I hate early access. But I love early access. On the one hand, it allows hundreds, if not thousands, of subpar games to flood the market, while on the other it can occasionally produce real gems that may never have seen the light of day. Yes, our Steam discovery queue is inundated with developers that take PvP-orientated open world crafting survival games to a level that is almost fetishistic, but dig through the piles of rubbish and you might just find your next favourite title.
Early Access is, and likely always will be, a gamble. But sometimes with gambling, you can hit the jackpot. Whether they are still in development or have faced the trials and tribulations of development hell and come out the other end grinning, these are just some of the gold-chip titles that should be in everyone’s library.
4) Project Zomboid
Hold on a second: crafting? Survival? Zombies?! Wasn’t I just going on about how everybody is sick and tired of this kind of game?
Well yes, you caught me. It’s true, Project Zomboid is an isometric crafting survival game where the primary threat is being torn apart by zombies. However, there are two things to note about this title: Firstly, it was actually in development well before the recent influx of zombie survival games – I, for one, have been a proud backer for the last five years. Secondly, unlike many other early access titles of the same genre, this one is actually fun to play. It’s already a good game, even without the new development phases that are just around the bend.
The thing that makes PZ stand out as a good early access title, however, is the community engagement. Little things like a consistently-deliver weekly blog, featuring screenshots from the community, even hiring developers from the ranks of the modders. There is little to no distance between the developers, the community managers, and the fans. This is one of the strengths of early access, as it allows the fans to help guide where they want the game to go. And Project Zomboid capitalizes on that fabulously.
Sometimes, development goes slowly. Developers can be inexperienced, there can be funding issues, real life problems or even outright disasters. In the worst case, this results in projects being abandoned altogether. In best cases, patches and updates can become few and far between, or turn into a series of small adjustments that don’t make much of a real difference to the game.
Subnautica doesn’t go down this route even a jot. Every update that they push out is polished and significant. Whether it’s introducing new creatures, new models, new graphics, new mechanics or new vehicles, when there’s an update to Subnautica, you can bet you’ll be in for some serious discovery.
What results is a game where every update feels like it’s a huge step forward. They have some great trailers to go along with the changes as well – definitely an excellent way to keep the hype train rolling. While the patches themselves are pretty much as buggy as you would expect, large updates rather than small additions make me quiver with excitement when I see a new development. Never a disappointment when it comes to Subnautica updates!
I’ve always wondered what happened to surprise in gaming. Discovering things for yourself is half the fun of buying a new game, and when you have already watched all the trailers and all the developer’s notes and commentary, it can feel like you’ve spoiled it for yourself. Unfortunately, with big AAA games, this is all a part of the process – they have to build hype because sales volumes are what indicates a successful game. Hide that info, and you won’t build hype.
However, indie devs and games like Factorio don’t have to subscribe so much to that strategy. Unlike an AAA project, not every indie game has to sell hundreds of thousands of copies to be considered a success. Factorio didn’t have all of its inner workings discovered before release, which resulted in a game that gave players the tools to enjoy themselves, but left it up to the audience on how to best make use of them.
The reason Factorio did early access right is because it produced a great game, but didn’t feel the need to spoil everything along the way in order to feed the hype beast. That’s not something that could have been easily achieved through traditional publishing strategies.
1) Kerbal Space Program
Of course, this one was going to be at the top of the list. Kerbal Space Program from Squad is probably one of the most well-known and well-regarded early access games in the industry. In fact, I would remove the “early access” qualifier altogether – it is simply one of the best simulations ever made.
Maybe it’s the explosions, maybe it’s the tongue-in-cheek humour, maybe it was the dedication of the devs to not only see the game through to version 1.0 but to keep creating content well after release. Community-made mod support, excellent response times to issues, a genuine love for what they have created – Squad not only made a fantastic game, but they nailed the community involvement aspect as well.
Honestly, even if you don’t like simulators, space travel or even games in general, this is still one that is worth picking up. You may find that you are quickly converted not only to the early access strategy but to an entirely new genre of entertainment as well.
Should there be any other games added to this list? Let us know in the comment sections below, and remember to stay tuned to The Nerd Stash for all your gaming, comic and movie needs!
A serial hobbyist, Jack loves everything from blacksmithing to brewing – and, of course, the occasional video game.