ready large pool of parts

switch­ing en­gines on and off as nec­es­sary. For­got to at­tach retro thrusters ahead of your jour­ney? Well, good luck stop­ping.

Habi­tat’s sand­box mode al­lows you to revel in the in­er­tia-fu­elled chaos (bind­ing a power source, laser can­non and sin­gle rocket to­gether makes for a bril­liantly dan­ger­ous Cather­ine Wheel), but the cam­paign will re­quire greater care. Here, en­gi­neers be­come a fi­nite re­source, while three dif­fer­ent lev­els of or­bit will in­tro­duce you to new threats, in­clud­ing an alien race in the out­er­most ring. Lower down, you’ll also have to con­tend with nanobots build­ing their own habi­tats as they fol­low you be­yond the Earth’s at­mos­phere.

Toy­ing with Habi­tat’s physics is in­stantly en­joy­able, and within its flex­i­ble sys­tems you’re con­strained only by your imag­i­na­tion and the al­ready large pool of avail­able build­ing blocks. But last­ing ap­peal will de­pend on 4gency’s abil­ity to sup­port its amus­ing chaos with true depth, and en­sure that mis­takes – or, in­deed bad pilot­ing – aren’t pun­ished so harshly as to dis­cour­age ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

Your habi­tat’s sta­tis­tics are dis­played in the top right of the screen, al­low­ing you to keep an eye on oxy­gen, food and power pro­duc­tion lev­els, as well as the amount of liv­ing space avail­able for the hu­mans in your care

ABOVE CEN­TRE The Apollo Lu­nar Mod­ule makes for a con­ve­niently pre­fab­ri­cated propul­sion sys­tem, though you’ll still have to find and at­tach other rock­ets in or­der to main­tain fine con­trol.

ABOVE The space dog has no func­tion right now, float­ing about space list­lessly and oc­ca­sion­ally drift­ing into shot. In the fin­ished game, you’ll be able to strap a rocket to his back and use him to ex­plore far­ther afield. But you could just as eas­ily at­tach a booster to the Eif­fel Tower and send it hurl­ing into a com­peti­tor’s base

Habi­tat’s cre­ators seem keen to put as much as pos­si­ble into play­ers’ hands with which to build hap­haz­ard or­bital homes, in­clud­ing tanks, buses, and even bizarre Ter­mi­na­tor-es­que dis­tor­tions of land­marks

ABOVE So long as you keep find­ing scrap metal, Habi­tats can be­come ex­pan­sive. The hu­mans that live in your cre­ations are rep­re­sented by trans­par­ent out­lines at the mo­ment, but 4gency in­tends to give them more de­tail and an­i­ma­tion in time

Build­ing is a sim­ple, en­joy­able process, while crash­ing your cre­ations into each other and watch­ing the shrap­nel fly of­fers a cathar­tic re­lease from your re­spon­si­bil­ity for the on­go­ing sur­vival of hu­man­ity

There’s no word on whether you’ll be able to build huge ro­bots like the one de­picted in this con­cept art, but with the nanobots giv­ing chase, you’ll need to be cre­atively ag­gres­sive to sur­vive

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