April 30, 2022

The World is Your Playground - The Planet Crafter (Steam) Review

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The Planet Crafter, by indie developer, Miju Games, is a game about surviving on a desolate uninhabitable planet. At the heart of the gameplay, of course, is more of a shipwreck story that just happens to take the form of a sci-fi adventure. And although the premise and mechanics offer no real gameplay improvements over similar games, the tone and experience feel more refreshing.

Like all the variants of the survival genre, the game is about a character (you) who summons all of their ingenuity, strength, and courage to endure a seemingly impossible situation, then must deal with their own loneliness in an unforgiving and strange landscape.

Hey, I'm Alive!

If you've ever played games, read books, or watched movies about survival, you know that things eventually work out, or have a strange way of working out in the end. It's just not in the best interest of game developers to allow the main character or characters to simply die and wither away in the last few levels.

The Planet Crafter's gameplay pays thoughtful attention to basic questions like, "What do I do if I run out of oxygen?" and "How do I create a food supply on a planet that can't sustain life?" The short answers to those questions are, of course, "craft oxygen tanks by harvesting the needed ingredients" and "grow food in a makeshift greenhouse biodome." Certainly, you'll need to find these ingredients to create these homemade devices, but once you know where to look and how to identify certain minerals, it becomes second nature.

Throughout the course of this somewhat long but never dull game, your character makes for an endearing lead character who peers cautiously and sees each new crisis as a problem-solving exercise, provided you can get his fear and despair under control long enough to think straight, which of course you can.

As your character muses about what he must do, the UI walks you through the processes, showing you, for instance, how to craft a backpack from iron so that you can carry more water bottles and oxygen tanks which will help you survive longer, because as you already know, the lack of oxygen becomes the biggest problem.

From Doomsday to a New World

If I'm making the game's core mechanics predictable, that's because it is, but that doesn't mean it isn't effective. The most important thing about survival games, in general, is how it leans into predictability rather than make us feel like we're supposed to be discovering something new. We understand that we need the very basics to survive: we need oxygen, water, food, and shelter and everything else, like building a solar panel or windmill becomes secondary.

Visually, the game is visually superior and more melodramatic in its effects than other games, which is probably due to the environment you're thrown in. The colors are bright and vibrant, the landscape sparkles with reflected light from the stone structures, and there is the sense that not a single pixel has been compromised because of dullness or boredom.

Since the game is still in Early Access, some bugs and gameplay glitches are to be expected. For one, you just can't build anywhere since the structure and the terrain need to be meticulously aligned. Second, there's no story implemented yet, so you're literally just playing inside a giant sandbox, and third, the game is still bare-bones, meaning while it has subject matter, it lacks the substance to keep playing once you've dug into the games meaty insides.

All in all, The Planet Crafter is the most relaxing and, perhaps, the loneliest game I've played since Day-Z and it provides a unique experience that makes the future of space exploration both exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

Despite our attempts to conquer every available space on this planet, games, especially those based in space, make us realize just how vast and dangerous the universe really is. And if you're looking for a way to explore the next frontier without running out of oxygen, The Planet Crafter is a great way to get started. 

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