I have to admit, going into Autonauts, that I didn’t have much of a clue what it was about. At first I misheard and thought it was called Octonauts, and was ready to go on an adventure with Captain Barnacles. So the question left now is whether this offering from Denki Games is good enough to make up for that initial disappointment.
Billed as a survival game, above all else, there have been a few of those hitting the market just recently, so does it do enough to stand out? Well there’s only one way to find out, so let’s head into the universe of Autonauts…
The story of Autonauts, unless I blinked and missed it, is pretty short and to the point. You are some kind of astronaut, who lands on a planet in your spaceship to discover that it is completely wild and uninhabited. Well, that’s nothing that can’t be addressed by the building of lots of structures and chopping down virgin forest. So, that’s what we set out to do. So far, so Minecraft, but there is a bit of a twist to the formula with Autonauts.
The presentation of Autonauts is very low-poly, to use a term frequented in the world of PC. It is what I would call kinda retro looking, being a simple soul at heart. The game looks like it was designed for a five year old, all bright colours and simple graphics, but don’t be fooled – it is a charming looking game once you get into it. Our character has a big square head, and while we can play dress up if we want, it’s not necessary. The landscape is also pretty simple, bit mountains, bit spiky trees, and later on, nice rectangular structures and so on.
Sound wise it is all pretty nice as well, with a decent line in digging and chopping sounds, and the loudest, most piercing whistle I’ve ever heard in a game. Seriously, my old PE teacher would have given his left arm for this whistle, with its ability to deafen at fifty paces… All in all, the presentation looks pretty childish, being brutally honest, but this belies the depth of gameplay lurking under the surface.
As you begin your career in Autonauts, it’s pretty much standard survival game fare. You know the drill by now – gather some stuff to build a crafting table, then use said crafting table to make basic tools, and then use those rudimentary tools to gather more resources. Rinse and repeat for the rest of time. What if, however, there was a way to shortcut all this hard work so you could concentrate on lounging in the sun, or even better in the fishing mini game type thing that appears? That sounds pretty cool, right? Well, hold onto your hats, as it is here that the twist of Autonauts comes into play.
Why do the work yourself, when you can build a robot to do it for you? Game changer, almost literally.
The robots are a very cool addition to Autonauts and once you have built one, you can then program it to do your bidding, using a rudimentary programming language. Basically, you whistle to get the robot’s attention, then you go into its mind and tell it to make a note of what you are about to do. It watches the action that you perform, learns what you expect of it, and then at the end you tell it to repeat the instruction and off it goes.
An early example is a bot can watch you chop a tree down, and when it learns it, it will move to the nearest tree and chop it down. Another bot can then be programmed to dig a series of holes, and then a third bot can be trained to pick up the seeds that fall from chopped down trees, and then plant them in the holes that have been dug. Et voila, an automated lumber production facility.
This is only the tip of the iceberg however, and the sky is pretty much the limit for what you – and your bots – can do in Autonauts. The thing that gave me nightmares is that you can program a bot to make other bots, and as far as my history tells me, that’s how we get Skynet. As you go through the game, the ability to build houses for settlers, go mining, go fishing, build railways and the like appears; with an army of well trained bots at your command, you can do all this without lifting a finger.
Autonauts is an interesting experience. The novelty of building robots rarely wears off, whilst the ability to get them to do almost anything results in some very intriguing experiments. In fact, the only slight downside is that the achievements are clearly tied to very long term play, requiring you to make a lot of things in order to earn them, and I’m not sure that it will quite be able to hold the attention of many as they try to mine 2,000 minerals – bots or no bots. The other thing that is sometimes an issue is that the bots will stop working for no discernible reason; that is more than a tad annoying.
All things considered though, Autonauts does enough in a new way to make it well worth a try.
Autonauts is available on the Xbox Store