Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship…and I’ve crashed into an asteroid. There goes another win for Space Engineers deep, but fascinatingly fun learning curve.
So, what exactly is Space Engineers I hear you ask, hypothetical reader? Space Engineer combines the aesthetics of Minecraft’s open ended crafting, the breathless complexity of a space simulator and the intricate tweaking of vehicle engineering. Of course, this description probably makes the game sound a lot more unwelcoming than it actually is.
In fact, the control system is fairly simplistic with the usual WASD control layout dominating your interaction, with mouse controls being used mainly for the usage of tools in your character’s hands. When designing a small ship or a space station (most likely what you’ll be wanting to achieve when playing the game), its relatively simple to combine working blocks and instruments which makes designing your dream ship a virtual reality. This sense of creative designing is what I really want to focus on in particular.
Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons
More than simple
Most crafting type games (like Minecraft and Terraria for example) usually have two main modes that define the game: creative and survival. Survival is, ugh, well about surviving, where you must mine materials, build structures and try not to snuff it whilst carrying anything precious. This mode is available in Space Engineers and is indeed a predictable highlight.
You can float around space on your jetpack (did I mention the jetpack? Basically all you need to know is WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH!) and mine near-by asteroids with your drill for precious materials, take them back to your space base and create all manner of things for survival and fun. In this mode you really need to watch your health, as floating around can use a lot of oxygen and energy.
There is a place to top up back at your base, but the key goal is to be able to travel around without having to revisit the base for topping up. That means creating more bases, more top ups and more construction places. Basically, an endless, but enjoyable cycle for an open ended game. Simple enough (well for the description anyway).
Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons
A new element
However, I feel, Space Engineers really comes into its element in Creative mode. Creative mode basically gives you every material in the game, a dose of invincibility and lets you go play in your starry playground. Here is where your imagination can take hold as you can pretty much create any kind of ship, station or structure that your heart desires. For me, it was the allure of the space ship that made me sink hours and hours into this game and the many unsuccessful attempts at creating a ship that would not eventually crash into a fiery, broken mess like so:
1. The HMS Kettle, a cubed ship with very basic design. I decided to attach around 6 small thrusters to the back of the ship, because I wanted to be the fastest cube in all of empty space. In what ended up looking like a grocers van, I accidentally went plummeting into an asteroid which left a big rocky whole in said asteroid and in my heart.
2. The Rusty Kettle, a Wright brothers inspired…shambles. Yes, for my next experiment I decided to build a space plane in the style of the Wright brothers. My line of thinking went “ok, so I’m new to this space engineering game, so maybe to succeed I should go through the natural evolution of aircraft to slowly succeed”. Well the slowly was right, big blocky metal wings with very little thrusters, probably made my space plane go as fast as the Wright brothers plane. I ended up destroying the space plane when I accidentally crashed into a huge mining shape. The mining ship was slightly dented. My emotions were, however, largely dented.
3. The I Can’t Be Bothered With This Kettle Joke TARDIS, a wonderful contraption that looked like the infamous TARDIS from the science fiction show “Doctor Who”. Ah, who am I kidding it was just a big metal block with thrusters attached all over the body to give it “dimension” (I may have went off the deep end at this point). However, it was a speedy little ship and only caused minimal damage when I crashed it into an asteroid, so it was probably the most successful of my experiments.
Clunky yet superb
Throughout this futile, but fun chaos, I grew to admire the graphical capabilities of Space Engineers more and more. For an indie game (technically still in development as part of Steam’s early Access program) the graphics really are on the high end, with great little details given to the space around you, such as the endless asteroids and rocks that float around in the dark vacuum around you or the way in which a large mining ship floats still like in a state of silenced flux. Even the character models are to be applauded, with a gritty workman like spacesuit being donned for your character’s attempts at space mining that has lovely little details such as a handy tool belt and the endless dark reflection that bounces of the front of your visor.
With such neat attention to detail, you may be forgiven for accidentally mistaking this game for a AAA game or even a finished game, however sometimes certain aspects of Space Engineers do present its unfinished nature. The sound can be clunky and repetitive, especially when it comes to welding and drilling materials and certain actions, such as the use of the jetpack and placing smaller blocks, can be twitchy and frustrating to handle, but with progress and the continuation of patches and support these minor faults may hopefully be fixed sooner rather than later.
With that in mind, Space Engineers is still head and shoulders above many of the crafting type games and Minecraft clones on the market, by investing its time on the fundamentals of building and engineering, whilst building a world with immersive space and atmosphere that help elevate the game into an original and satisfying experience. Plus, there’s not many games that let you explosively crash the abominations of your imagination into a rocky asteroid grave.
Space Engineers is currently available for Windows through Steam at £14.99.