I can’t believe this one has flown so far under the radar. Lovingly crafted by developer System Era Softworks, Astroneer is a sandbox unlike any other in which I’ve played, bringing us the creative power of Minecraft paired with the vast, beautiful galaxy of No Man’s Sky or Elite Dangerous. Unfortunately, I’m not here to sing Astroneer‘s praises, as much as I’d love to; I’m here to show you exactly what the game is all about.
GIANT SPACE MARSHMALLOWS!
According to the Wiki page, Astroneer is set in the 25th Century, during a massive interstellar gold rush (note the McConaughey film references, if you will). The human race scattered across the cosmos in that immortal search for wealth and glory. That’s all you’ll get by way of narrative; in keeping with its survival genre, Astroneer has no storyline, no voice-overs, and very few objectives other than staying alive.
Waiting for my home planet to travel within shuttling distance: lame.
Astroneer‘s gameplay revolves around the construction and expansion of your home, which is neatly constructed through diverging platforms that branch from your central landing pod. You’re given a terraforming tool from the outset – useful for digging or reaching high places – and are expected to go full Minecraft as you hunt for a broad range of naturally-occurring minerals and vegetation. Threats to your life come in the form of violent sandstorms, deadly flora, and sudden drops into pitch-black caverns; you’ll also have to watch your oxygen levels, which will deplete over time unless you’re within range of your home.
These caverns are pitch-black and dangerous, I promise.
Speaking of home, in Astroneer it is your everything. Each diverging platform (you can construct a total of 6 per central landing pod) can hold something different to aid in your survival: from vehicle bays to research facilities, smelting plants to exchange stations, this place has the lot. The pinnacle of your multifaceted settlement is the 3D printer, which allows for the construction of large solar panels, wind turbines, coal burners, extra storage slots, generators, and even a brand new landing pod. If you want an idea of what this all looks like, look no further:
Your brand new home, courtesy of Vault Te- um, the local resources.
An extraordinary emphasis on crafting means that Astroneer never lacks for solutions to the many problems facing your intrepid explorer. Running low on oxygen or power for your terraforming tool? Craft O2 tanks, batteries, wind vanes, generators or solar panels for your character. Need to travel further afield but don’t have the resources for vehicle construction? Make some tethers to extend the reach of your home base’s oxygen/power supply. Run out of room on your back for mineral storage? Tough.
See that blue neon trail? Tethers.
When it comes to getting around, Astroneer currently has four vehicles to choose from, all of which offer huge benefits if you can afford them. The Rover is an easy start, a buggy designed for speedy navigation of the planet’s surface with limited extra options for improvement; you’ve also got the Truck, which is a great investment if you want the potential for a moving drill platform with massive storage capacity; and the Shuttle and Spaceship, which – as the names suggest – are your route to extending your reach to the stars above (note the Team Rocket reference). Both Truck and Rover base parts can be attached to one another via couplings to create an endless train of mineral-harvesting glory.
“But hold on,” I hear you gasp, “Did you just say Shuttle and Spaceship?”
Take that, NASA.
Astroneer wouldn’t be an interplanetary survival game without the ability to travel inter-planetarily. The Shuttle/Spaceship sends you up into orbit around your home planet, and from there facilitates movement either to another location in the opposite hemisphere or to any planets/moons/Death Stars within range. These trips require fuel, of course, but it seems that once you’ve landed, you’ll be able to set up shop directly from your Shuttle/Spaceship without needing to worry about losing sight of your roots. Simply hop back into the ship, and watch it uncouple itself from your new settlement and blast off again (*sighs*).
Take that, Curiosity.
At this point, I’m going to sin a little and really sing the praises of the artistic direction behind Astroneer, because I simply cannot express how stunning this game is. Running on my just-above-average PC, the geometric designs and pastel color palette tickled my senses like nothing else I’ve played before. Landing on a desolate, sun-soaked moonscape to see the rising of a nearby planet is frankly enthralling no matter how many times you see it. Everything, from the charmingly obscure alien foliage to the neon glow of the mineral crystals, is beautiful; it was almost enough to just explore such a uniquely designed environment without even cracking on with the actual gameplay.
Need I say more?
Anyway. Enough, before I tear up.
Astroneer was originally released for Windows PC and Xbox One – in public Pre-Alpha form – on December 16th last year; there are plans to bring it to PS4 once the full game is ready to go. Astroneer does currently support online multiplayer, and will also include a local co-op feature in due course. Right now, the dev team at System Era are simply ironing out the wrinkles, and implore anyone playing to communicate with them any issues or bugs that they’ve come across on their travels. I know we’ve had a slightly underwhelming experience with regards to space survival games in recent years, but I for one am sincerely hoping that Astroneer gets off the ground.
This preview is based on a Early Access copy of the game provided by the publisher.