Bear Grylls is super tough. Like, that dude has survived it all. Deserts, Jungles, even syndicated television. But I, alongside many others (I’m sure), have always been disappointed that he’s never given an alien planet a go. Logistics aside, that would be a true challenge of survival. But until then we’ll all just have to satisfy our intergalactic itch with Astroneer, an adorably chirpy sandbox survival game set in the final frontier.
Right off the top, I should mention that this game is very “survival-lite”. Unlike many games that label themselves as such, it’s very difficult to actually die in
Astroneer does a great job of providing you with a situation that initially feels overwhelming. Stranded on an alien planet with little clue as to how all this technology works, you as the player grow out of what initially feels like an insurmountable situation into a place of routine, strategy and even comfort as you master the world and start manufacturing your own resources. It makes up for what can feel like a confusing start with many aspects of the gameplay left unexplained (even if you’ve completed the brief tutorial). Once you’ve spent enough time testing different resources in the furnace smelter to test the outcome (or pouring over wiki articles) it becomes easy to memorise the game’s recipes due to how simple, yet in-depth, the crafting system is.
That being said, there isn’t really a whole lot to do in the game. The gameplay loop follows a simple structure: Explore the world, gather resources, build new technology, repeat until you can launch to a new planet and do it all over again. As initially rewarding and cathartic as I found the experience, there’s only so long it remains interesting. What doesn’t help is the limited number of objects available to build. The game features several structures to make life easier as well as upgrades to your space-suit and terrain tool, but once you’ve made them all and explored the available planets, that’s really it. There isn’t much of an endgame, and it shouldn’t take players long to experience most of what
Perhaps the other most impressive thing about Astroneer is the terraforming system. By merely holding a button, players can dig massive holes in the terrain or build towering mountains. It works seamlessly, albeit initially tricky to control. The land shifting and morphing in real time allows for a level of exploration I’ve rarely come across; building a bridge to traverse a massive underground cavern (which I had built myself) was a real moment of satisfaction as the very ground moved to my will, I was king of everything even THE EARTH COULD NOT STOP ME and I found it real neat. I look forward to seeing some of the sprawling underground bases that creative players will no doubt spend hours meticulously designing. Further credit should be given to the developers for making inventory management not only simple but unencumbered by needless menus and buttons, taking what is usually a slow and unwieldy experience and making it snappy and responsive.
The thing I battled with most was the game’s camera. Controlled by clicking and dragging the right mouse button to sweep your lens across the horizon, it feels clunky and will take some people time to adapt to it. While it generally functions well above ground, I found it incredibly difficult to manipulate underground, where a large portion of the game is spent mining for certain minerals. The procedurally generated environments often caused the camera to stick or hug too tightly to my little space man, resulting in some frustration.
Yet where Astroneer shines most is it’s co-op mode. With a simple drop-in, drop-out system up to four players can build and explore together, eliminating what can otherwise turn into a lonely experience. Co-op doesn’t change the core experience, you’re all exploring and gathering resources to expand your collective base. It does take what can be a subdued, isolated experience and turn it several heated arguments about who saw the field of ammonium and why didn’t you place a beacon there, Dean? This is why you failed geography in high school. Oh, you did better than me? Have fun digging yourself out of this hole. You muppet.
As a package, Astroneer feels like a relaxing, cathartically reward experience due to its beautiful environments (shout-out to those sky boxes) and robust exploration tools. Hampered only by a lack of meaningful objectives, a compelling end game and a jankey camera, Astroneer will appeal to players looking for a fun survival game to play with friends to help unwind after a long day at work.
Last Updated: February 5, 2019