Asteroids: Outpost Has a Very Long Way to Go

Early Access is for games that have just begun their life but need player feedback, a decent income stream, or both to turn reach their full potential.  Sometimes you get an Infinifactory, which is basically done and already polished to a shine, and sometimes you get Rodina, which is very early but still an amazing framework to hang an epic FPS/RPG space shooter from.  And then there are the games like Asteroids: Outpost, which have an interesting idea but no real game to go with it yet.  That’s not to say that it’s bad, but rather that it’s too early to know what it’s going to become.

Asteroids: Outpost is an online-only sandbox game where you’re a space miner on a moon near the asteroid belt, and pretend for a minute that you know nothing of astronomy because that will just get in the way.  You set up a claim on a server that’s doubles as a region on a moon of Jupiter, then place a central hub area plus a turret to act as home base.  Homestead in place, you jump straight into the world, and can go for a first-person walk on the surface of the moon if you’d like to see the sights.  The moons are actually very pretty, with several different types of terrain to set up home base on, but the meteors burning through the atmosphere to explode on the moon’s surface make sightseeing somewhat risky.

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The meteors are both an ever-present threat and an endless stream of resources, and as an asteroid miner its your job to avoid the former while harvesting the latter.  Honestly, the chance of being taken out by meteor strike is low and the only penalty is a quick respawn, but it’s still disconcerting to look up from a sudden unexpected shadow and see your imminent death just a second away.  Far more often than not, though, they impact harmlessly on the surface, making a nice explosion but leaving no actual damage behind.

Back at base, the turret is constantly auto-firing on any meteor that looks like it might land too close, destroying them completely, and while that’s nice for safety it’s terrible for business.  The turret is best used manually, blasting the meteors into ore that you can then chase after once it lands on the moon’s surface.  The meteors cool down and disappear if left unharvested, though, so you’ll need to learn which colors correspond to each metal and plan your harvesting route accordingly.  Your miner’s pick is actually a gun, limited in range but very effective at harvesting metal quickly if you’ve done a nice job of grouping the meteor’s landing zone.

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At the moment, though, there’s not really all that much to do with the ore once you’ve harvested it.  You can use ore to expand your base, adding new units like a greenhouse to refill your oxygen tanks faster or a vehicle platform to spawn a truck.  You can sell the excess for cash to upgrade your abilities, giving added speed and thrusting power to the rocket pack or increasing your oxygen reserves.  At the moment, however, that’s just about it.  The gameplay cycle is- shoot meteors with turret, leave base to harvest meteors with mining gun, spend minerals on things to make doing this easier.  The problem is that it’s already pretty simple, and having more toys and expanded abilities to make it simpler isn’t particularly engaging.  The sandbox is just a bunch of sand at this stage of its development.  There may be plans for enhancing the game with more multiplayer functions, but I have never seen a single other player or even their base in the times I’ve played so far.  Asteroids: Outpost is an online-only game but might as well be single-player.

It also comes with its share of usability problems, such as a 29-digit registration key for a game you can only buy on Steam, that you also can’t copy/paste into the entry field.  It requires a password as well but doesn’t save it, so that’s got to be entered manually each time you play, plus re-clicking through user agreement and terms of service after each update.  To be fair, the updates have turned regular lock-ups into a much rarer occurrence, but Outpost isn’t such a must-play online experience that the hassle is worth jumping through these minimal hoops.  By way of contrast, I just loaded Everquest Landmark for the first time since last May, and it let me right in after an understandably-long update.

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It’s also impossible to ignore that this game, despite being named Asteroids: Outpost, has nothing to do with its namesake.  Or actual asteroids, for that matter, seeing as you’re shooting down and harvesting meteors.  Mario doesn’t always run left to right and jump on things, and Final Fantasy’s best game recently has been in the music/rhythm genre, but at least there have been new games in the core series in recent memory.  The last update to Asteroids was on the PS1, making the naming of this game feel like an unwarranted appeal to nostalgia.  That doesn’t make it a bad game, of course, but Asteroids: Outpost has enough other problems that it doesn’t need to be burdened by the expectations of a much-loved arcade classic.

The biggest problem with Asteroids: Outpost isn’t its name, or the pointless sign-in gates, or even its Early Access status.  The problem is that it’s too early to know what its various parts are going to turn into.  The trailer below shows a rendered movie that’s a fly-through of a moment in time from an epic base raid, but there’s not a hint of this in the current game, and I’m honestly not sure what the path from here to there might be.  There aren’t enough people to realize that kind of action, and the single-player experience needs a much better hook to build its audience.  Currently nothing more than a fairly simplistic tech demo, Asteroids: Outpost may end up great, or terrible, or any point in between.