Developer: System Era Softworks Publisher: System Era Softworks Platform(s): PC Release: Out now (Early Access pre-Alpha).
Astroneer bills itself as yet another crafty, survival-y, explore-'em-up. It sees you play as the galaxy’s cutest space-person exploring and exploiting the resources of procedurally generated, highly deformable planets and moons. But what Astroneer is really about is the satisfaction of things clicking into place.
Take resources, which are gathered while exploring one of Astroneer’s kaleidoscopic, voxel-rendered planets. When you suck up a resource deposit (using your Astroneer’s giant space hoover), it accumulates in little balls until a block of it occupies a slot in your backpack. This block can then be removed from your backpack and, depending on what type of resource it is, plugged into a number of devices to perform various functions.
Resin, for example, is your standard building material. Plugging one block into your habitat hub will extend a strut of it out across the ground. Plugging two further blocks into that strut will create a platform that you can build atop. Gather up a little Compound (another common crafting resource), and you can build a Smelter, which you can melt-down several types of ore with to extract usable metals. These can be used to construct further buildings, smaller, objects, and so on.
If you’ve played Minecraft, Space Engineers, or pretty much any survival game, this will all sound familiar. But the idea of making resources both constantly visible and highly tactile means the business of resource collection and object construction in Astroneer is exceptionally satisfying. Take Power, for example (the energy kind, not the political kind). Most games treat power as an abstract concept, an unseen force that runs through wires and generators, giving life to otherwise inanimate objects. But in Astroneer, Power is a resource you gather like any other. You pull it out of cave-walls and from strange plant-like structures and directly transfer blocks of it from your backpack it into your Smelter, your 3D Printer, and so on.
Astroneer is filled with lovely little ideas like this. Another example is how Astroneer applies that emphasis on physicality and achievement to exploration. Your Astroneer currently doesn’t have much in the way of bodily needs apart from the fact that he really likes his Oxygen. In fact, your wee space buddy can’t survive for more than a couple of minutes unless he’s physically tethered to an oxygen tube that runs from your central habitat.