Astroneer has seen its fair share of comparisons to the hit movie The Martian, in which Matt Damon is stranded on Mars, desperately using what limited resources he has available to survive long enough to get rescued. Astroneer players must also explore, craft and survive procedurally generated alien worlds, in a future of space exploration and discovery.
The game is a little rough so far, but the potential is clear. Astroneer could be a BIG deal.
Yes Man's Sky
Astroneer blends elements of games already out there, and despite the rough, early access edges, it's already well executed. Players land on a procedurally generated planet with a backpack, an oxygen tank, rechargeable batteries and an intriguing gun that resembles a giant vacuum-cleaner minigun. All you have is your shuttle, and a futuristic 3D-printing backpack.
Like other crafting games, Astroneer tasks the player to explore and gather materials to progress. There aren't an enormous amount of upgrades and materials available in Astroneer so far, but the dynamic, modular systems System Era Softworks have developed for the game should make adding new features easy.
Despite the rough, early access edges, it's already well executed.
The launch pod provides a vital lifeline for budding Astroneers, granting the player with oxygen. Wandering too far away from the pod causes your oxygen reserves to deplete until you suffocate. Death in Astroneer is similar to that of Minecraft, where you drop all of your items and respawn back at base. You can retrieve them, of course, but venturing away from the pod is significantly less risky when you craft tethers.
Linking tethers to the pod provides the player with a vital oxygen line that allows you to explore without worrying about asphyxiation. There's a crippling bug right now which creates stacking graphical lag when you begin placing lots of tethers, and I suspect this will be one of the first things System Era Softworks fix now that the game is available in Preview.
Tethers are crafted using materials gathered in the field. Basic resin and compound materials are abundant, and allow you to not only build tethers and solar panels directly from your backpack, but they enable you to add entire new modules to your base.
Fear my botany powers
Resin can be used to add new sections to your base, including a 3D printer, a research module, a vehicle bay, a trading platform and an ore smelter. Most of the platforms require metals to build, and for that, you may need to dig underground. Luckily, the Astroneer has powerful tools to do just that.
The Astroneer's primary tool can shape the game's terrain, as if it were pulled right out of Project Spark itself. Pressing "X" equips and holsters the terrain-shaping gun, and the bumpers switch between drilling, smoothing, and building terrain modes. Digging underground reveals extensive procedural cave systems, filled with micro-organisms, strange alien plants, and most importantly, all sorts of minerals required for more advanced structures.
Digging underground can, of course, be incredibly dangerous. There's no way to know whether drilling will open up the ground into an even deeper chasm, causing you to fall and become separated from your tether in the process. Similarly, I've almost fallen into ravines desperately trying to reach rare minerals that fell onto the edge of cliffs. Balancing greed with personal safety forms one of the game's most interesting dynamics.
The tethers don't just feed oxygen, but also power. If you have set up your base with solar panels, wind turbines or organic generators, then the tether will continuously refill your mining tool's power supply, which is represented on your backpack as an orange bar. It generates by itself too, but far slower. Careful management of your power levels is also important when space spelunking, as being caught separated from your tether without any power can lead to an untimely death, and the loss of precious metals.
Metals aren't the only resource to find underground. Alien plant parts can be returned to your research module to unlock new crafting blueprints, such as larger solar panels, new base units, and even parts for vehicles.
Roaming alien landscapes, discovering abandoned probes and otherworldly structures is all the more fun in a rover buggy, which also needs power generators of its own. In what felt like a scene right out of The Martian, my ill-equipped rover lost power as a gigantic storm rolled over the horizon. Storms throw debris all over the place, and repeated injuries can also cause death. Like Minecraft, sometimes it's just safer to dig a hole and wait out the night.
A space-faring future
For a game that is self-described as pre-Alpha, Astroneer already offers a lot of interesting content. Of course, there are bugs, and a somewhat limited amount of content and things to do. When you know what you're doing, you can unlock practically everything in the game in an hour or two. I didn't experience any crashes, but the frame rate can slow to a crawl when placing lots of tethers, and the game seems to struggle to render new land while driving around in a vehicle.
The Astroneer has endless potential.
As for personal feedback, I'd like to see alien creatures make their way into the game, perhaps even combat opportunities. I'd also like to see more survival mechanics present to pad the sense of adventure. It would be cool to see hunger and thirst management mechanics so I can live out my fantasy of being a Tatooine moisture farmer in space. After all, The Martian taught us that planetary colonization isn't official until you plant crops. Also, on Xbox One, Astroneer could probably do with more intuitive controls, although they aren't so bad once you get used to them.
System Era Softworks says that further development of the game will include the following features, as the team travels through Early Access and Xbox Game Preview programs for the next couple of years:
- Explore infinitely diverse worlds with unique atmospheres, biomes, and landscapes.
- Shape your world with a myriad of deformation tools and features
- Survive against a number of reality-based hazards. From weather situations, turbulent environments, and unforeseen medical crises.
- Build and manage a working industrial base and leave your finger print of the galaxies economy.
- Customize everything from what your Astroneer looks like, to the modules you produce, and the rovers you own.
- Play with friends, or strangers, in an online experience that encourages communication and cooperation to succeed.
- Unravel the mysteries of the galaxy as you search for the elusive rare items.
Astroneer already enjoys a busy community on reddit, and the developers are actively responding to feedback and updating players on the game's future development.
Astroneer is $19.99 in pre-alpha and it's an Xbox Play Anywhere title, meaning that a single purchase nets you a copy on both Xbox One and Windows 10. It also has a free trial if you're unsure whether you're ready to dive in at this early stage in the game.
The Astroneer has endless potential. We'll just have to wait and see whether it takes lightyears for System Era Softworks to deliver on the buzz they have generated so far.