It's Space Jim, but not as we ARGH, Killer GAS!
I've got a soft-spot for space games, be they Elite Dangerous style, Battlecruiser, Freelancer, Starlancer, Privateer or any of the numerous games that have space in them. You know, like say: Dead Space. I've also got a bit of a soft-spot for Minecrafty-build-explore-survive style games too, like Osiris: New Dawn and Empyrion. So when I saw that I could play a tiny spaceman and dig around planets for resources I kept my eye on the game known as Astroneer.
I lurked and lurked and eventually it hit Xbox Game Preview. Now thanks to Xbox, we got a code to test this out. I'd already bought into it before then, but I feel like this is a great time to talk about it and what kind of game it is.
Game Preview Spaceman
Astroneer is a work in progress, it is not yet a fully fledged game with objectives and all that good stuff. Think of it as an executive toy, or a sandbox that you can deform to your heart's content as you potter about for resources to build your functioning base. It's also buggy, some of those bugs are hilarious at first - and they get squashed fairly quickly thanks to the dev team's pretty fast response time. Bugs have sent my little spaceman's truck into Low Orbit around my chosen planet and I have seen gameplay streams from Stumpt where they have a small colony of trucks in the sky.
I am pretty sure that will be fixed though, because with each new iteration and each new patch the game becomes more and more interesting.
You start out on your orbiting space station, pick your avatar and then end up dumped on the planet. From here you need to gather materials to expand and explore. At first you'll notice that you have very little power and oxygen, shown on your avatar's backpack, part of the seamless approach to in-game GUI rather than slapping menu screens everywhere.
It takes some getting used to and the controls are a bit clunky at first, but it soon becomes second nature and a lot more fun.
You'll need Resin and Compound. But you'll have to pay attention to your little avatar's oxygen bar and power. As long as you're near your habitat you can save the game, and you'll also have a blue tether line that connects to the main hub. Go too far and you'll be left with no source of oxygen or power, unless you can find it collected on deposits on the surface, or beneath your current world.
Compound is your important goal, that will let you make tethers and tethers let you extend your explorations further. Crafting is done on the backpack with no menu screen, remember, this uses the backpack as the GUI. Once you have a tether bundle you can range further and look for more resources, you should eventually find compound and resin. Resin will let you extend your base and build other structures, with the addition of compound.
You'll only have a few things to get up and running to begin with. Get a smelter and you can find ores to smelt, get a 3d printer and you can make even more elaborate things. Get a research lab and you can research new tech from the strange nodules that you find atop plants, or under the surface.
You might even get hit by a storm, they blow through now and then and can get pretty deadly.
Your spaceman has a gun which can be used for terraforming. You can dig, raise and flatten the ground around you. It consumes power though, so you best be connected to a tether system. It takes a little getting used to, the system is a bit clunky, but you can soon use it to create wind-breaks and impromptu pathways over dangerous terrain.
Dead, in Space
If you die, and you will die... your body remains where it fell and you can get your loot back from the backpack if you had any.
What is the Point?
At the moment, not much barring the early style Minecraft exploration and HQ construction. It doesn't take long to build everything Astroneer has at the moment, but that's still fun. You can go off and explore other planets too if you get the right research to build a shuttle or a space ship of your own. These planets will have rare resources to find, things you can't get on your HQ world.
There's a roadmap for the game, with an eventual plan and the developers are committed to improving it at every turn.
Space is Pretty, Big.
It is pretty, Astroneer's cartoon-style graphics deliver a great looking title with a lot of charm and character. There are the occasional frame-rate issues on X1 at the moment, but they fixed a lot with a recent patch - the next patch should squash even more bugs and improve the frame-rate even more.
It is pretty fun to explore, the game has a lot of potential and if you eventually end up working for a big corporation, mining planets and so on, with a story and a point - it will be worth grabbing for those players who are on the fence. It's on Game Preview so it'll be cheap now and jumping on, well, that'll help the devs make the game even better.
We recommend trying it, and playing co-op with friends. You can play with your buddies on Xbox Live or a mix of folks from Live and Windows 10.
Cross-play is a thing with this game.
That's about all I can say on the game at the moment, but I'll likely come back down the line to write another article on how it's changed.
Until then, Ad Astra!
Here's a lovely bit of concept art we couldn't resist sharing!