Oxygen Not Included – Early Access Impressions
Klei Entertainment have made some fine games over the years, everything from the Shank series of side-scrolling brawlers, to stealthy turn-based strategy Invisible Inc. Their latest game, Oxygen Not Included which has recently launched on Steam Early Access is somewhat more akin to the brilliant Don’t Starve in that you are trying to keep alive in an alien environment, focusing on the essentials at first to survive, before turning to the nicetities that you have always wanted.
Oxygen Not Included is a space-colony simulator where three random Duplicants, as your pseuod-humans are called, emerge onto a randomly generated asteroid with the simple goal – survive, then thrive. It sounds so straightforward, that is until you realise that balancing the basic requirements to survive of your Dupes, with their personal requirements to thrive, is like trying to keep a dozen plates spinning at once, all the while juggling on a unicycle.
As long as there is breathable oxygen in your starting location on your asteroid, getting your colony started is simple. Your Dupes need somewhere to sleep and some toilet facilities. They have a ration box on arrival, but that only contains 20 basic rations, you will soon enough need to consider harvesting plants on the asteroid, or start making your own food. To make your own food in the early stages of asteroid life requires a Microbe Musher, which needs to be powered by a Manual Generator. Yes, your Dupes are the proverbial hamsters spining a wheel to keep the lights on.
You can’t just build these new structures without a care in the world. First of all, you need the essential materials which means digging around your starting location to gather the required metal to build these fancy devices. Then, once you have your Dupe running on the wheel, you need to connect the power. The vast majority of structures require some combination of electricity and water or gas. To work, these basic utilities need to be connected, this invariably means digging through more of the asterioid to ensure you can run the required cabling and piping from generators and pumps to the final destination.
The theory is straightforward enough, and you can quickly get a basic colony started. But, like Don’t Starve, things become more complicated the more you play, and an element of planning becomes essential to anything, and everything, you do. A simple misjudgement can lead to disaster. I caused a flood by digging through some solid rock, which left just a thin layer of sand to support a large mass of water. Soon enough, water was flooding through my colony. Fortunately, my layout ensured the water flowed in several directions and didn’t drown any of my poor Dupes. As you can see in the image below, I was even able to store some of the flood water in a neat new cave!
That wasn’t my only disaster though, much to my sadness. Rather than learning from my mistakes of the Great Flood, I pushed on ever faster, with less planning than ever before. As the Cycles (the day/night system) progress, you are able to Print new Dupes from the Printing Pod. Each Dupe has a different skill set with skills offering buffs to their matching activities, along with expectations that impact on their stress levels. At the higher levels, they come to expect better food and stress relieving massage tables and artwork.
As my colony expanded, I had the pressure to deliver for my Dupes expectations and set about creating a Research Station and Super Computer to allow me to progress through the tech tree. My short term goal was to build a fridge (how exciting!) to ensure the food I was creating would last for more than a few days at a time. However, with an expanding colony, the pressure on my small oxygen units that use algae as a resource was increasing. The next step? Build a Air Scrubber to remove of the carbon dioxide that was building up in the atmosphere. The only trouble? The Air Scrubber required both power, and a water source to function. I built a Water Pump in one of my water pools, then set about digging through the rock to connect the wires and pipes to get my Air Scrubber operational.
This had the unfortunate side effect of letting water leak through from my water pool…into a small area that my Dupe had accidentally bricked herself into. There was no escape, and by the time I realised she was drowning, it was too late.
From all the dark clouds in that above image, you can see that the air quality isn’t great in my Colony. My easily accessible algae sources are running low, which means my usual oxygen generating units aren’t functioning. I will need to get the Air Scrubber working, which will mean sending more Dupes to finish the word Ada started. I fear I’m on the verge of a Colony collpase.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Oxygen Not Included has to offer. The Early Access release saw a massive update to the agricultural systems, where you can grow your own crops…with all of the expected requirements of temperature, water and oyxgen that goes along with farming. There’s a lot more to come from this game, I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops and evolves during its time in Early Access, it should be fun.