I’ve been spending some time with Factorio, a unique new crafting game from a small team in Prague. Currently available as a paid alpha. Its almost difficult to describe Factorio, and more difficult to pin down exactly what makes it so utterly compelling. At its core this is a survival and crafting game about building massive automated factories to enable you to survive and flourish in a hostile alien world, an interesting take on a somewhat swamped genre.
In your typical crafting game you’ll start and then run off to manually farm resources, Factorio only lets you do this for a couple of minutes until you have enough to start your factory… now the real fun begins.
You find you need some iron plates which require iron ore and the coal to smelt it, so go ahead and drop down a couple of mining drills on the resources. Now your coal and iron are being mined for you, but just how to get it to the the furnaces? Why you build some conveyor belts and robot arms of course! Now you’ve got both of the required resources being automatically inserted into your furnaces, just build some more robot arms to pull the steel plates out of the furnace and drop it into a storage chest – isn’t that easier than running back and forth for 2 hours just to get some building materials?
The end goal of the main game is to build a missile defense system to protect the rescue fleet that’s coming to get you, but really your goal is to make a factory so efficient and so well designed that you’re almost no longer needed, if done well you can make fully self-sustaining systems, the meat of the challenge is figuring out the best designs to keep the ever increasing complexity of your automation running smoothly. There is a large tech tree which adds more abilities and features, you will need to build labs to research these, and the labs must be kept fed with different levels of science units, with each level being more complex to build than the last.
There is a great sense of satisfaction when you evolve your factory from a set of coal powered mines and furnaces up to a sprawling mass of electrical poles and self sustaining systems. To me that is where the fun comes from, learning new and improved ways to keep that assembler from running out of raw materials and bringing the whole thing to a halt.
I have played enough to get a reasonable way through the tech tree, there is still much for me to discover, such as logistics robots and trains that ferry materials to where they need to go, and I’m looking forward to getting to play with the new toys once I research them.
Currently there is a basic combat system that starts out with just defending yourself from aliens known as Biters, but evolves into building turrets to protect you factory and then getting enough firepower together to attack the enemy spawn points to gather alien artifacts. Combat is simple but effective, you may forget about defence at first, it was something of a learning experience when I got overrun by Biters.
Factorio isn’t overly impressive graphically, but it does have a style reminiscent of many classic 90’s real time strategy titles. Everything is relatively lo-fi and pixelated, but it’s definitely functional and has a certain charm to it.
The game is still in alpha (available from £10 to £28, depending on the package you choose), but there is more than enough content to get stuck into right now. It’s a unique and extremely addictive experience that I would definitely recommend. If you’re not convinced there’s even a small demo available which gives you 3 campaign missions, easily enough to figure out the mechanics.
I have really enjoyed my time with Factorio, and look forward to more updates and content as it becomes available.