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Review: Astroneer (PC)By Dragon0085 At 19.04.2019 10:35

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Astroneer is a something that dispenses with a lot of things to get to the heart of its experience, though in many cases ejecting things like a story, or a good user interface are to its determent. The game starts with little instruction, and nothing about this really changes. As will be dived into more later, a lack of simple instructions, and the complexity of doing simply tasks, detract from what otherwise might be a fun experience.

This follows a new, (and in this reviewer's opinion, bad) trend of videogames where lengthy instruction manuals, or any sort of explanation, are purposely avoided, and instead this is supposed to be designed such that to ease the player into the whole thing. It is an element of design that when pulled off works very well (such as in the old Megaman X series), but far too often modern games are simply too complex to let a player just "figure it out" by randomly bumping into walls or clicking buttons. Astroneer is a perfect example of this.

While there is in fact a tutorial, and some of the tasks can actually be successfully accomplished following the occasional pop ups, more than once (which really in a tutorial is inexcusable), one can be left wondering "What am I doing?" or "how am I supposed to do that again?" It is very easy to dig yourself into a hole, both literally and figuratively, and become trapped among other issues. It bears repeating that the game itself is fun until the ever-frequent "how do I do this again?" issue gets in the way.

If this was any sort of typical strategy game, the base building would be legitimately at least ten times easier, and that is not a good thing for this title. The basic pattern is to find materials, then craft various platforms, and these platforms then can hold various other buildings. From here the player must also include things like fuelling the buildings, connecting power and so on. Given its 3D gameplay, it is far harder than it needs to be to do simple things like connecting a power cord or trying to put fuel in a building. One wrong click and the entire structure goes tumbling down the hill along with whatever resources were attached to it.

The problems stem from the fact that this, at its root, is pretty simple, and that gets in the way of itself. To its merit, the simplicity is enjoyable... but routinely besieged by things that do not need to be as complex as they are. You play an astronaut on a planet, and that's it. No story, no anything. Simply go around, mine resources, build up your base, build up buildings, and explore further and further. By building the first tier of buildings, once can mine resources for the second tier, and repeat this until a rocket is build, the player flies to a new planet, and start back at zero. The system has problems with longevity in the range of about 10 hours of gameplay, but in this case issues arise far more quickly.

Avoiding a typical UI, menu, guides, or anything of the like, was probably to make it more immersive, but it really is one of the largest flaws at hand. There is a small "tutorial" screen that can be accessed, but it is mostly shortcuts. To give an idea of the frustration, far too many things use the same button, but the usage varies on position and other factors. As an example, pressing 'Q' does one thing, but if you are close to an item it does something else, and when you are in your backpack this item may do something completely different. Sometimes pressing does one thing, and holding does another. Given both keyboards and controllers have more than one or two buttons, this was again an unnecessary choice - especially when it could have been so easily fixed with something like 'O' to open items, 'C' for crafting items, 'U' for using items, or whatever.

The game already has a much, much higher learning curve than it really deserves. For something where you almost have to purposely try to kill your character, it is simply far too hard to do necessary things like craft items, connect buildings, or figure out where the item you just made went. Even tunnelling into the planet and becoming stuck happens more than it should. Why the design choices about interacting with your backpack, buildings and so on is so convoluted is anyone's guess, but it truly drops the whole experience at least two points or more.

Even hours into it, one can still have problems of knowing what needs to be done, but simply being unable to figure out how to do it without clicking around for minutes on end. While the controls, and lack of a coherent pattern detracts, the game actually is pretty cool when you can enjoy it. A highlight of it came when a sandstorm hit. The character of your truly could barely move against the wind, cargo boxes were flying past, and the feeling was legitimately cool about how hostile of a world this was. Watching the oxygen lines sway wildly, visibility drop to zero, it felt like a real survival adventure of sorts. The feeling waned as did the sandstorm, and the same problems of trying to figure out rudimentary tasks still plagued the game hours in.

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Final Score
Fans of sandbox or crafting games might be pleased with the package, and can bump this score up at least a point or two. For others, this has some serious flaws with its user interface, and simple constructing/crafting is often aggravatingly difficult, which unfortunately drags down what otherwise is an okay, if repetitive title. It is really sad, as at its root, this could be a gem, with some simple patches or design overhauls, and appeal to a far greater audience.



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