Friday, January 27, 2023

What's That You Say, Timmy? Astrid's Fallen Down The Old Mineshaft?

At the beginning of the week I couldn't think of much to write about. Come the end, I have half a dozen topics roiling around in my head, any and all of which could make a full post. Naturally, I'm also working this weekend, so I either have to save them up for next week, by when they'll either have gone stale or been shunted to the sidelines by something new.

I was going to try to cram them all into one portmanteau post under the Friday Grab Bag rubric but having drafted the first entry I realise that'd take me all day. I guess we'll just have to go at them in a series of small bites. That way, maybe they won't be entirely indegistible.

Up first...

Steamworld Build

Let's start with a new game I played. An actual, new game, not an old game I dug up from the relic pile. 

Of course, when I say "game", I really mean "demo". I'm not entirely sure how I came across it. I thought at first it was part of Steam's Base Builder Fest, a promotional event for a genre I didn't even know existed but, scanning down the not-very-long list of promoted titles, I don't see it there. Maybe it popped up as a recommendation because I've played a bunch of other Steamworld titles, although I rarely even glance at things Steam thinks I ought to try, so that doesn't seem likely, either.

However I found it, I'm happy it happened. The Steamworks games are charming, even if I'm not a hundred percent sold on developer Thunderful's penchant for trying a new genre with every release. For the next instalment in the franchise they've gone for what I always think of as the City Sim, not a game-type that's ever done much to get me excited.  

I played the original Sim City back when it was released in the late 1980s and found it pretty tedious. I mean, who dreams of being a city planner? Wouldn't you rather have Adventures?  Nothing I've seen or heard about the genre since has encouraged me to try it again - until now. 

I had a good time with a couple of the earlier Steamworld titles. I even finished one of them. A demo seemed like a safe way to dip a toe into unfamiliar waters. Demos rarely outstay their welcome and I nearly always manage to finish them, which is a lot more than I can say about most full-length games.

Oh, it all looks very Garden City Movement now...

And I enjoyed it. I played through the whole demo in a couple of hours. You begin with nothing and end up with a sprawling industrial complex and a deepening excavation project, each of which feeds resources to the other. There's an unoriginal but interesting plot and some typically - some might say stereotypically - charming mechanical characters. 

The dialog is sparky and gets a lot done in just a scattering of cut scenes. It needs to because most of the gameplay involves placing structures to build and improve resources above ground, then doing the same, plus digging through dirt, sandstone and bedrock below the surface to uncover different resources in the once-abandoned, now restored, mineshaft.

Don't trust him, Astrid!

For the first hour there was the usual lingering feeling of "I could really be doing something more useful with my time" I always get when playing these kind of games but once I got the mine open for business much of that went away. For some reason, digging stuff up feels like a valid leisure activity for me, whereas laying down roads just doesn't.

The mining part of the game - and indeed the basic plot, involving as it does the scavenging and repurposing of fragments from a vanished, technologically superior civilization - reminded me a lot of the "My Time At Portia/Sandrock" series. It's pretty much identical, in fact, the main difference being that in Portia/Sandrock you do your own digging whereas in Steamworld Build you direct tiny robots to do it for you. 

Why do I get the feeling you guys are having more fun than I am?

They look like ants as they scurry around, although you can zoom in to see them close-up. That was one thing that slightly bothered me; I felt there was a more interesting game happening at ground level but I was stuck, for practical purposes, with a drone's eye view. Ever the problem for the city planner, I guess.

I am absolutely not the person to review something like this but I can say that I had a good time with the demo and the full game is now on my Wishlist. I think that has a lot more to do with the strength of the Steamworld IP than this specific game but it's still an endorsement of sorts. I hope they pick a genre more to my taste for their next outing, though. 

The entire Steamworld back catalog is also heavily discounted right now, in case anyone wants to give it a go.

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