You are a droid. A mindless tool that rolled off the production line. You have one purpose, to do the bidding of your manufacturers. If you can't perform your task, you are considered useless and will be disposed of. It's not personal, just good business.
So your corporate overlords send you to a new planet with the job of creating Outpost Zero, the starting point of their new colony. To do so you will need to harvest a whole list of resources to craft and construct what's needed. There are a few things to be cautious of though, like the environment, local animal populace, and invading pirates. Essentially, everything that moves will most likely try to kill you, and more often than not, they'll succeed.
After the massive success of Minecraft, sandbox survival games have become a dime a dozen. As is always the case when one title becomes so successful, the ones that follow are all measured against it and so I'll be making frequent comparisons between Minecraft and Outpost Zero. You can check out my Minecraft review here.
Have Symmetric Games done enough to make their creation a worthy competitor? Read on to find out. Outpost Zero is available on Steam from $19.99.
Here's a quick tip, start this game thinking everything wants to kill you. Hopefully, that will instill enough caution in you to keep you alive for longer than 5 minutes, which is more than I can say for my first few attempts. Luckily death is only temporary and will have you respawn somewhere near your starting location. The only problem is your entire inventory will be left with your corpse which could be problematic if you met your doom on the other side of the planet.
Starting a new game is frustratingly difficult. You only have a few basic resources along with an axe and a multitool. The axe might seem like a useful self-defense tool but it's primary purpose it to harvest carbon from the local plant life. Technically, it can be used to kill some of the smaller animals but it's all but useless against a band of invading pirates who'll show up a few minutes into your game with automatic rifles.
Once you have a floor, 4 walls and a ceiling, you at least have a place to hide but don't think it'll keep you safe for long. Once those pirates arrive, they'll huff and puff and kick your door in, so eventually, you'll need to run outside and face them lest they blow up the valuable creations you keep inside your shelter.
Most of your time in Outpost Zero is spent searching for and gathering resources. Carbon is easy enough to find, you just chop down a tree which can be used as an energy source to power the first of your machines. From there you need so many different obscure resources which are all represented as a blob of substance, scattered around the map. Among these resources are silica, sulfur, magnetite, titanium, uranium, oil, silver, and so many more. The most important resource, however, is iron, you'll probably spend half your time in this game on the mountainsides looking for iron.
Once I had a basic structure set up with a few machines to help me craft some useful tools, I had a look through the build menu for a way of defending myself against those damned pirates. I'd already crafted a rifle but it did minimal damage against my attackers so I kept dying on a regular basis and needed some more comprehensive base defenses. A sentry gun seems like it could do the job, but it needs iron so it's off to the mountains once again and of course there'll be another invasion before I have enough resources. But eventually, I'd have enough to craft a sentry gun which I mounted on the roof of my base to get a good view of my territory, only to discover that I also need to load it with ammunition, loads of ammunition. And can you guess what I need to create ammunition? You got it, so back to the mountains I go.
When I finally craft some 9mm ammo and load my sentry gun, it starts shooting at random animals who could possibly be seen as a threat, even when they're miles away. Like a spoiled teenager, my sentry obviously didn't appreciate the time and effort that went into creating those bullets so I had to turn it off until the next raid and only switch it on when absolutely necessary. However, with just a single sentry gun, pirates were no longer an issue. As soon as their feet touch the ground, my trusty cannon would turn in their direction and send a couple of welcome gifts to make them understand how incredibly unwelcome they were. All I had to do was run to their corpses and scavenge the loot they left behind.
The multitool you start the game with can be used to harvest any of the resources you need as well as constructing and crafting, but the description of this tool is very accurate, "Good for everything, great for nothing". So, while you can use the multitool to collect those mountains of iron you need, it takes a second to mine 2 pieces of iron. To put things into perspective, you need 150 pieces just to craft a decent breastplate. Luckily you can craft specialized tools which are more proficient at gathering specific types of resources.
However, this brings me to a huge problem in Outpost Zero, your limited inventory. Once you carry most of the specialized tools, along with a weapon or two, your inventory is nearly full which makes it very difficult to effectively gather resources. After crafting a backpack which I hoped would alleviate this issue, I only gained 4 additional slots which didn't help much.
So I once again, hi-ho myself up the mountain for more shiny bits so I could create a drone. The drones are to you, what you are to your overlords, mindless tools who take orders and don't complain. You can order your drones to harvest or gather resources, patrol the area or just follow you until you have something else for them to do. You can even specify which resources they should focus on which makes them very useful, but they're also incredibly fragile and will die more often than Krillin in a season of Dragon Ball. Not a problem I thought, I'll just make some more. "Just hold your horses", my robotics factory responds. I only started with 1 A.I. core in my inventory and to craft another I needed uranium, which I hadn't found yet so I'm left to do all the tedious mining myself. I would eventually find uranium, after a lot of exploration and several deaths, on the other side of the planet.
The visuals in Outpost Zero are adequate but nothing spectacular. The designers did a good job of creating some interesting creatures to roam the open world but the terrain is rather bland. Similar to Minecraft, you also come across different biomes like forests, deserts or mountains but apart from small additions like trees and bodies of water, most of the terrain looks nearly identical.
It's a similar story on the audio side. The voice acting is decent, but there's not much of it. Apart from the tutorial, the only other lines you'll hear are those from your drones exclaiming how beautiful this planet is or some corny one-liners from the next pirate invasion. Since the number of lines available are very limited they soon lose their charm.
One thing Outpost Zero has which you won't find in Minecraft is a comprehensive minimap, and I am so grateful for this. It gives you a good outline of the terrain and shows you where your base is, so you never have to start from scratch because you went exploring and now can't find your way home. It has a limitation though, you can only see resources on the map when scanning for them, and your scanner has a very limited radius. The world is also limited in size so you won't be exploring endlessly, however, it was large enough that I didn't find its size to be a hindrance.
Outpost Zero is still in early access so of course, I was going to encounter some technical issues but not nearly as many as I expected. I came across a few visual glitches that made the terrain disappear for a moment or had me passing right through some of the animals. The only other bug I found was when one of my drones got stuck on top of my sentry cannon and I had to dismantle the cannon to free the drone.
None of these were game breakers which is a good sign for a game so early in development.
Gameplay and balance issues
While the technical problems weren't much of an issue, there are various gameplay elements which I feel either require some proper balancing or need to be changed completely.
One of the biggest frustrations for me was how long certain things take to do. When you start a new game, mining resources with your multi-tool is very slow and annoying, but this is only temporary and improves once you craft better tools. However, while your facilities can craft things by themselves, it's best if you stay to help the process along. Even when you do, crafting can take a frustratingly long time. Recharging is another such example. I once completely ran out of energy and had to stand next to my charging station an entire minute for my energy levels to fully recharge. In gaming, doing nothing for a whole minute is soul crushing.
I mentioned earlier that the various biomes look too much alike. It seems like the entire world is just one big ball of sand with a few decorative bits added. As such, very little in the world can be interacted with. You can claim parts of the world as your own territory by building beacons but I have no idea what difference it makes when you can call a piece of land your own.
Exploring is supposed to be one of the fun things to do in survival games but the fact that exploring didn't reveal anything interesting and also that your inventory was barely big enough to carry a toothbrush meant that exploring was more of a chore than an adventure, and unfortunately you have to do quite a bit of it to find those rare resources.
Oh, and don't think you can scatter to the far corners of the world and take a break to make a sandwich because even in single player mode, you can't pause and are therefore always at risk of being devoured by some of the oddities inhabiting the planet. Even when fully armored, some animals can kill you with a single strike, so you always have to be on your guard.
Building also has some annoyances in that you can't move something once it's been built, instead, you need to destroy and recreate it. You do receive back the resources you spent on said item but being able to simply move an object would have been so much more convenient. Additionally, I thought I'd try and make my base more homey by adding some windows. As it turns out, windows don't offer any protection against sandstorms.
Finally, and this might be nitpicking, but why can't you shoot while jumping? There are highly aggressive giant spiders scattered all across this planet, who seem to prefer robot flesh to common sense. You are constantly being chased by a few of these but if you time their attacks just right, you can jump out of the way which gives you a moment to defend yourself before they strike again. But you can only start shooting once your feet are on solid ground.
Outpost Zero had some enjoyable elements. Just when I thought I was running out of things to construct, I noticed that my machines could be upgraded which revealed an entirely new list of things to play with. It was this that had me frequently playing just a few more minutes so I could finish the next thing on my list. The gameplay also seems to be geared towards automating resource gathering by offering you machinery that automatically extracts resources for you and drones that run around, collecting them so you can spend more time crafting and building.
However, while the list of items you can create is impressive, at some point you'll run out of new things to make and it's here where I once again have to mention Minecraft. Minecraft had very basic building materials and outdated graphics which at face value make it seem like a game for 5-year-olds and nothing more. What it actually is, is an endless Lego set and it's this vast creative freedom it offers that makes Minecraft such a behemoth in the gaming world. If Minecraft is Lego, then Outpost Zero are those bulky, stack blocks toddlers play with.
Outpost Zero doesn't put much focus on being creative and instead tries to spread the enjoyment across all aspects of the game, it's a shame then that none of those aspects are enough to make this game a long-term obsession. For the price, there are more enjoyable options and you know which one I prefer.