Steam's Early Access system usually leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the gamer. What would have been (and still could be) a great platform for developers to share their unique ideas for a new title and to gather feedback from the massive community, is now nothing more than an endless pit of crap. That said, there are a few hidden gems, and Factorio is one of them.
As the game is still in its early stages of development — though it began in 2012 and was originally released on Steam back in 2016 — things will likely change after this review has been published. Unlike other Early Access titles on Steam, the small Prague-based development team is active, and there's also a growing modding scene.
I've poured hundreds of hours into Factorio and now believe it certainly deserves a review ahead of its planned 2017 full release. Here's why I enjoy managing my own virtual factory.
Factorio is a resource-management and factory-simulation strategy game. The goal is to build up plants that automatically take resources and make products, which takes the burden off you. The endgame is launching a rocket into space, but there's a whole lot you need to do in order to get there.
You're going to be constructing miles of conveyor belt, hundreds of robots to transfer items between said belt lines, and mining thousands of resources. The game has a solid tutorial that teaches the basics and when starting a fresh game you're luckily not thrown into the deep end. There's a nice evolutionary curve in Factorio thanks to its research system.
However you approach Factorio, and there are a number of ways you can start your adventure, you'll undoubtedly be constructing lines of manufacturing automation. Here's a basic example of a product being created: Iron ore is smelted into iron plates, which is then turned into cogs that are then combined with another iron plate to create a conveyor belt.
Yes, you will be automating the creation of conveyor belts using conveyor belts. It's eerily beautiful.
Like all things automation, everything requires power. And power can be generated through burning fossil fuels to create steam and turn turbines. Unfortunately, this creates pollution, which is a major mechanic in Factorio. Unless you select the peaceful option when creating a new game, you and your automated machinery are not alone on the planet surface.
There are alien creatures known as "Biters" who will attack you and your factories if they are affected by pollution or you venture too close to one of their bases. You will be able to monitor pollution by opening the main map screen, which will show an overlay that can also reveal which Biter bases are consuming pollution. "Consume pollution?" I hear you ask. Biters advance and grow new units for attack using pollution.
The Biters aren't to everyone's taste, but I enjoy having them present as a quick distraction from construction and it makes me appreciate my factory all the more. Usually, when starting out, throwing down a gun turret or two will handle attacks from nearby colonies. But the aliens will become nastier as you develop research so be sure not to neglect your defenses or you'll pay heavily in destroyed miners, conveyors, power plants and assembly machines.
My God, it's full of belts
Resources that you'll need to mine are also finite (aside from oil which simply grinds down to an almost halt with near zero production), and this will force you to venture out to explore the surroundings and create outposts. There's a well-fleshed-out rail system that you'll be able to rely on to automatically ferry products between factories, but again you'll need to create everything beforehand and spend the time planning routes and plotting objects down.
As you can imagine already, a simple process can quickly turn into a labyrinth of working machinery. When you reach the point where vast production lines are working away, it's sometimes difficult to remember the time when you were forced to use a pickaxe to obtain some iron ore. In Factorio, you shouldn't have to do anything manually if there's a way to automate it. Build new assembly machines to take raw and processed resources to make products, then produce more power. Rinse and repeat. It's even better with a few friends, or more than 200 people to help.
You need to plan ahead in Factorio. It's no good to simply place down conveyor belt as you please and fire up assembly machines without consideration for future products. If you do opt to go down this route, you may find yourself in trouble later when your factory turns into a mess. But that's also the beauty of the game, to figure out weak points in your production lines and improve. It's a task in itself to manage mayhem with a calm approach.
The only issue with creating spectacular production lines and automated greatness is the rewards are short-lived. Sure, you open up research and can create even more advanced products with available resources and capacity (thanks to your fantastic planning), but once you've already sat back to enjoy the visual eye candy that is an entire factory you created working away on screen, there's really little to give you that satisfying kick up the rear end.
This could put players off, especially if they're not ones who enjoy management simulations. I love the approach the development team took with Factorio, to make even the research system require products (in the form of research flasks) to progress through the technology tree. There are four different types of research flasks, with one even requiring alien artifacts acquired from killing Biter colonies.
It's just fantastic for me to sit back after 20 or so hours on a single playthrough and gaze at the marvel of my creation. I created all this. I don't really have any issues with the gameplay and find the game engine to be excellent at handling even the most complex factory setups. That said, if you're not a fan of grinding elements, management simulation games or logic-based calculations and planning, you should avoid Factorio. For everyone else, I highly recommend the $20 investment.
Better yet, there's even a demo for you to try out.
- Incredibly addictive.
- Active development.
- Great depths of gameplay.
- Modding support.
- Can easily appear daunting.
- Not approachable for anyone who doesn't like the genre.
This review was conducted on a Windows 10 PC with an Intel Core i5 6600K processor overclocked to 4.8GHz and 16GB DDR4 RAM with an Zotac GTX 1070 AMP! Extreme Edition graphics card (8GB VRAM). The writer purchased the game.
Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.