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