Developed By: System Era Softworks
Published By: System Era Softworks
Category: Adventure, Crafting
Release Date: 01.13.22
Astroneer is a really tough game for me to evaluate. It does plenty of things well but lacks enough direction to make a satisfying experience to my taste. There’s no story to speak of, really; you play as an astronaut launched onto an unexplored planet. The object of the game is to build up your base and explore the planet until you find a portal that will take you to the next planet. Rinse, repeat for six more planets. Right off the bat, that’s something that’s hard for me to get over, personally. I don’t necessarily need a storyline if the gameplay is fun enough on its own, but for a game with slower-paced gameplay like Astroneer, a compelling narrative can paper over some of the weak points of the gameplay.
At its core, Astroneer is a resource-management base-builder. You have a base unit that generates oxygen and energy. You gather resources from around the planet to build new tools for your base and your backpack. Base structures include storage racks, 3D printers to make more structures, and resource extractors to produce more sophisticated materials. You can build storage bottles and oxygen line tethers to carry around on your backpack as well. The tethers are tied for the most important part of your backpack equipment; you need to post tethers connected to your main base to keep yourself supplied with oxygen as you explore the planet. Your suit has a small supply of oxygen to allow you to go off-tether, but it doesn’t last very long.
The other important part of your backpack is your terrain-altering vacuum gun. It has multiple uses, chief among them sucking up raw resources like dirt, resin, and compound that can be stacked as raw resources or stored in bottles. Sucking up dirt changes the terrain, allowing you to level out a plane for building new structures or dig deep for more raw resources. If you’ve got dirt stored in a bottle, you can also reverse the vacuum and build up terrain by building hills or evening out a slope to get down into a cavern.
Resources are spread all over the map – and I do mean all over the map. You may always know what resources you’ll need to build your next tool, but finding them is a different matter entirely. It’s especially frustrating when added to your limited exploration range towards the beginning of a game. Until you get more tethers to allow you to wander farther, finding the right resources can be a pain in the butt. Even when you do have the tethers or structures to have a decent range, finding things can be fairly tedious. Add to this the fact that your only reward for doing all this work is more work, and the experience starts to wear thin after a few hours.
While the gameplay may have been a little too slow to grab my full attention, I did like the game’s graphics. Despite taking a minimalist approach to their visuals, they did wring the highest possible quality out of their sparse aesthetic. For a game about exploration, it helps to have worlds vibrant and inviting enough to be worth exploring, which Astroneer does. The music is a tad less compelling, but it fits the atmosphere of the game pretty well. The soundtrack is gentle and ponderous, which is well enough on its own. Taken together with the gameplay, however, it often makes the game feel like it lacks energy.
The Final Frontier
Astroneer is a game for the player that enjoys exploring new worlds and doesn’t need anything else. The tech trees are wide, but largely predetermined. You always need the same structures to get the same materials to get to the same ending. It’s also very difficult to get going; there is no real tutorial to speak of, just a poorly organized astropedia. For instance, the crafting section makes no mention of the fact that you can craft goods through your backpack. That’s in the basics section. So, when I was trying to figure out how to craft mods for the vacuum tool, I had to look through multiple help sections to find out how. So despite the elements of the game I liked, such as the base-building and graphics, overall it was an experience that I often found more frustrating and confusing than fun.
Digital – $29.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.