Space may be the final frontier, but it’s just something to travel through on the way to somewhere interesting. The real fun starts at planetfall, although the explorers of Astroneer might want to have come a bit better prepared. A landing pod that provides air and power is a great start but there are a million other things to build in order to fully explore the new world. Armed with little more than a terrain-deforming resource-Hoover and a can-do attitude, the astroneer starts gathering as much as possible while expanding home base, researching new tech and making tools to turn the new planet into a home. Right up until the irresistible call of adventure sounds again, of course, at which point it’s time to go planet-hopping.
Astroneer is a space survival game in a semi-low-poly solar system that’s been rendered in a gorgeous, colorful art style. The game begins on a space station where you choose an astroneer from a selection of four, slightly different in looks but all with the same capabilities, and are then jettisoned in a capsule down to the planet’s surface. The capsule doubles as a save point and the center of your new base, but it’s going to take a little exploration of the procedurally-generated planet’s surface to start the expansion. Resin and Compound are easy resources to get and don’t take any refinement to use, but once you start working with metallic ores you’ll be wanting a smelter, and of course that takes power which can be mined from the deposits on the ground or supplied by solar or wind.
The Space-Vac 9001 (which isn’t it’s real name but needs to be called something) is your main source of interaction with the planet, raising, lowering, and smoothing out the ground, and there’s no limit on the amount of terraforming it can do so long as it’s got a charge. Clear out the ground around a mineral and it gets added to the intake on the backpack, and once you’ve collected enough a unit of the resource is automatically transferred to an inventory position. You’ve only got eight spots, on your backpack, and odds are good you might want to use at least one for a little extra air, energy, or other helpful passive device, so each expedition needs to be focused on whichever mineral you’re looking for.
Eventually, though, you’ll be able to build a vehicle, which acts as a mobile base unit and lets you be properly adventurous. One of the early limitations is oxygen, and suffocation is the most common way to die. The worst consequence from running out of power is not being able to mine, but running out of air is death, followed by a quick revival back at home base with a backpack that no longer contains all the goodies you had been hoping to carry home. A nice walk back to your corpse lets you pick up anything you’ve lost, but when the body is deep in an underground cave it’s a bit harder to track down. On the surface, however, your old body, any vehicles you’ve made, and home base all shoot an icon into the atmosphere to make them easier to find. Death is inconvenient but the point of Astroneer is to enjoy your freedom among the planets, not go hard-core survival.
At the moment Astroneer is still fairly basic, though. The types of resources feels a bit light in number and it doesn’t take too long to build up the home base once you know what elements to look for. What’s there is unquestionably a great time but it’s easy to see where More is going to be added over the course of development. Current plans call for an overarching mystery for those who want to pursue a narrative, more hazards beyond falling to your death or getting crunched by a rock during a windstorm, plenty of customization options to personalize your base, and even repercussions on the economy. Bug-squashing is also a major focus, of course, but Astroneer has only been out on Early Access a few days at the time of this writing so that’s to be expected.
Astroneer is very early, but already shows fantastic promise. A few patches have already dealt with some of the more obvious issues and more are on the way, but you can already go out into the world with up to three friends, making a convoy of trucks and dividing up the base-building tasks while terraforming a planet to the group’s liking. Every planet is a new and beautiful world to explore, and the low-poly look combines with fantastic lighting effects to bring the different biomes to life. “Life” at the moment is all plants, but it’s still incredibly pretty even with the animals being somewhere in the future. Astroneer features a solar system of worlds waiting to be explored and developed by the clean sci-fi tech of bubble-helmeted adventurers, and it’s just as rewarding to find a rare mineral deposit as it is watching sunrise break through the trees as the sky fades from dark to light purple and the stars wheel overhead on the world you currently call home.