I have never been a fan of survival games per se. The appeal of having a game with no discernible goal was always a bit intimidating to me. However, most survival games often offer things I do like – immersive worlds, exploration and a sense of wonder. No Man's Sky is a recent high profile case that promised this and it left a sour taste in my mouth.
However, there are a plenty of games that offer the same and are much less noisy about it. I regularly turn to the early access Steam program cause it offers devs a chance to finance their vision. A vision that needs to separate itself with something to attract the gamer. Games in early access are often shaped by the wishes and desires of the gamers. They tend to be very ambitious and interesting and Astroneer ranks high in this regard. Read below to find out why.
GAMEPLAY, visuals, and sound
Astroneer, for all intense and purposes, features no story. Only a simple backdrop. It's the 25th century and the world is in the state of a space gold rush where astronauts search the far reaches of space for a chance to strike a mineral jackpot. But before diving deeper into the game, let's get the visual presentation out of the way first because it's probably the first thing that caught your eye when looking at the screenshots or videos from the game. The game features gorgeous vector style graphics that are sure to set it apart from the space-survival competition. It adds a ton of personality to the game and I must applaud the devs for going far away from many realistic style survival games that float around these days. The choice of visuals adds numerous possibilities in terms of unique effects, terrain dynamics and gives a great spin on the exploration segment of the game as most of the stuff you see in the game is unlike you have ever seen in another space survival game.
The game starts with a brief in-game cutscene of your astronaut landing on a colorful procedurally generated planet and that's it. You step out, into the unknown and are greeted with nothing. No tutorial, no AI system greeting you and explaining what to do. There is just your wits and this big unknown mess of colors. The game is early access so the lack of a tutorial is excusable but in all honesty, I never found the tutorial necessary. The lack of it simply adds to the game's charm and the wondrous sense of unknown and exploration that encourages experimentation.
The interface greatly helps in this regard, it is sleek, minimal and intuitive, making sure you almost always figure out what something does with a simple case of trial and error. Sure, the game is not exactly packed with features and content and you can craft nearly everything with only a couple of hours of gameplay but the game mechanics are thus far fairly simple so no one should have any problems figuring everything out. One more thing that I have to mention, and it ties perfectly with the visual presentation is the music. It also features minimal, calm, floating in space kind of feel that the rest of the game is going for and is actually pretty amazing.
At the beginning, you only possess your space vacuum and a backpack. At this stage of the game's development, you only concern is the level of oxygen. Move some distance from the shuttle you landed in and a blue tether is attached to your character, refilling your oxygen reserves. Move even further and you are at the mercy of your personal oxygen tank that depletes very fast. There are a small number of resources used for crafting and they are not renewable. Your backpack is also very limited in size so you will have to collect the resources only for what you plan to construct. No resource hoarding in this game. As you deplete resources in the immediate vicinity of your shuttle, you will have to venture increasingly further from your shuttle to find more and for this purpose, you will have to craft more tethers for your oxygen needs.
Most of the facilities you craft are connected to your shuttle and there is only a handful. A research station, a replicator, a vehicle bay and a few other. Scattered around the planet are also upgrades for these stations and vehicles to encourage exploration. The great thing about your vacuum is the fact that you can deform the terrain with it as well. I, myself drilled a hole near my shuttle to take shelter from a sand storm that was raging on the surface, and in the process fell through to a brightly lit cave system with new and undiscovered resources and upgrades for my buggy. You can also take to space and visit other planets. But since the game is still light on features, there is not much purpose in going to another planet.
You can also play with up to three additional players and although I see potential in this, due to the lack of content, this only makes you unlock everything faster. But you can still have a lot of fun terraforming the planet with your vacuums.
Astroneer shows great potential. What is there feels very polished and the game packs a lot of personality and style. I find the updates too far and in between but hope the devs step up their game in delivering more upon a great foundation they have built thus far. If you plan on purchasing the game, set your expectations accordingly as it is an early access game, still light on content, but if you buy it, know that you are supporting what could be a wonderful little game that packs a big punch.