REVIEW: XenoMiner

To date, I have not played Minecraft. Yep. Go ahead, ridicule me in secret. I had my reasons, some of them were even valid, but when the Uprising games were announced, I knew I’d be getting my first taste of the voxel crafters with XenoMiner (80 MSP), Gristmill Studios‘ take on the genre that transfers the setting to space.

The tutorial, in the form of a female AI known as DAI-SE (Daisy), is with you for the first five to ten minutes, explaining, albeit oh-so-briefly, a little bit about your situation (only survivor of a crash, loss of memory), that you need to survive on this hostile planetoid, and gather components to eventually make an escape attempt. It’s not simply a matter of digging or crafting. You really do start out with nothing, having to monitor your battery and oxygen levels constantly. Instead of hunger or the physical threat of an enemy, such as the ever-popular zombies or ‘creepers’ (as in Minecraft), you’re fighting a more realistic adversary here; the daily bombardment of radiation due to a rising and falling star, leaving the surface off-limits to you during its ascent. Parts of this review, including this sentence (ha!), were written as I waited between star-rise and star-set.

It is essential that you find or carve out a shielded refuge straight away, and build a centriforge. This is what will allow you to craft, using a combination of the copious terrain and the invaluable (but far less-prevalent) ores. You’re going to be digging. A lot. Don’t expect much help. Outside of the alien structure where you find your first AI bot, the land is untouched. As an experiment, I went for a walk, four game-days long, taking shelter under ‘ice trees’ when the radiation hit, finding massive, carved canyons and stretches of jagged mountains, some floating islands, but no sign of other alien tech or anything remarkable to report back on. Which sort of leads into my main beef with the game.

XenoMiner requires a huge commitment of time and resources to put together any kind of existence. Two hours in, I had crafted reserve oxygen tanks and hoarded plenty of ice, built an extensive base in the side of a mountain with a network of caves and precious ore, and found my first alien bot, which was gladly doing the digging / prospecting during the days (thanks to my modified programming) on my behalf. I wasn’t really ‘getting anywhere’, but I was surviving and learning.

Four hours on, I started building processing cores to boost DAI-SE’s creativity and build options. I was gaining some flexibility, making slow but actual progress. The ore I needed to craft certain items was finite, though, and even with the bot digging and collecting it for me (a clever program I spotted here), I rarely came across more than a handful of the blocks I needed, forcing me to prospect every night and in every direction, mostly in vain. Then, completely by chance, I discovered a cache of gold ore, and the doors, as the saying goes, opened wide to accept me. Six hours in, I had upgraded my P.I.C.K., allowing me to mine much faster and gather the tougher ores. I could also make upgrades to my suit, and build stronger / larger versions of all the equipment. Thanks to that gold and titanium, I was morphing into a badass.

Though again I was coming up against finite amounts of ore, with XenoMiner stringing me along with its classic carrot-on-a-stick gameplay, dropping the small rewards in my lap while moving the goal posts further and further down the field, demanding more ore for anything worthwhile. Gravity Boots are only a dream. Same with the mightier processors. Escape from this rock? Ha. Good joke, pal. The bots too, while cool and infinitely helpful, are a bit of puzzle currently. With most of the commands locked away by the developer (or held by the random person that’s able to decipher alien language and use it at will), you’ll be stuck with the standard orders and whatever snippets you find elsewhere.

The lack of a quick or auto-save hurts, forcing you back to the menu if you want to record any big changes. The threat of death erasing your progress (losing your possessions) of an hour or more is reason enough to save often. There’s also the possibility of an engine performance flaw. It may just be limited to me, but I suffered horrible pauses and hiccups as soon as my world had loaded (lasting about a minute and a half), and any time I moved from one area to the next. The more I altered the world, the worse it seemed to get, going from an annoyance to a real problem. I can’t hold it against the game based on one case, but it is worth mentioning if anyone else should have the same issue.

Approaching eight hours in play time, I’m nowhere near where the game wants me to be, but I’m still digging. I can understand the attraction of these games now. If you like what Minecraft represents, but love a greater challenge and have a ton of disposable free time, XenoMiner is a hell of a deal at 80 MSP, compared to other indie voxel-types. The emphasis on survival, the potential of the programmable bots to lessen the strain, and a general sense of purpose that’s missing from the more casual clones, gives the game a leg up at the final tally.

Need help? Keep up with the game’s Wiki page.


Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on The Indie Mine

17 thoughts on “REVIEW: XenoMiner”

  1. I know i hAd to do 2whole days worth work and I’m farther than u are when u put this up but i dontt know any more but i need gold for motherboards so ya i got small base good storage thinking of expanding any 1 know where to most comonly get gold tell me ty

    1. Outside of exploration / branching out / getting lucky, I think you’re on your own. Sorry. I always stumbled onto Gold by accident. Haven’t played the game in a few months now, maybe something’s been changed or made easier.

    2. the best way i have found to find gold is to just go to the layers pretty close to the bottom and look around in caves i cant even make motherboards yet but i have 100’s of bars worth i have more gold than copper

  2. On Xenominer: You pretty much had the same experience I did with it. I think the game starts off strong, and feels like a narrative-driven survival/mining game on an alien planet. I liked the reasoning behind staying inside during the day, it just felt genuine…but I never encountered anything else on the planet that made me feel like continuing onward past those first few days.

    I think it’s worth mentioning that Minecraft (at least, the PC release) actually -does- have both purpose and threat. I’ve played several voxel games on the XBLIG marketplace and the difference between any one of them and the original is seriously night and day.

    Minecraft gives you a virtually infinite space to explore, but generally populates it with what feels like a living world. Nearly everything within the game has rules and variability to it. Rainstorms occur randomly, lightning can strike trees (or creatures), setting them on fire…water and magma flows can be used, harnessed and redirected. Different materials have varying weights to them. If you feel like exploring, you might find deserts, tundras, swamps, hell…even villages with NPCs.

    And the crafting? You can make flint and steel, weapons, armor…you can even enchant them. Tables, stoves (which actually give off light when they’re active), chairs, doors, half-blocks, stairs, fences, ladders, windows, whatever. Not to mention switches, levers, resistors, hell…there’s a youtube video made by some guys who built a house that builds ITSELF. And foodstuffs! You can roast just about any animal for food, make mushroom soup, bake a cake.

    Plus, while all of these things are -there- as part of the world, your greater purpose is to find a way to the Netherrealm, fight the Endermen, defeat the Ender dragon. I wouldn’t say the game has a -plot- but it feels like such a cohesive experience that you can pretty much supply your own narrative your own based on how you explore.

    1. This review put me at a disadvantage, not having played Minecraft or the other voxel crafters, so I was in the dark on the full purpose of the games. Both Xenominer and Minecraft have goals and threats, true, though it sounds like Minecraft has more to it, certainly. Nothing’s going to dethrone the original. Millions of players can’t be wrong. You’ve got the inside track on that, as I know you’ve put in heavy time on it.

      I’ve been meaning to check out Xenominer again, now that the update has (supposedly) fixed the slowdown issues, and I know the Devs are working on texture packs and new items, etc. It’s fun to tinker around in the world. The space setting makes certain elements impossible (the villages you mentioned, storms, and the like), but there’s enough to build towards that it’s just way too easy to lose track of time. Somebody needs to monitor me while I play, limit the exposure…

    2. Hey, millions of people can be wrong about lots of things. Transformers, Nickelback, lobotomies, the Holocaust. 😛

      I hear you though. There’s just something about playing with blocks that I don’t think we ever really outgrow. I’d still suggest trying out some of the other voxel games on the market…once you’ve played a couple, the similarities, strengths and weaknesses of each start rising to the surface much more quickly.

    3. Nickelback in particular, I think. They made their money though.

      The kid in us never leaves, even when adult responsibilities and expectations try to force it out. I’m thankful for that. Sadly, I can’t say the same for available time. Between the indies and retail games, the schedule for each game is so tight I can’t fit too many more in. I’ve got partial completions on so many titles I can’t ever hope to catch up, on games that are truly deserving of that time as well. Long story short: I hope to play more, but it’s not looking too good.

    4. Here Here on the time issue! “Too many games not enough time!” Now if that isn’t a nerd talking I don’t know what is. If they would just stop making new games for a year or two then maybe I could catch up on some and really be looking forward to something new. 😀

      As for Xenominer and Minecraft. I have only played a few of the indie clones of Minecraft that I had purchased but never the original game itself and I did play the demo to Xenominer but since I had 3 clones already I chose not to purchase it. YET

    5. Rather than nerd, I prefer to think of it as being ‘culturally fluent’. 🙂 Know a little bit about a lot of things. Jack of All Trades, Master of None.

      You could definitely pass on XenoMiner for now. I really liked playing what I have so far, but if you’ve got other clones already, there’s still plenty of hours to be sunk there. Gamers’ appetites seem to be insatiable for crafters, so I doubt we’ve seen the last of the indie wannabes.

  3. You’re not the only one who’s run into performance issues. I find the game stutters/freezes for a few second every couple of minutes (though at irregular intervals – I once had three or four of these freezes in about a minute and a half, then none for a while).

    I think the problem I have with Xenominer is that with the best will in the world I still find this type of game boring. I like Terraria and Total Miner is ok, because in both cases there are clear goals. Total Miner demands that you get as deep underground as possible, and Terraria throws “woah, what the hell is that over there?” moments at you constantly as you roam.

    A lot of other voxel crafting games, including Minecraft itself, just don’t give me any reason to play. I think Xenominer is the same in that respect. It might be good if you like this genre, but I don’t so I can’t really comment…

    1. That was part of the reason I avoided Minecraft; it seemed fun, loved the creative aspect, but was lacking a concrete purpose. Not that it really needed one. LittleBigPlanet has prospered for the same reason, handing over its parts to gamers to do with as they please. The story levels are more or less inspiration for the editor. I can see the argument for and against these games.

      The other reason for staying away from it (Minecraft) was exactly what came to pass in XenoMiner; I’ve dropped a huge chunk of time into it, but I’ve really only dug into the surface a bit (pun intended). Unless you’re just there to poke around in the dirt, you have to make a pretty big commitment to the game if you’re going to fully enjoy it. I’ll go back to XenoMiner because I’ve already invested the time and MSP, but I don’t plan on starting in on Minecraft any time soon.

      And we’re not the only ones that came across the freezes and sputtering. Good to know, and the developer is aware of it. so once that update is set, I’ll be checking back in.

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