Space survival games certainly aren't anything new but Astroneer's delightful and intuitive approach to the genre is worth experiencing.
Astroneer puts you in the space boots of an astronaut who finds himself on a colourful planet where he must survive and hopefully find the means to explore more planets in the galaxy. In order to reach these goals, you must explore planet surfaces while gathering resources, researching samples to earn bytes (Astroneer's currency), and using your Terrain Tool in order to mine and shape your environment. Meanwhile, your home base is where you'll use your gathered resources to craft all sorts of cool gadgets and installations via 3D printers such as power generators, vehicles, and shuttles that'll help you on your travels. As you explore a planet's surface, you must consistently plant tether nodes in order to extend your oxygen line and it's very satisfying to watch your covered ground expand.
Although everything is handled rather intuitively, I must say that it took me a while to get accustomed to the controls. Even after playing for a few hours, I'd find myself accidentally removing tether points and struggling with how to discard large carried objects. A handful of hours in, I got to a point when everything started to click and I ended up performing tasks efficiently and it felt quite rewarding to see my skills adapt as I played. That being said, less patient gamers may get frustrated by the initially cumbersome controls.
Astroneer definitely doesn't have realistic visuals but I absolutely love its colourful world complete with minimal textures and subtle animations. Watching the little astronaut run around is adorable and the quiet soundtrack is simply delightful to hear in the background as you traverse a planet. I also appreciate the gratifying sound effects as you shape your environment with the Terrain Tool and fill your oxygen tank. It's obvious that the developers worked very hard on crafting a cohesive and lovely presentation.
One thing that takes away from the colourful environments is how lifeless they tend to be. There are 7 planets to explore: Sylva, Desolo, Calidor, Vesania, Novus, Glacio, and Atrox and each one has somewhat varied overworld terrain as well as some impressive underground caves. However, the only substantial life that you'll come across is vegetation; some of which is harmful. Of course, this isn't some sort of space-based first-person shooter but it would have been cool to come across any (preferably friendly) wildlife.
Setting up and growing your home base can be quite a fruitful endeavour. You essentially do so by erecting platforms that you can plug in to your central shelter as well as power sources via cables. You then set different machines and such atop the platforms in order to power them. At the start, you'll set up an Oxygenator to supply oxygen, a Printer to convert found resources into other devices, and a Research Chamber that you can use to turn found objects into bytes. These bytes can be redeemed in a catalog that unlocks blueprints for more things that you can create with printers. As you can see, the gameplay loop is rather simple but it's thoroughly enjoyable and paced steadily enough to stay engaging, especially if you enjoy laidback crafting and exploration experiences.
A minor annoyance that I encountered while playing Astroneer is that it's often hard to spot holes in the terrain which is especially true at night. Whenever you gather a backpack full of cool resources then accidentally fall down a steep hole only to watch your oxygen drain as you hurriedly try to dig yourself out then find your tether again can make for quite a hectic and frustrating mishap.
If I had to summarize Astroneer in one word, it would be delightful. The gentle aesthetics of its world and the laidback gameplay go hand-in-hand to create a surprisingly addictive space survival game that'll have you crafting some genuinely rewarding contraptions.
- + Addictive and relaxing survival gameplay
- + Cute graphics and music / satisfying effects
- + Loads of cool machines and gadgets to craft and experiment with
- - Controls take a lot of getting used to
- - Planets are almost completely lifeless
- - Falling down holes is a bummer