My relationship with survival games is somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I can get engrossed into them and spend hours building a base so as not to get destroyed by the locals, and on the other, I can be quickly disheartened as a game’s mechanics confuse my tiny mind.
Astroneer was neither feeling, however. Thanks to the tutorial I was able to learn fast and efficiently the core features. On the other hand, I did find myself not spending prolonged periods on it. More of a sporadic hour or two but I found myself frequently revisiting. The main reasoning being that the controls felt alien (because I am an idiot).
Astroneer sees you, an astronaut (genius), leave the safety of your space station to inhabit a planet and create a habitat. The planet which you find yourself plopped on is not infinite, but it is huge and it is all yours to explore. There are lost structures from possible previous expeditions, now abandoned. Perilous mountains of unscalable heights and subterranean hovels filled to the brim with glorious minerals to better your new home.
One feature of Astroneer is being able to pick up and move a large variety of objects, from natural to man-made. You can do this by either approaching the object and pressing RT/Y or holding down the LT button and moving a cursor over the object to grab it. As convenient as this may seem, the latter is actually fairly tricky and would be less taxing if it was optimized for mouse/keyboard support as the overall layout did occasionally catch me off-guard.
I found myself getting quite enraged when trying to design the layout of my base using this method. I was constantly blocking my own screen thanks to the cursor slipping itself over structures in the foreground.
On a positive note though, you are given a Terra-forming gun! This allows you to reshape the entire planet you find yourself exploring. You have the ability here to tunnel down into perilous depths and create monstrous mountains (you will need a bit of free time to conquer this sort of feat). By reshaping the world you literally have the ultimate inter-galactic playground available to you.
The Terra-forming is a wonderful way to really change the landscape around you. Unlike Minecraft where you need to constantly remove and replace everything, Astroneer allows you to create and destroy at will. Also in parallel to the blocky competition, there is no degradation of your tools, therefore you don’t have to have a back-up supply of equipment or retrace your steps to create more.
Astroneer also features the survival trope of crafting. Crafting can be done either by opening up your inventory menu for simple tools and also through the many different utilities you can craft or, if you’re lucky, find throughout the world. The crafting system is extremely well thought out and in-depth. On top of crafting via your inventory, you can use 3D-Printers to craft bigger and better structures to further your space-base, travel, or new ways to shape the world.
Another one of Astroneer’s key features is the atmosphere, or what I should say is: its lack of. The key to survival is to literally breathe. Through crafting and foraging, you are able to create tethers so as to extend your reach of Oxygen into the unknown and not have to worry too much about running out of air and suffocating. All main structures thankfully provide you with the lung nectar, but you can also craft Oxygen Generators to place in caves which you create or naturally occur so as to create networks without cluttering the surface with a violent maze of connectors. Though don’t leave too much space between so that you can, you know, breathe.
The graphics of Astroneer were both pleasant and obtrusive, and now you’re wondering how? Well, visually, it is very charming and helps to instill how tranquil it feels. There is a beautiful color pallet on display and the polygon design expresses simplicity to contrast the level of thought put in to the core of the game.
As gorgeous as the isometric style is, I did find that at times it was a hindrance, most commonly at night and in caves. The dimmed lighting really made traversal quite tricky as colors blend together to hide steep slopes, steep enough that you can’t traverse over them. This is quite a ball-ache in early game, especially when you are trying to gather the resources to light up such areas whilst not suffocating yourself.
Astroneer isn’t restricted to a solo adventure however, you can tackle the vast loneliness of space with a buddy or three. This allowed you to effectively greatly increase your carry capacity and move more minerals for refining and building as you and your friend/s all work towards building a habitat and explore more of the galaxy. Playing cooperatively doesn’t change anything but instead just makes the work less of a grind thanks to cooperation and work delegation.
I found Astroneer had a real ease of jumping back in and starting afresh. Thanks to its easy-on-the-eyes appearance, I was frequently going back to my first planet to keep improving my little home and even trying to out last my supply of oxygen to bury down to the core (unsuccessfully I might add). The complexity of the crafting system kept me intrigued as there was so much I felt like I had barely scratched the surface.
The main attraction of starting over and over again was seeing what planet would be generated for you to wander about on. Each planet was just as fascinating as the last. I find I do this quite a lot in survival games as I find a random world generation amazing and can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into making such a feature.
Overall, Astroneer is a fascinatingly pleasant and peaceful game. It is set in a beautifully built universe and the beauty shows everywhere, from the landscape to the tragic ruins. I do wish that the console controls had a little more work put into them, or better yet, that mouse and keyboard were implemented. If you love survival games but wish for a more chilled out approach, give this one a go…