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.