Title: Oxygen Not Included
Available On: PC
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Genre: Simulation, Colony Building, Survival
Official Site: https://www.kleientertainment.com/games/oxygen-not-included
Release Date: May 18, 2017
Where To Buy: Steam
Oxygen Not Included is still very early in the Early Access program, so this is less a review and more impressions on what to expect if you decide to pick this one up. Developer Klei has a pretty darn good track record, so this should not be a game that gets abandoned or goes completely downhill. Here’s what you can expect when you load up Oxygen Not Included.
Oxygen Not Included is a classic game of “how many plates can I spin before they all come crashing down?” Your colony is running out of water, so you build a water purifier to tap into the polluted water next door. Well, that produces carbon dioxide, and soon your workers can barely breathe. So you build air purifiers. Those require more power. So you build a power station. That produces dangerous toxins. So you have to pipe that elsewhere. So it pollutes more water. Water that your colony needed, to begin with. Eventually, your colony becomes this sprawling mess of ductwork, pipes, electrical cables, and machinery. Eventually, your colony is going to fall apart. And it is great fun getting to that point.
Don’t let the cutesy artwork fool you. Like Klei’s Don’t Starve before it, Oxygen Not Included can be brutal and unforgiving. In it, you take command of an underground, randomly generated space colony. There are various tasks you can set up your works to do, like mine for resources, cook food, explore, etc. You don’t control them directly, but rather assign orders and priorities that they take care of as they see fit. And everything is trying to kill your poor little workers. Toxins, monsters, unbreathable gas… It is your job to try to keep your workers alive and happy as long as possible.
Not only do your workers get killed by everything, but they also get stressed by everything. And when they are stressed, they are less effective workers. Some workers are picky eaters and will get stressed out by low-quality food (like the diarrhea-inducing mush bars, which are made out of dirt and water). Some need art around them to keep from getting stressed. Still, others just need a massage on occasion. There is a ton of stuff to balance, and that’s where some of the problems with Early Access come in.
Oxygen Not Included is a game with a ton of different systems, and not a lot of explanation of how they work. This is common of survival games; players die, they learn, and they do better next time. Since the game is going through a ton of changes, several of the systems can turn in a heartbeat, and viable methods can cause serious unforeseen problems from update to update. This is to be expected of a game in Early Access, so it is not a huge problem, but it can be frustrating in trying to learn the game.
More unnerving, and my biggest issue with the game so far is the lack of goal or direction. Many survival games have ambiguous targets and no real end game, but will often provide smaller targets that players can shoot for. Again, this may be something that is down the pipe for the developers, but Oxygen Not Included does not seem to have any of those targets at the moment. Maybe I just haven’t explored the world of space colony “Systemic Crashpad” enough yet, but it seems to me like there are not yet “goals” in the game. That can be a big turn-off for some and, again, those targets may be included in a future update.
That said, Oxygen Not Included is in remarkable shape already for an Early Access game. I have seen zero crashes, no game killing bugs, and things work, for the most part, the way the developers intend. It seems as polished, if not more so than many games are at their full release. It’s a solid change of pace from many of the survival/crafting/roguelike/etc. games out there.
Verdict: Oxygen Not Included scratches a lot of itches that other survival games can’t. The art style is great, there are a ton of variables and systems to balance, and it has a lot of polish for a game as early in development as it is. Developer Klei also has a pretty strong track record, so it is tough to recommend against their work. If you’re looking for a tough as nails colony builder with a bit of a twist to it, it comes highly recommended. If you’re skeptical of Early Access or you need games with clearly defined direction and goals, you may want to steer clear for now.
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