I’ve spent a lot of time in space, and not just because No Man’s Sky sucked the waking hours from me with heartless remorse.
In my time as a galactic traveller I’ve learned a lot about spending time on my own, trying not to die and running away from strange creatures that shouldn’t even exist. So when Astroneer came along from its two-year holiday in Game Preview, I was cautious about putting the hours back in and losing my life once again. I very quickly found out that this is a completely different experience, apart from the space travel. Oh, and the resource hunting, base building, and planet exploration…
Okay okay, I know, it’s just that Astroneer feels very different to those space travellers that have come before it.
The best way to describe Astroneer is that it is a third person space adventure, mixing survival and creation through a sandbox, type of game. It is here where you see your little Astroneer crash land on a planet, leaving it up to you to work out how to survive, how to create new items and tech, and how to escape the planet in order to hit up somewhere else to do the same thing over again. Thankfully, there is a decent tutorial that wil walk you through the essentials, and that is a must to allow you an inkling of an idea to what on earth you have to do.
There are a few main initial elements to surviving and the first of those is keeping check on your oxygen. When you are near your escape pod – or little spaceship base camp – you are tethered to an oxygen supply that keeps you healthy. Move away from this a bit and you begin to lose oxygen and have a limited time before you will suffocate. Therefore you build more portable tethers that all connect to each other so you can travel freely around the world. It’s a bit like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back and it’s a nice gameplay mechanic that works well. But in order to make more of these portable tether devices, you need the next element on the list.
This is a little gun/hoover that is used to gather up all the materials found on the planet that will then help you to build things. Need a rocket thruster? You need to collect some minerals by pointing at, and sucking up, the required elements from the planet, placing them into your handy little backpack. You can also dig deep into the ground, making and shaping the world around you. By using the gun you can also build mounds, utilising the soil collected to build hills and ramps that will help you climb up to get to hard to reach places. It’s always very satisfying to use, seeing your Astroneer come across as a galactic Ghostbuster.
Spending time to gather up materials will see you able to build a variety of items that will help you to escape the planet. Unless you prefer to hold tight and just build your base up into a wonderful space-town. This is where Astroneer on Xbox One really comes into its own and if you’re a fan of building things, then you can easily lose your life creating your base and exploring. Like many of these type of games, the big question to worry about though is ‘What should I do first?’, quickly followed by ‘What do I do next?’ and that is the over-arcing premise with Astroneer. Well, let me tell you… you should find some research points (and these are dotted around the planet) allowing the chance to then start making stuff. You could get a smelting device for making different elements or a 3D printer that can whip you up a buggy, or a space shuttle, or a solar panel generator. It’s an addictive and fun LEGO styled playset that will see exploration reward you well.
It could well be said that the initial phases of Astroneer are very tricky to get hold of, and I was crying out to use a mouse and keyboard. You will open the wrong thing, you won’t be able to connect cables to machines for a good long time, but then suddenly things begin to click and wandering around the wonderful landscape suddenly becomes second nature. Yes there are occasionally camera problems, like when you look up at something and find yourself staring at some soil or a structure for a moment, but on the whole this doesn’t ever detract from the enjoyment one bit; it is more just a slight annoyance.
It’s also nice to see a bit of cooperative multiplayer in place, letting you join a friend’s world to help out with some tasks or vice-versa. Just be aware that checking out these other worlds will immediately make you envious, pushing home how ramshackle your own space is.
The world of Astroneer is gorgeous to play around in. It’s all about the near cartoony visuals and these ensure that the whole experience comes across with a very playful feel to it, rather than seeing us having to worry about any super realistic survival game. The colours and tones of the different worlds on offer make you never want to leave. I really like the menus and UI too, whilst utilising little emotes for your Astroneer is something that never gets boring. In the sound department, the game has an endless track of ambient, beautiful music that makes you feel relaxed, happily allowing for more collection of soil as you watch the sun rise and fall.
Astroneer is a dream for those who love a sandbox to play around in. It comes with a great design, and a good number of relaxing worlds to explore, mine and create in, with the emphasis constantly being on survival. The controls can be tricky to start with, and there are some weird camera glitches that drop in every now and then, but Astroneer is certainly a game to lose some hours in, all as you try to discover the secrets the galaxy offers, whilst keeping an eye out for new things on the horizon.
It could well be said that I’ve been happy to spend time in outer space with Astroneer and, as usual, I’ve been hit by that universe bug. In fact, I can’t wait to put my space helmet back on and get back out there.