Minecraft in space! Sort of!

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START/CONTENTS - Kate Gray

This is a game that doesn’t want to tell you what to do. And this is both its great­est as­set and down­fall. From the sec­ond you, a tiny as­tro­naut, land on the de­serted planet, you have to fig­ure out how to not die – your oxy­gen slowly ticks down as you run around the alien sur­face; your power blinks and flashes ur­gently as you fran­ti­cally run back to your shut­tle, where you know you’ll be safe.

It takes a while to work out what’s go­ing on in Astroneer. Still in its Game Pre­view stage of devel­op­ment, it’s light on tu­to­ri­als, which is es­pe­cially vex­ing as its con­trols are hard to fig­ure out, with three dif­fer­ent ways of con­trol­ling the cam­era. Your job on this planet is to sur­vive, Matt-Da­monin- The-Mar­tian style, but in­stead of pota­toes and your own hard-earned poop, your most valu­able com­modi­ties are resin and com­pound, which are used to craft things to make ex­plor­ing and gath­er­ing eas­ier. Th­ese ma­te­ri­als can be found in the ground, and can be mined by ter­raform­ing the land.

You’ll soon find that the ground all around your base is pit­ted with pot­holes that you made, and you’ll fall into them ALL THE TIME, be­fore run­ning out of oxy­gen try­ing to es­cape. Then your new as­tro­naut will have to spelunk to res­cue the loot, rins­ing and re­peat­ing ad in­fini­tum. This is worse when you ac­ci­den­tally drive your brand-new truck into a big hole and have to aban­don it there for­ever. RIP, truck. We hardly knew ye.

The rel­a­tive si­lence you’ll find in Astroneer is beau­ti­ful, though. It feels like you’re re­ally alone on this planet, with no one but the ma­chines you build for com­pany. Ex­plo­ration is no one’s game but your own, and you set your own goals and tar­gets with­out any push­ing or prod­ding. You drive as far as you can, then set a trail of oxy­gen-giv­ing teth­ers deep down into a val­ley be­cause you saw some­thing cool, then grab a weird-look­ing lump of some­thing to take back for re­search. It’s bril­liant, un­der­stated, self-mo­ti­vated fun.

Sav­age beauty

There are some fan­tas­tic struc­tures and plants that you can stum­ble across, and therein lies the most won­der­ful part of the game: find­ing some­thing cool in its ran­domly gen­er­ated ter­rain. Caves are fre­quent and mys­te­ri­ous, filled with glis­ten­ing plants that look like glass sculp­tures and lethal, pul­sat­ing gey­sers that lure you in and choke the air around you. Crashed space­ships hold glo­ri­ous loot and the im­pli­ca­tion of ter­ri­ble things hav­ing hap­pened. There’s al­ways more to ex­plore, and build­ing a shut­tle to open up new plan­ets widens the va­ri­ety even more.

There are a few is­sues, es­pe­cially given the game’s early devel­op­ment sta­tus. The janky physics can be frus­trat­ing, there’s a def­i­nite ta­per­ing off of Things To Do af­ter about five to six hours and try­ing to ter­raform a ramp to get in and out of caves is so much harder than it needs to be. But the worlds Astroneer gen­er­ates are such a joy to ex­plore in in­cre­ments, with­out the kind of threat or pre­de­cided mo­tive that many mod­ern videogames force upon you.

It’s early days but this looks like a game of ex­plo­ration for the sake of ex­plo­ration, where seek­ing and find­ing takes prece­dence. Astroneer won’t tell you what to do, but it gives you the free­dom to fig­ure it out your­self.

“The first thing to fig­ure out on this de­serted planet is how not to die”

right The sky at night has a beau­ti­ful hor­i­zon­tal stripe of pink and teal stars.

be­low The weird ar­chi­tec­ture in Astroneer is the best thing about the whole game.

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