Gears. Levers. Chains. Belts. All of these different ‘elements’ working together in sync is a joy to watch, especially when you can sit back and admire the logistics that went into creating the system in the first place. Take a look at the bigger picture, and you can see the massive, magnificent mechanical marvel. A manufacturing mega-factory. A complex system of machines working together to assemble the next big thing. With this in mind, and the fact that I’m a mechanical engineer through and through, you can imagine my surprise when I was looking at the top rated games on steam to find a game that is based on a mega-factory on the second spot. That’s right. An Early Access game about building a factory, managing it and bumping the efficiency to eleven is the second best rated game on steam, of all time. It released on Steam Early Access in 2016, after a successful Indiegogo campaign from way back in 2013. Let’s take a closer at this Early Access gem, and see if it’s worth those extremely positive ratings.
Graphics and Music
First things first, then. The eye candy. To be fair, the game doesn’t have much in the aesthetics department. It’s played from a top down perspective, in 2D, and all the models are essentially just sketches. But that’s not to say it doesn’t look pretty. The textures are crisp, and the drab and dark art style perfectly fits the theme of the game (we’ll get into this a bit later). The train, tank and car textures are spot on, and the aliens explode into a bloody mess when shot, which is also satisfying to look at.
The one downside, though, is that the terrain looks same-y. For an alien planet, it looks awfully similar to Earth, with common textures such as grasslands or desert. It would have been interesting to have stuff such as volcanic rock textures or red-brown vegetation in the base game. On a whole, though, the graphics are pleasing to look at, and don’t feel poorly made at all.
The music is excellent, and fits the mood of the game very well. Often ramping up during combat, the soundtrack is a great companion during long sessions of gameplay. And for a game that you might literally play for hours on end, the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. Ambient sounds are top notch as well, with the machines whirring and steam engines puffing along in the background. The attention to detail is clearly visible, with capacitors sometimes buzzing with sparks. The weapon sounds are great as well, and the impact each weapon makes can clearly be felt. Overall, brilliant sound design.
The game will run very well on even old machines, as there isn’t a lot going on. Sure, you might have a bit of a slowdown when you’re moving fast surrounded by aliens and robots, but nothing gamebreaking. As for stability, the game is rock solid. It refused to crash, even while Alt-Tabbing every few seconds, including on the loading screen. Hell, even putting the computer to sleep with the game running did nothing except pause. Kudos, Wube Software.
The game essentially has two modes, both of which can be played either in single player, or in co-op. As far as I can tell, there’s no upper limit to the number of players in co-op; it all depends on your hardware. But, being realistic, 20 players might just be enough to break the game. Anyway, the gameplay modes are a story driven campaign and a free-play mode. As an extension of the campaign, you have Scenarios. You can create your own scenario and share it with your friends as well. Both the campaign and free play modes start in the same way: you’ve crash landed on an unknown alien planet with nothing but your human mind and ingenuity.
The difference between the modes starts here. In campaign, you have a set mission path, from finding your crashed ship to looking for crewmates. In free play, there’s no such restriction, and the entire world is open to you to do as you wish and follow whatever research you want to follow. The endgame, however is the same. This isn’t a spoiler, per-se, as this isn’t a story driven game. The end goal is to escape the planet on your very own spaceship that you built.
There’s also a slightly hidden sandbox mode, which can be found in the scenario menu. There’s no player character. This can be useful if you want to show off factory designs, as your map navigation isn’t hindered by human walking speeds.
The game isn’t just about building, however. You start by mining the things you need (i.e. iron, coal, stone and copper) by hand. Then, you build coal powered miners to do the mining for you. Next step is to smelt this iron and copper to get usable iron and copper plates. These are the basic ingredients for basically everything else in your factory. The next logical step is to build steam engines to generate power, and move from coal powered machines individually needing the fuel to using boilers to run your steam engines, making your work faster and more efficient.
It’s not all fun and games, however. Just like the movie Avatar by James Cameron, the smelting and burning of fuel to boil water generates pollution. This, obviously, pisses off the native population of the planet. They will attack. You have to defend your base with walls and turrets, or you’ll be overrun with alien attacks. Moving quickly to solar power is an easy way to reduce pollution. Lowering the pollution is a healthy way to reduce attacks. Subtle message, devs. The game also has Uranium for the late game, when you can completely switch power generation from coal powered steam engines or solar to nuclear, which is mad efficient. However, if you’re feeling particularly murderous, you can just as easily build a tank, equip it with flame throwers and just burn the suckers where they stand.
Speaking of flamethrowers, you also have other options. Laser turrets for defence are fun to install, and watch as precise high energy laser beams melt the aliens into pulp. The game also has grenades, assault rifles, shotguns and pistols for all your alien destroying needs. There’s also armours, which are fully modular and support a variety of modules, such as a personal laser defence turret or a portable solar panel.
The game need not be played fully manual, however. In fact, it encourages you to sit back while the entire factory is automated. Once you research robotics, you can have construction robots build your machines while you place blueprints. You can have complex logistical circuits with automatic loading and unloading of trains. Around the mid-late game, the only thing you’ll be doing is looking for ways to make your factory more efficient, more automated.
Research. Right. Almost forgot about that. Every technology in the game can be unlocked through research in a lab. Simple, right? Well, sort of. Research requires science packs of one or more different types. There’s red, green, blue, purple and white in increasing order of complexity. You can create each science pack individually by hand, but that will take way too long.
As always, you have to come up with ways to let your factory mass produce these science packs and deliver them to the labs automatically. Don’t worry if all this feels a bit difficult to understand. The game has tutorials that you can access mid-game.
The game has a few more secrets here and there that I refuse to spoil now. These can be found out quite easily on gameplay. Trust me, finding them and putting them to use will be rewarding in and of itself. Also, if I start mentioning all the game’s features, this article will be over 4000 words.
The game has a simplistic UI; while it won’t be winning any awards for best UI design, it gets the job done. It’s not cluttered, and everything you might need while playing is available in a click or two. The bottom of the screen has a hotbar, one (or two, with research) row of items that you might need to use the most. Each hotbar row can fit 10 items, and you can even lock items to a hotbar slot, so they will always be there so long as you have a few in your inventory.
Inventory management is a breeze in this game. Moving from chests to player inventory can be done in a single click, and loading the same recipe across multiple machines can be accomplished in a single click-drag. This makes the game a lot simpler than you might think. The blueprints that I mentioned earlier can also be used as a copy-paste mechanism to duplicate entire layouts, save them and reuse later.
Mods add flavour and variety to any game. In Factorio, there exist mods that do a LOT of things, from adding Factory buildings that reduce clutter to revamping the mining system and adding a lot more steps between the mining of iron and getting iron plates out of them. There’s also a much needed mod that makes the terrain generation much more random and varied. Installation and activation of mods, along with most of the game, is very simple. Simply open the mod menu in the game options, search for the mod you want, install, enable. That’s it. You’re ready to rock the mod in game.
The developers set a price of ₹565 at launch. They mentioned the fact that they wouldn’t be a part of any sale till release, and they’ve stuck to their word. There’s been a recent price increase, however, in preparation for the full release, which is supposed to be arriving later this year. The game can currently be had for ₹700, with no micro-transactions or DLC in sight.
With its infinite, procedurally generated world full of new terrain to explore and ore patches to find, alien bases to raid and contraptions to build; manufacturing engines to build trains automatically and laying tracks using your little robot helpers and creating interesting base designs, the game is extremely expansive. No kidding, the day I got the game, I spent 12 hours straight. It’s that good. The gameplay loop has that “One more turn” kind of feel, only changed slightly to “Hmm, what if I move the furnaces here, the conveyer here, loop this belt, split this belt and change the network…….”. Get the game, you will not regret it.