GAME REVIEW: Space Engineers

I enjoy games that give rise to great personal stories. Some sandbox style games can end up with the player losing their way or growing bored with the options available. Keen Software House’s Space Engineers has enough stories, sweary moments and complexity to keep a good majority of players interested long past that point.

Space Engineers is set in space (I know I know, shocking!) amongst a large asteroid field. The player controls an engineer who can either just build lots of great stuff in Creative Mode or fight for his or her life in Survival Mode. I’ll talk about them as I encountered them. The very first thing I did was watch the game tutorial as there are a few things that might take you a long time to work out via trial and error.

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Creative Mode is a lot of fun. The drudgery is taken out of building large and impressive structures so it’s a bit like being given a whole heap of building blocks and then being told to make something cool. My first ship didn’t work but my second ship was a nippy svelte thing that I soon realised was uncontrollable because I had forgotten to put some thrusters in certain planes of motion. The sum result of which was I could move forward and left and right but couldn’t move in any other direction. I got out to add the missing thrusters forgetting to turn my reactor off or to slow down and was treated to the sight of my ship zooming off into the cosmos.

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I then decided to play with the destructibility. On the level I began, you start with a hulking great ship docked to your platform. I gave one of the pre-made smaller ships a missile launcher and had at it. The missiles fizzed off and hit the large ship with nice satisfying impacts, in places punching right through the hull. I halted my assault and used my jet-pack to inspect the wounds. Using my angle grinder and blow torch, I was able to spend a leisurely ten minutes patching it all up again. The metal pops and bows in a very pleasing way whilst being worked and it gives a small rush of satisfaction to turn around and see that you did a good job making the ship look as good as new. Of course, being the mature guy that I am, I then hopped back into my death-dealing ship and sliced the larger one into thirds with a stream of carefully choreographed missile strikes. I watched the large sections gently begin to twist as they lost the effect of the gravity generator and gave them a gentle nudge with my smaller ship to send them drifting into space.

Survival Mode has given me my best story though. This mode is meant to be more realistic, starting with the need to monitor your spacesuit energy supply or you will die. You replenish by using terminals or items on a ship such as the medical room. Other things are also tweaked. No bottomless inventory nor will the things you are building appear instantly. You have to mine the asteroids for ore, smelt it, transfer it to the Production Plant, make the components you need and then weld it all into being.

My first contact with Survival Mode was a starting map called Crashed Red Ship. You spawn as a survivor of the crash but your ship only has a tiny amount of power and not much else. You need to dismantle equipment to use the parts in things you need more urgently, like some way to smelt ore into fuel or you will die. My first engineer lasted a little while but was the victim of bad luck. When you start the game, you can select various settings for the world, the mode, number of asteroids etc. There is also a setting for environment hostility. It defaults to safe but I felt bold and had put it to Normal. This means there are chances of meteor showers. I was busy building a refinery when an explosion shook the ship. I muttered wondering what it was but carried on ferreting for steel plates for the construction. The next time my suit power got low, I headed to the cockpit to use the terminal and recharge. Entering the room, I saw the cockpit and a lot of debris behind hit. I looked up and spotted a large ragged tear in the metal roof and then noticed the lack of the power reactor that was previously at the back. My only working reactor with fuel was gone, taken out by a meteor shower. That engineer suffocated shortly after.

The great thing is that if you die, you come back as another engineer on a rescue ship with a few more resources. Yes! I thought, I can do this properly now. Wary of another meteor shower, I tried to land my rescue ship in the crater next to the first stranded ship. The screen suddenly went red and my engineer was floating dead in some debris. I must have got the approach wrong by going too fast. My engineer re-spawned at in medical room on the rescue ship much to my relief. I thought that I just needed to get the ship parked and then I could carry on. Except that I couldn’t seem to find the cockpit. I slowly realised that the front half of my ship was gone! All I had left was the medical room and one power generator. I manoeuvred my engineer outside of the ship and looked down at the scene. My small yellow rescue ship was smashed into the large red one at a nice forty-five degree angle, like a little Remora fish stuck to the side of a shark. The rescuer now needed rescuing!

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Speaking of large toothed predators, there are some wonderful creations for Space Engineers in the Steam Workshop. Whilst I was playing I was thinking how fun it would be to have a Xenomorph stalking me as I tried to make the ship secure. In the Steam Workshop, there are various ships and designs that have been painstakingly created, including a couple of models of the USS Sulaco from Aliens! Alas, no alien creatures though.

Space Engineers is in the Steam Early Access section, which means that it is undergoing constant development. The developers say that it is in a playable state however, and from my own experiences at least, I would agree. I did not run into a single glitch, crash or performance issue. As far as the overall development of the game, things can certainly change but I think that whatever direction the game goes, to achieve what has already been achieved with it is fantastic and the developers really look like they know what they want to do.

If you have an affinity for the harsher side of space, the survival, threat or just the drudgery of mining, you will find a good amount of enjoyment in Survival Mode. If you just like to build and destroy stuff, you will find plenty to do in Creative Mode. Space Engineers is a game in which you do create your own fun but one that gives you plenty of tools to do it with. You can also play the game in CO-OP and Multi-player mode which only expands the capacity for the hijinks you can get up to.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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