Developer: Keen Software House
Publisher: Keen Software House
Genre(s): Action, Indie, Simulation, Survival
Platform: PC (also available on Xbox)
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 28/2/2019
A code was provided for review purposes
Space Engineers is a game that has grown exponentially since its 2013 Steam early access release. What started out as a budding open-world survival sandbox has quickly become one of the most intricate and detailed sandbox titles out there. Successive updates and DLC have added new maps, scenarios, and building pieces to the game that offer more opportunities for players to let their imagination run wild. But how does it hold up after all these years?
Let’s Get Creative!
Creativity is Space Engineers bread and butter, providing you with numerous ways to bring your dreams to life; well so long as it pertains to space or engineering or tech. At a glance, it has all the trimmings of your average crafting survival game. You have to mine to get resources; keep on top of dwindling survival meters; build structures and new machines to build more things – and so on and so forth. That level of familiarity alone should be enough to at least get your attention if you are into your sandbox survival titles. But Space Engineers stands apart thanks to the surprising amount of depth and creative potential it offers in comparison to some of its contemporaries.
The game throws you into a number of sci-fi environments, whether it be a lush garden world or the vast emptiness of space; the choice is yours. As such everything is very much themed the same way, allowing you to build and create your dream starbase and starcraft. The game features an extensive library of blocks for you to make whatever you want. With edge blocks, small blocks, and more precisely trimmed blocks – to narrow things down – almost anything you build can look streamlined and designed to perfection. Building a sprawling space station is fun and rewarding, but really, it’s not what you can make in Space Engineers, but rather the ability to make anything that makes it stand out.
I am blown away by how much freedom players are given to create and bring their vision to life. The best example of this is the ability to craft your own starship in the game. Your ship can look however you want it to, so long as you have the right parts to make it work. You can make the worlds longest starfighter or even the most rudimentary hunk of junk that the galaxy has ever seen. You’re even able to download and play in user-created worlds, as well as spawn in user-created ships; most of which are absolutely jaw-dropping. For Star Wars fans, you’ll be able to find practically every ship from the movies; even a fully functioning Death Star. The creative potential Space Engineers offers is endless and more detailed than other games like it; which should at least be enough to warrant a space on your Steam wishlist.
The Final Frontier
Outside of its creative intricacies and variety, Space Engineers gives players a sprawling sandbox to explore and create in. These are no small sandboxes either, seemingly reaching 1,000,000,000 km in diameter, which is a whole lotta room. Procedurally generated comets and asteroids floating around space can be used to build forward bases and outposts; or, if it’s abundant in resources, your very own space mine. You can also encounter signals, passing ships, and other random events that inject a bit more life into the sandbox. However, some of my favourite moments came when I was taking a well-deserved break, and sat staring longingly into the cosmos. It might not be the most beautiful depiction of space I’ve seen in a video game, but it’s still one hell of a view.
Space isn’t your only option, however, as you are also able to build on and explore planets and moons. These celestial bodies come with their own stunning scenery and terrain to traverse. Depending on what planet you’re on, there will also be unique climates and environments, as well as varying gravitational forces and atmospheres. This not only adds an extra level of variety to an already varied game but opens new avenues for creative inspiration and opportunity.
Fun, Flight, and Physics (oh my!)
Space Engineers’ roots may lie in crafting and creativity, but it still has a number of systems at play that help heighten the experience. The big one is the realistic physics system. Space Engineers has a built-in volumetric-based physics engine; which basically means that blocks, structures and practically everything else in the game has their own mass and weight relative to their size and other factors. For example, running into a floating ship will make it slowly started to tumble away thanks to zero gravity. The presence of zero gravity also means that you can have a lot of fun just messing around in space.
Going on a spacewalk from asteroid to asteroid feels remarkably enjoyable thanks to your trusty jetpack and the aforementioned zero-gravity. You can also fly around space at what feels like near-lightspeed, as you zoom past ships and barren rocks like a human comet. It is equal parts fun and concerning, especially if you turn off your jetpacks stabilisers; meaning that if you reach max velocity, you won’t slow down. So before you go zooming around space like an inept Superman, make sure you aren’t on a collision course with a stray asteroid. You won’t immediately turn into a bloody paste, but you most certainly will die on impact. The game’s dedication to scientific realism is a big part of what makes it unique; contributing to much of the games hilarity and distinct feel. But this realism doesn’t stop with physics.
Almost everything in the game can be created, damaged and destroyed. I discovered this myself when using a mining ship to tear through an asteroid. Accidentally bashing around the rocky interior of an asteroid resulted in several of my ships components becoming damaged. Don’t feel bad if you constantly crash your ship into every little thing though, getting used to those realistic physics can take a while. I feel this is where the engineering part comes in most. You’ll have to keep on top of welding things back together; saw away old base parts and contraptions; and plan out more efficient ways to complete tasks with the help of high tech machinery. You are very much a jack of all trades: part engineer, scientist, astronaut, architect, and repairman, making for an incredibly diverse array of gameplay mechanics. Speaking of which, you are also a little bit of a mechanic too.
Awaiting Further Instruction
I have praised this game for its complexity and detail. But, as a new player, I found trying to learn it all the toughest part of the experience. Starting off in the games tutorial scenario, I thought I was in for a helpful learning experience. I was given prompts, hints, and tips from a bot in text chat dubbed Good.bot; who wasn’t too dissimilar from that of a Microsoft support AI. I could seemingly ask them questions in chat and get a response, which was nice. The rest of the tutorial, however, was not.
Some parts of the tutorial were straightforward, like repairing a broken solar panel and mining for iron. But other tasks were incredibly vague in what they asked me to do. For example, a task to replenish my O2 and H2 seemed pretty simple. What should’ve been a 2-minute task took an embarrassingly long time. What’s more embarrassing though is the fact I never completed it. I’d done what it asked and replenished my respective meters however clearly not the way the tutorial wanted me to. Turns out there was a broken pipeline that had to be repaired for the machine to work properly. Silly as it sounds, nothing in the task description mentioned anything about repairing a tube or connector – especially when as a new player, they all looked intact. Other tasks had a similarly vague description that left out important details, leaving you to figure things out.
With all of its complexities and small gameplay elements, I expected Space Engineers to be more accommodating to a newbie such as myself. Tutorials aren’t supposed to hold your hand, but they should at least feel focused and clear. I’ve played numerous crafting and survival games in my time and every one of them was easy to pick up and get into. The prospect of unlimited crafting potential and variety should be something that gets you excited to play a game; but instead, the level of depth becomes daunting. What should be enticing is made off-putting by a lack of effort to ease in new players, something characterised by the fact the game directs you to youtube for its tutorials.
Alone in Space
On a smaller note, I highly recommend you play this game with friends. As fun as the game can be, my experience as a solo player felt incredibly empty and lifeless. Space Engineers is, quite simply, a game made for messing around with friends. Build and do whatever you want in solo play, but outside of its linear scenarios, it just isn’t as fun.
The fact you have such a vast open-world sci-fi sandbox should tell you that you shouldn’t be in it alone. Lobbies can house 16 players, meaning you could easily orchestrate some of the most intense and epic sci-fi battles ever; and with your own creations. The latest warfare update has added a number of new toys for PvP to make this even more of a reality. The idea of having a large fleet battle with the game’s destructibility and physics should be enticing to any sci-fi enthusiast. Even getting together and building something as a team would feel much more rewarding and fun than going at it alone. So if I was to recommend getting this game at all, I’d say to bring along some buddies too; it’s bound to make the experience far more memorable.
With a familiar array of systems and an outrageous variety of crafting options, Space Engineers gives you all the tools you need to make your imagination a reality. It is an experience to be shared with others in whatever way you can imagine, whether that be a large scale ship battle, or racing through space like a human meteor shower. After several hours with Space Engineers, I am left feeling one thing: Inspired. It is a living workshop of the human mind, giving players a fantastic creative outlet for their wildest imagination; seeing that imagination shared with others is what makes this game so special, and why I recommend this game to anyone with a desire to create.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5
You can purchase Space Engineers on Steam right here
You can purchase Space Engineers on Xbox right here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.