Starbound

In Starbound, you take on the role of a character who’s just fled from their home planet, only to crash-land on another. From there you’ll embark on a quest to survive, discover, explore and fight your way across an infinite universe!
In Starbound, you take on the role of a character who’s just fled from their home planet, only to crash-land on another. From there you’ll embark on a quest to survive, discover, explore and fight your way across an infinite universe!

Starbound is an Early Access 2-D exploration/crafting game developed by ChuckleFish and it’s a lot of fun. It’s essentially Terraria in space, with 2-D graphics and sprites, crafting and scavenging and a whole plethora of weapons and mobs to fight. The reason this review is coming up now is because it received a massive update a couple of days ago that sucked me right back into the game. The gameplay is simple yet challenging at times, the sounds are cheery and follow suit of the Terraria heritage by changing when you get deeper into the planets core or find a new biome. This update has given a breath of fresh air to an already fantastic idea.

Its not much, but it can do the kessel run in 12 parsecs.
Its not much, but it can do the kessel run in 12 parsecs.

When you start the game you’ll be presented with the option to create a character and choose from several races, which are largely the same at the time of writing except they get their own unique lore and items which you get when you start the game. After fiddling around with the hair and color then naming your Novakid you’ll be plonked onto your ship and be given a series of tutorial quests; such as fix your onship UI so you can access your onboard inventory, go down to the planet and chop some wood etc. Its a nice way to guide the player into the world and mechanics of Starbound and it works very well. The controls are solid and not too complicated, quick binds to your inventory and crafting screens can be edited for your approval and joy. After throwing you the tutorials, the missions they set start to get a bit more complicated. After chopping down enough trees and hunting the wildlife for food, you’ll be quested to go and mine (Surprise) some copper. Which usually means exploring the planet to find a suitable cavern. This is both utterly exciting and a joy to do. The art style is captivating and unique to most planets, the biomes are varied, the mobs/lifeforms roam around; whether its by flying or walking. I have to mention here the first mining tool you get, your “Matter Manipulator” which is essentially an all in one DIY tool. You’ll use this until you get pickaxes and such, which seems strange to me. A pickaxe seems so barbaric compared to the Matter Manipulator, but you can upgrade it later so maybe it becomes more useful later.

Candy-floss trees! Delicious!
Candy-floss trees! Delicious!

By this time you’ll have encountered the aliens (or are YOU the real alien? Mid-game crisis) that inhabit the world and you’ll have had to fight a few. Not all the aliens are hostile though, some will happily frolic the planet eating and making strange noises like I imagine Static makes when he rolls out of bed everyday. Others however will use a wide variety of attacks to murder you for simply looking at them funny. Some will simply run at you with a charge, others will throw toxic spit at you so you’ll have to keep your distance. It makes combat engaging as you cant use the same tactic for all the monsters you encounter. When you do have to fight you will have the chance to use a VAST variety of weapons; ranging from battered hammers to laser guns: all craftable or findable in chests deep under the planets surface adding to the thrill of jumping down a dark hole in hopes of finding that uberhaxor sword you’ve seen on a video.

Have at thee!
Have at thee! Oh he’s neutral…

When you finish the “tutorial” quests you’ll get to visit other planets and warp gates. These warp gates allow you to visit The Outpost, a gathering of NPC’s who offer trade and missions. Its a brilliant addition and adds more to the game after you might be “thinking whats the point?”. Also everybody likes the idea of piloting their own ship to unknown planets to discover what could be hidden there, right?!. Also a quick mention to the ships: They can now be upgraded to have more space! This was a thing I wanted way back when the game first released and now you can! Its so fun to customize and change the way your ship looks and when you hop online with friends its fun to see how they will make their ships look, obviously not as good as yours but still at least they tried!

Warp Gate or Black Hole? Only one way to find out!
Warp Gate or Black Hole? Only one way to find out!

When you die, which you will in several circumstances; misjudged a jump, went against an alien that looked adorable but spat fire at you etc., a few things might happen. The effects of dying are based on the difficulty you select at the start: Easy will mean you’ll only lose “Pixels” (In-game currency), Medium will result in a loss of Pixels and valuable items, such as diamonds and ore, and hard will result in permadeath so be careful! When you respawn back in your ship, you can decide to go back down to the planet or you can say “Sod it” and jump to another one. This allows for you to explore whole solar systems and eventually galaxies, adding depth to the game as you strive to upgrade your engines so you can blast to the furthest reaches of known space.

When you die, you get a "re-birthing" kind of animation that's unique to your race
When you die, you get a “re-birthing” kind of animation that’s unique to your race

Overall this game is a fantastic addition to any exploration loving gamer. Its a really engaging, pretty, fun and down-right addictive game. If you liked the fighting in Terraria and the crafting of Minecraft, then Starbound is a definite to your collection. If you like killing aliens and acting like the conqueror of the universe as you go to planets and build giant tributes to yourself: You’ll probably like this game too!

I may be in a little bit of trouble here.
I may be in a little bit of trouble here.

Starbound is developed by ChuckleFish and is in Early Access. You can find it on Steam for £11.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by TD.

Advertisements
Starbound

The Escapists – An indepth look at modern prison lifestyle

"Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." And here I am hoping for a good game.
“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
And here I am hoping for a good game.

OK, the title is a lie, but if you want to recreate The Shawshank Redemption in 8-bit glory, this game might be for you.

The Escapists is the grand return of Team 17, most notable for their thirty billion different iterations of their IP, Worms, the delightful little game that sees worms trying to blow each other up in a turn based artillery strategy. The Escapists, however, is as far from that as you could possibly be, the only similarity being the 2D art (and let’s not forget Worms 3D… Ugh).

So, about the game. You have to escape from prison. That’s it. No catchy hard-coded objectives like “Knock out the guard to steal his keys, then make a break for it.” There’s plenty of ways for you to escape, it’s just up to you to decide how. Otherwise, this is an entirely sandbox world.

You get to rename all your inmate pals and prisoners. As you can see, TD was in this prison. Probably for something nefarious.
You get to rename all your inmate pals and prisoners. As you can see, TD was in this prison. Probably for something nefarious. Like not writing enough articles.

Once you’ve chosen a prison, a character, renamed your inmates and guards and got into the game, you’ll find yourself waking up in a cell. Then, your first day will play out and, although you can choose to play it how you want, I almost guarantee you’ll do the exact same thing I did when I was learning to play: Follow the daily routine provided to you by the guards to the books, maybe complete some easy favours for your fellow inmates, have a good wander round and then go to bed for the night.

In reality, it sounds boring, but it’s good. You subconsciously pick up the guard routines, where people go at certain times, all information which will be vital for your escape. But beyond what you’ve learnt here, you still don’t know much about what you can do.

Excercise is good for you! Well, not if you're playing this game, since you're just kind of sat there...
Excercise is good for you! Well, not if you’re playing this game, since you’re just kind of sat there…

Following that, in future days I looked to do more favours, earning more money and the friendship of fellow inmates, allowing them to follow me and do my bidding, if I so wished. I never successfully fought a guard, both because I was took weak and they too well equipped. I started buying items from fellow inmates to make sure I had a good supply of items to work with. It was all going so well.

I quickly figured out that things with red names were contraband, and worked not to get caught with them. For me, this meant hiding things in my desk. Although, sometimes the guards search your cell, so I was on the eye out for a better spot. Remarkably, I actually found one: I noticed the guards never, ever checked solitary confinement, so I left all my contraband there when I didn’t need it, and the guards never found it.

Not contraband, and not that lethal either.
Not contraband, and not that lethal either.

But I still didn’t really know what to do. And so, my Shawshank instincts kicked in. I started looking for spoons to dig my way out and, lo-and-behold, I found a tray full of plastic cutlery in the kitchen. Having grabbed them, I made my way back to my cell, hid a handful of spoons in my drawer, and waited until night to start digging.

Progress was incredibly slow. I found I couldn’t dig through walls, I had to dig the floor. Well, fair enough. It was all going so smoothly until a guard came along and stopped me, taking all my contraband too. But, wait, wasn’t my contraband in solitary? Yes, well, apparently all contraband on the map disappears when you’re detained. A bit of a disappointment.

And for the life of me, I could not figure out how to safely dig. I couldn’t leave my cell at night, since they’d start a lockdown and detain me if I wasn’t in my cell. But I couldn’t hide a hole in my cell, else I’d be detained. There seemed no way around this.

Start digging and you might have a teaspoon of dirt before they find you!
Start digging and you might have a teaspoon of dirt before they find you!

It wouldn’t be until a while after I found the first, glaring flaw with this game. It doesn’t tell you enough. Yes, it’s a sandbox game and you’re meant to learn the routines of the guards, discover ways to escape, and so forth, but some of it fundamentally feels hidden. I actually discovered I could pick up and move my drawers around so as to, say, hide a hole I’d dug in my cell. I only even discovered this since I accidentally right-click my drawers at some point and was dumbfounded as to why it was suddenly over my character’s head.

Other things hidden in the game include the ability to stand on tables and certain other objects, allowing you to see vents above you that are normally hidden from view. Further, it doesn’t tell you what any item does, just that you have it or can craft it. As such, I had no idea that you could use spoons to dig floors, but use forks to “chip” through walls. I mean, why so specific?

And I briefly touched on a major gripe of mine there that is, unfortunately, a major mechanic in this game: crafting. I’m sick of crafting. I’ve had enough of it, and it just now looks like everyone jumping on the survival bandwagon in a poor, poor way. Much like such classics as Minecraft, The Escapists doesn’t tell you what you can craft. You either have to figure it out, or discover it from Crafting Notes gained from other inmates.

You can do favours for your inmate pals to earn some money, to buy things from other inmates.
You can do favours for your inmate pals to earn some money, to buy things from other inmates.

Everything above, I hate. I hate not knowing the rules of a game, sandbox or not. Grand Theft Auto is a sandbox game, but you know shooting people calls the cops, that’s made clear. There is nothing unclear in that game. But there is so much you don’t know in The Escapists, it’s painful. For instance, I had to do a google to discover that I could make a “bed dummy” by combining two pillows and a duvet, which would allow me to be outside my cell at night without worrying about a lockdown.

And that would be fine, except for one thing: The crafting notes. Minecraft doesn’t give you any recipes, it’s well accepted that you learn the recipes through the wikis. But The Escapists does give you recipes ingame, through crafting notes. It even adds them to a journal, which persists between your different games. Afterall, once you’ve learnt a recipe in real life, you’ll be using it again ingame.

And that’s the problem. I don’t want to “cheat” when I play a game, so if I know I can gain knowledge ingame, I don’t want to look elsewhere. So by providing crafting notes, I feel I have to literally grind my way through to discovering all the recipes ingame. And I have a huge problem with that when I know I could easily overlook a part of the game by looking online.

This translates back to the fact I didn’t know I could stand on tables, or that forks were for walls and spoons for floors. The Escapists doesn’t tell you enough, and tries to fool itself into thinking you want to find it out. No, I don’t! I want to escape a prison! How was I to know a fundamental part of this game world was the ability to stand on tables?!

Stats play an important role, which you grind up through various clicking and waiting, or spamming button based activities which, honestly, isn't that fun. I ended up binding certain keys to a macro to save myself getting RSI.
Stats play an important role, which you grind up through various clicking and waiting, or spamming button based activities which, honestly, isn’t that fun. I ended up binding certain keys to a macro to save myself getting RSI.

There were two more things I wasn’t told, relating to certain items, which, upon discovery, meant I was able to escape in a matter of ingame days. As it turns out, a guard uniform will completely hide you from detection by all guards after lights out, allowing you to do literally anything (even dig through walls) without raising suspicion, whilst “contraband pouches” allow you to carry contraband through metal detectors without causing alarm. On finding this out, I simply dug my way out whilst wearing a guard uniform one night, in plain sight, and walked home free.

Kind of a lacklustre finish.
Kind of a lacklustre finish.

And then I felt no incentive to play again. Yes, there are other ways to escape, by tunneling or grabbing keys from guards or so forth, but it’s all fundamentally the same thing. I found myself getting bored of gaming the guard’s routine to maximise my time digging through walls, or the fact that one minor slip-up would mean the guards discover all my hidden contraband within the walls of the prison. I was annoyed I didn’t know what I could do (though, in the game’s defence, it does provide a manual… But who reads manuals?!) and I had to spend most my time grinding to find out what I could do, without feeling like a cheat. I did actually try another map, this one was themed like a Prison Camp, but the fundamentals were the same and, to be honest, I really couldn’t be bothered following the ridiculously tight regime while I gather items to make my escape. And the only way that was shown, was I stopped playing.

It seems like this game has a lot of potential, and I was really excited for it when I first heard about it. The last game like this I played was The Great Escape on the Playstation 2, which debateably covered the idea of prison escape better than this game has, by providing a scenario more about learning the map, finding ways about, gathering specific objects to use during your escape and a storyline to follow. I’m all for sandbox in games, but only when it’s done right.

This is in Early Alpha, though. There’s a lot which could change. I’d particularly like to see a system whereby you’re given a guided tutorial to teach you what you can do, and removal (or improvement) of a lot of the grinding features, like stat-raising and learning crafting recipes. I just fear now that Team 17 might have lost their edge. Perhaps they’d have done better making Worms: The Escapists?

The Escapists is developed by Team 17. You can find it on Steam Early Alpha for £9.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

The Escapists – An indepth look at modern prison lifestyle