Ok so I broke my own rules here and picked this game up because if thereís one thing Minecraft clones tend to require its time and effort to learn about and for me to put in more than the trail 9 minute limit before Iíve seen most of the bells and whistles. Sure some games you can see a lot of in 9 minutes and decide but now always. I immediately regret the decision to jump into this title as I went in blind. The Marketing for this game pretty much is ďThis is Minecraft but better because its Sci-FiĒ which of course means before anyone moans I can fairly compare it to Minecraft and other clone games available. It also placed itself nicely into the XBLIG uprising promotional event. Now before anyone asks why I didnít look at a title from this promotion before now, itís simply because many other indie game reviewers are covering them and my approach with reviews of any kind has always been to try and avoid swamping the internet with all media covering one game. Thatís not to say I wonít look at more of the uprising games but as I normally like to hang back and review games after theyíve been out a while Iíd rather put reviews out when it has a chance to help by bringing the name back up rather than just throw my rubbish into the pile of other reviews and have it buried under far better writers articles.
The game started poorly when it decided to not only be in widescreen only format but also in HD only format, Indie developers let me spell this one out again. Not everyone buying your games will have a HD Widescreen TV and leaving off the option to switch this is diabolical. Now thatís not to say a game with this problem canít score well but the game has to be able to make up for the problem. Xenominer manages to turn what in Dead Rising was a fairly annoying minor issues you could work round into a rather major issue. Tiny text. Text so tiny I canít read it meaning its possibly worse than dead rising which I could just about read. Due to the reliance on a tutorial to understand some aspects of the game I had a really rough introduction to the game mechanics by having to try and read what I could and piece together the rest. The text problem extends further than just the tutorial screens as you have two ways to tell what blocks youíre trying to mine, looking at it where it will identify the blocks or by sight alone, the problem being in a new game where you are required very quickly to mine a certain kind of block youíre going to have an issue figuring out quite which block it is.
However poor text sizing is just the tip of the crapberg in this game as it has some rather big issues of besides this. The game is unbalanced, I know that sounds stupid for a single player game but its true. In Block mining games the general practise is, you get what you need to start out fairly easily, in Minecraft this is building a crafting table which is made from wood, in this game itís a centrifuge which is made from silicon, copper and iron and until you have one of these you canít build blocks that provide lighting. Sounds fine right ? Well it would be until you realise the rarity of iron is close to that of Minecraft Iron meaning you have to dig for it often in the dark hoping to find it and meaning identifying a block by sight is near impossible. This is the kind of balance I mean as rather than a standard progression system the game forces you to blindly slog for the first 30 minutes of the game before you seem to be getting anywhere.
The Balance issues however donít go away, oh no. Making the Minecraft comparison again at night in Minecraft youíre kind of screwed early on and if you donít have a house or hole in the ground to call home thereís every chance you will die to some monster of the night, it is however a rare thing to find you being killed by hunger at night especially if you started with a full hunger bar. For those wondering I am of course referring to Minecraft PC with the hunger bar because as of writing this itís not in the 360 version yet. In Xenominer you arbitrary depleting thing is your oxygen which you can only replenish by gathering Ice to use, ice which is a non renewable item in the game. Sure you can use earth to replenish your O2 but it requires far more than ice and youíll find early on your O2 runs out quite quickly. Now to tie the two issues together as unlike Minecraft the day is lethal to you here, not spawning avoidable enemies lethal but a star going overhead that pumps out radiation which if youíre exposed to a high enough level for long enough it causes a build up of radiation in you and if left unchecked you die. So during the Xenominer day you have to hide inside, however without any kind of cryo sleep unit you have to wait it out and your oxygen levels will drop, in one full day cycle on Xenominer initially you need 2 full refills of oxygen to survive it if you started the night with a near full tank. Ice is mostly only available on the surface and is very rare under the surface meaning you have to stock up for the night and if you happen to run out you end up running out into the radiation to try and get enough Ice to stop you being killed. Now you might think it would be for example my own fault for not being prepared, I went underground on the first night with 64 Ice. What the game doesnít tell you is you canít queue O2 production and thereís no extra storage, so on the first night when my tank was open I set the system to convert all my Ice to O2 hoping it would keep me stocked up. The thing the game didnít reveal to me was I only needed 1-2 Oxygen units to fill the tank so I wasted most of the Ice and promptly suffocated.
The game then respawned me, right out in the open in the middle of the day so I spent 30 seconds running for cover and ended up with near 75% irradiation, narrowly avoiding death. This is yet another issue as with Minecraft you can set your respawn point using a bed, with Xenominer Iím yet to find a way to do this meaning you can end up in a respawn death cycle. Onto more of the problems, you have to power your mining tools that mean you have to place down solar panels and be within their range. As far as I know solar panels have to be placed above ground but you can gain power by being underground near them and you can expand their wireless power routing with various items. Other problems include; unclear instructions such as asking if I want to save without telling me it meant the automated bot code Iíd changed rather than the map, long load times Iíve managed 1 minute as my shortest to load planet Dave and a full 2 minutes loading at worst, a tutorial that seemingly just cuts out, a progression system that seemingly just stops, an unclear advancement process, the fact the special effect sounds canít be turned off using the effects option under audio, the fact there is little music and the sound effects become grating over time.
Now to give you an idea of how I used my 5 hours time on this game hereís a pretty accurate recreation of what happened.
Idiots log game
[color=olive]Oh look it has random generation, seed ID and naming of the world, I shall call mine Dave because naming a planet Dave is a great idea and an obscure film reference.
Hey the computer is talking to me and itís called Dai-z or something like that and nick named Daisy, I wonder if thatís actually a really intelligent sci-fi reference or an attempt to get an idiotic reviewer like me to add in the name of Day Z and try and get it attention that way ?
Ah thanks computer so I need to collect Ice and convert it to oxygen using the on board converter, also the computer cores are potentially scattered.[/color]
[color=olive]Ah ha I have ice and I have a full oxygen tank now, Iíll just mine some more Ice, whatís this a tutorial pop up, oh mine 10 ice to continue and use the ice to restore your oxygen tank. Didnít I just do that ? [/color]
[color=olive]Oh now I have to recharge my mining tools by placing a solar array, ok Iíll just place this here[/color]
[color=olive]Whatís this giant green mushroom like thing, thereís a hole in it, screw it Iím going in.
Cool a grav lift and possible alien life about, and a nice minning drone of some kind, Iíll just program it and set it working.
Now which button is activate, I canít tell the language but I think the tutorial said something about later being able to translate this, oh well Iíll go on the tunnelling command and press this.
Do I want to save, yes I want to save, why would I not want to save the game ?
Wait where did the tunnelling command string go, nuts the save must be for the command not the game as a whole, so I now have a useless robot that canít really do much and I canít program as its in a coded language.[/color]
[color=olive]Whatís this a star is rising thing, oh it says I should seek cover, fine Iíll hide in the mushroom and work from there.[/color]
[color=olive]Damn my oxygen is low again Iíll just use all the ice and hope it stores it for me save me having to keep stopping the recharge the O2 units.[/color]
[color=olive]Still not safe to go out yet I might as well mine a bit[/color]
[color=olive]Oh great Iím out of O2 again, Iíll have to run out and mine some.[/color]
[color=olive]Crap crap crap Iím out of power, where did I place that solar unit I need to recharge Iíll have to move that.
OK charged up I can get this ice and not die of radiation exposure.
[color=olive]Damn it why have I respawned in the open Iím gonna die again, run for it.[/color]
[color=olive]I canít believe I survived that, Iím damn lucky.[/color]
[color=olive]Oh the star has gone down and I can go out, best move the solar panel closer and get some more Ice in ready.[/color]
[color=olive]Right Iím set up, sort of. I have a nice little base thanks to the aliens ship thing, it provides cover and I have power, now time to set up construction[/color]
[color=olive]Why the heck canít I find any damn Iron, iron is all I need not to progress.
Cor its dark down this tunnel[/color]
[color=olive]Phew I finally have the construction station up
Ok just need to get some ceramics again, what on earth is the missing thing I need to make them Rag something.[/color]
[color=olive]So earth was what I needed ? Just normal top soil stuff, who on earth came up with that idea.[/color]
[color=olive]So relay up and solar power being transmitted to this area.
Now to set up this computer unit.[/color]
[color=olive]How do you set up this damn computer unit ?
I canít see any extra construction options.[/color]
[color=olive]Gah maybe I need to have more units running, back to it.[/color]
[color=olive]Damn Iím running out of storage space, I need to make a storage capsule.[/color]
[color=olive]I canít find aluminium, really ?[/color]
[color=olive]So storage unit up and running but I need to figure out why the 5 computer units Iím running are only letting me make a gold Bar a wall piece and a floor piece and thatís all ?[/color]
[color=olive]Iím fed up of this Iím nicking the light from the alien ship so I can see what Iím mining better[/color]
[color=olive]Maybe I need more power units or something.[/color]
[color=olive]So I have 5 solar panels, 8 computers up and running, enough copper to make a second Scotland yard and Iíve made a couple of wall pieces of floors yet I can still only make basic stuff, what on earth is with this game Iím 5 hours in and I have no idea how to progress, do I need yet more computers up and running or something stupid ?
Iím done, this game has had 5 hours of my time and its seriously giving me nothing back, maybe the developers didnít think anyone would play this far in so havenít planned this far into the game ?[/color]
To give you a comparision, by 5 hours into Minecraft I was living on a wooden beach side 2 story small shack, with a small farm, fishing pond, tool shed and equipment and a fairly substantial mine all while working on a second better home having ventured out and collected clay for bricks along with a large tent on the beach in case I had anyone else want to join and play and you know what it probably would have taken less time only I kept getting lost or being killed and having to stumble blindly round to try and find where my base was.
So as this is an XBLIG uprising title I feel I should now say some positives about the title so these quotes can be taken, used out of context and made to make it sound like I support the game.
The game has a far better story than Minecraft as quite honestly Minecraft has next to no story.
The game manages to create the precise atmosphere it was aiming for with a true sense of isolation and gives you a true sense youíre on an alien planet just trying to survive as a true cast away.
The Minimap is a great idea and works very well.
Ok thatís enough positivity back to finishing off the problems. While the games addition of the mining laser is a nice concept it does remove the enjoyment of seeing something swinging at blocks to mine them and the addition of an auto collection system while it stops moments of mining items and them dropping into pits it does seem too clinical. The Sound effect for the laser is probably one of the only sounds you hear other than footsteps and the sound is very annoying a sort of wave rush noise only without the enjoyment of a crashing wave and as such not relaxing in the slightest. While the laser gives you a longer range than in other games but a far less enjoyable experience. The other aspect being the sense of progress on an individual block as the progress shown on blocks is pretty much the block lighting up and cracks appearing the issue is itís not really progressive it just seemingly lights up on all blocks.
In conclusion the game seems to want to be a 360 version tekkit the problem is the games turns out to be tekkit but without the solid base game of Minecraft under it meaning the game becomes the equivalent of tekkit where you have to find Oil before you can do anything at all even make lighting. The game doesnít end up enjoyable nor does it give any decent sense of progress.
Verdict: This game wants to be a far more advanced game than it is and while the potential is there to be great itís a long way from their not only lacking a decent sense of progress but also the social aspect of Minecraft style games meaning you canít show off your constructions or progress. This combined with so many faults make this possibly one of the worst Minecraft clones Iíve played in a while. I can see Iím going to end up looking at this game again in the future once work has been done on it. If its left as is I can say it will forever be a definite avoid.
Itís not unplayable but itís a broken buggy mess with plenty of other issues in the game meaning it was a very tedious and un enjoyable to play with horrible pacing to the game. If it takes me longer to set up than many games who give me that time only in story length then youíre pacing far too slowly. I want to feel like Iíve got somewhere in the 5 hours play time and even the fact I spent 2 weeks learning to play Gymnast that felt less of a grind than Xenominer.
Closing and finishing up bits In case this review looks like a copy and paste it is and its from my other blog [shameless plug alert]
If you take the title literally it means your mining an alien, Some part of me wonders already if there isn't a porn film called Alien Miner already