Transport belts snake around my mining equipment, furnaces and other machinery, the effect serving to both dizzy the mind and strain the eye. What was I doing again? Oh yes, looking for my iron gear wheel production line so that I could turn it into a research resource generating one. I got sidetracked by my worrying lack of stone after repelling the latest attack on my factory by the planet’s native wildlife. It’s been a constant theme with me in the time I’ve spent with Factorio, Wube Software’s sci-fi automation game that sees the player trying to tame the resources of an alien planet in a bid to survive. If it sounds complicated, it is, and therein lies the attraction.

When I first saw a screenshot of Factorio, I was quite taken by its bleak art-style, which is nearly always something that is guaranteed to appeal to me. In the same screenshot, I also noticed the complexity of the machinery created and wondered how the heck I’d get my head around it all. The first forays into the game world were indeed quite trying, and I found myself exiting the game and doing other things for awhile until I felt able to have another attempt. Factorio does introduce various aspects of the game via its campaign, including resource mining, power generation and research, among others, but even when you have a reasonable grasp of these areas you will still likely find yourself getting lost as you veer off on design tangents, or restarting a level as you realise a better way to do something.

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One man and his furnace; simpler times.

Factorio is a problem solving game, but one that includes logistics, refinement and automation as well. You’ve managed to direct your little character around the map, mined some iron ore and coal, built a stone furnace and managed to create some iron plates? Now create some transport belts and inserters (think robot arms like in car manufacturing) and automate the process. What’s that? You need your iron plates to be on the other side of your factory and the way is blocked? If only you could research a new way to get them there, such as using splitters and underground transport belts. You can! But you’ll need to come up with a research production line to allow you to unlock this more refined technology, unless you want to stand and do everything yourself the slow way. That’s if the indigenous life forms of the planet don’t kill you or tear apart your factory before you get that far.

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A dizzying amount of research options.

How does that all sound? I’ve attempted to give you a taste of some of the thoughts that might run through your mind as you try to progress in Factorio, a game that revels in giving you lots of spinning plates to keep an eye on and forces you to occasionally give the odd one a few more spins to keep it balanced. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable however. On the contrary, even if I felt I’d had enough for awhile, it didn’t take long for me to feel the pull of the game once more, especially if walking away and leaving it awhile helped my mind come up with a new idea for how to deal with something. It is also the kind of game that will have you searching YouTube for help with various systems and how to create a mega-factory that would put my own humble creations to shame.

Factorio can be played in a number of modes, from the Campaign, to multiplayer and Freemode (in which you must fire a rocket into space, after researching lots of advanced technology and implementing it in your factory). It also allows players to create their own maps and custom scenarios. It’s one of those games that could potentially last you a long long time. Oh, and that was without even mentioning that the maps can be infinite!

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The Map Generator. Note the boxes with Infinite beside them!

Factorio puts me in mind most strongly of games like Infinifactory and Big Pharma, where the satisfaction comes from finding solutions to problems, making a production system that puts that solution into effect, but then a period of time later realising that you could do it all a whole lot more efficiently if you did it another way, and so starting again. Yes, there is the survival element in which you can manufacture protective equipment like turrets and armour, but this is more a way to put the player under some kind of pressure, rather than letting them solve their issues by taking all the time in the world. And it works very well. The survival aspect also adds some great jeopardy too, but it is possible to play in Peaceful mode if you just want to create things in your own time. Tinkering can also be dangerous to a degree, where adjusting something can often have unforeseen consequences, insofar as you didn’t think it through fully or take something else into account. A change to one of your resource lines in a bid to optimise something else further down the line might cause issues that will only becoming apparent when you wonder why something has stopped working, maybe due to a build up of resources on the transport belt or some other hiccup.

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Research flasks or an impromptu distillery?

Factorio is currently on PC and is sitting in Steam’s Early Access section, which means that it is still in ongoing development. The developer has been working on the game for over four years and feels that the game is stable enough to spread further afield, with a view to it coming out of Early Access in the next 10-12 months. On full release, the price may go up from the current price point of £15 (kudos to the developer for picking a nice round number rather than messing with decimals and pennies, a refreshing change!).

There are hours and hours of fun to be found in Factorio, if you have a mind that enjoys the systems involved. It can be frustrating at times, and the character combat (shooting things with your little person rather than having turrets etc. doing the dirty work for you) wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me. I also personally felt that the complexity got a bit overwhelming at times. However, it’s a game that you need to be in a problem-solving, meticulous frame of mind for, but if you are, snap it up for £15 right now, I’d say it’s easily worth the money.

Link: Factorio
GS Blogger: Casey Douglass

Factorio Images © Copyright Wube Software LTD.

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