I want you to join me for a thought experiment. Assuming you’re in a comfy chair right now, I want you to sit back, shut your eyes and drift…drift away to a world ten years ago…drift away to a world before Minecraft and DayZ. Yes, this is a world before Early Access. A world where me-too survival games haven’t become a genre of their own. Magical, isn’t it? Look, just over that ridge: it’s a game developer coming up with an innovative idea for a new game instead of slapping a hunger meter on a DayZ clone! But now we have to return to the present, a world where Steam is mired with all manner of pre-release sludge.
It’s sad, I know…but there’s still a glimmer of hope. We can’t escape from the zombie games or the survival games – there’s much too much money in those things now. Maybe, though, we can find survival games being done right. Let’s take a look at Empyrion: Galactic Survival, for instance. It’s not perfect, but it’s more perfect than most. You don’t punch trees and, what’s more, there’s no zombies. Is that a refreshing breeze I feel?
Empyrion has you playing as a spaceman marooned on a distant planet. Your only supplies are what’s stored on the escape pod you landed in; there’s some raw material for building structures and gear, some fuel to power your construction device and enough food and oxygen to last for a couple days. Naturally, you’ll want to find a means to replenish these meager supplies lest that food and oxygen run out without anything to spare. This means going out and exploring the world, digging up minerals and hunting alien life forms. You’ll also need to build extractors to pull oxygen from water so you can continue breathing, which is a vital activity when it comes to survival.
In your average Early Access survival game, the developer would pat themselves on the back, order a pizza with their Kickstarter money and continue making plans to attend Indiecade and head a panel on innovation in games. Empyrion goes a step further, though. See, it’ll probably take a couple of hours to get your infrastructure set up so you can live comfortably on this alien world. Once that’s done, though, your game’s not over. If you look up in the sky, you’ll see distant worlds. They’re your destination.
Empyrion allows you to construct your own vehicles by accumulating more construction materials and putting in some design work. At first this is a standard ground-based craft that’s useful for getting around to mining spots and avoiding hostile fauna. Later, though, you can strap an engine onto some blocks and take off into outer space. The planet you were marooned on is just one of many, after all. You’re free to leave and check out the others. Each has its own map and alien life to check out as well as minerals to mine and even pre-built structures to explore. For bonus points, grab a friend and try the multiplayer! In my experience it works well and doesn’t need too much finagling to reach stability, which is a plus.
At the time of this review Empyrion: Galactic Survival is still very much in the “Early” phase of Early Access at the moment, as opposed to the “still in Early Access because it’s taboo to criticize a game that’s in Early Access” phase. This means its graphics and animation are kind of crappy and there’s only one solar system to explore at the moment. Still, that should last you quite a while, and the developers eventually promise whole galaxies of goodness to check out. If that happens, well, we’ve certainly got a winner on our hands.