Game name: Autonauts
Release date: October 17, 2019
Available on: Steam
Publisher: Curve Digital
Have you read The Martian Chronicles? If you haven’t, please change that as soon as possible, it’s a really great book, even if you aren’t into science fiction. If you have, then please disregard the vision of space colonization my question probably invoked in your head. Autonauts is a quite joyous game most of the time, and it doesn’t really show the effects of your actions on the land you’ve been working (though planting trees in the game is one of the things that created the mental link with The Martian Chronicles in my head). Why am I talking about this? I guess I really want people to read Bradbury’s book, and I also needed some sort of opening paragraph before getting into this review in full. That’s mostly out of the way now, so please continue reading if you are at all interested in my thoughts regarding Autonauts.
On a more serious note, the link between Bradbury’s excellent book and this game isn’t as tenuous as I made it look. Autonauts is a simulation/management title about growing a colony in an alien planet, and in order to do so we’ll have to mold the environment to suit our needs. This includes chopping down trees and using their remains to build an assortment of useful objects, excavating the land and creating our own forests, that sort of stuff. After a successful Autonauts session, the world will always be in a very different state than it was when we arrived, and that would always invariably remind me of the stories of that time when we went to Mars and screwed everything up.
Thankfully, Autonauts is a far more cheery affair, as the screenshots you might have seen can attest to. Cute polygonal farm animals go on with their daily lives, steampunk-y robots flutter into action as we activate them, and even the trail of fallen trees we leave in our wake looks cheerful and not at all grim. It’s far from a child’s game though, as the numerous (and quite helpful) tutorials quickly taught me.
So, how does this management game play? There are two main things you’ll be doing for the majority of the game. The first is gathering basic resources and using them to craft certain tools that will help you create your first robot buddy (or buddies). Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to program our new pals so they can do our work for us. This is done through a very simple interface where we can “record” our actions (for instance, if we want to teach a bot to plant seeds, we’ll need to get a spade, make a good enough hole in the ground, then get a seed, plant the seed, stop recording, define the search area for the bot, and save that program). The system is very easy to use, and there are enough tweakable values that I was still finding out new ways of making my robot buddies more efficient when I was ten hours into the game.
Successfully completing the tasks set by our handlers (in the Campaign mode, there’s also a free play mode where you don’t have clear goals, but I’m not great with those, so I stuck to Campaign for most of my playtime) will reward us with a nice statue detailing our achievements. As the game progresses, we’ll also gain access to incubators that can be used to grow colonists, which will in turn help us research new tech. And as you might have guessed, that tech will give us an excuse to train even more bots so they can do our job for us. If repeating an action every time we wish to program a bot is not your thing, there’s an upgrade that lets you copy your programming from robot to robot. Automation is a never ending cycle, but at least here that cycle is actually pretty fun!
Aside from the whole colonization angle, the game has some light exploration themes going on as well, and then there’s the management part, which will have us frantically rebuilding the forests we’ve cut down, or creating the most efficient assembly lines possible so we can grow our colony as fast as we can. This doesn’t mean that the game forces us to do so, by the way, as it doesn’t really feature time limits or any sort of thing that pushes us forward at all times, leaving no room for experimentation. On the contrary, Autonauts will always let the player decide their own pace, something that I’m quite fond of, as I’m a neophyte when it comes to management titles.
With gameplay mostly dealt with, it’s time to talk about the tech aspects of the game. The low-poly art style fits Autonauts perfectly, as it not only serves as a way of giving the game an “attitude” of sorts that’s usually missing in these kinds of titles, but also helps when it comes to the act of playing, since everything is easily identifiable and we won’t be wasting any time trying to find different resources, or catching lost bots. I didn’t encounter any super annoying bugs (just the occasional bot getting stuck on other bots, stuff like that) and I didn’t experience any crashes or stability/performance issues.
So, how does Denki‘s latest hold up? Underneath Autonauts‘ cute visuals and tongue in cheek tutorials there’s a surprisingly complex simulation game that is a joy to play for both seasoned veterans of the genre and total newbies who’ve never touched a management title.
8.5/10 – Great.