Monday, May 23, 2022

Prologue finally brings together the best of Subnautica and Cookie Clicker

If there was a way to liquefy the survival / crafting genre and inject it directly into my bloodstream, I would. Chopping down trees and turning useless junk into useful tools is something that really gets my engine going. I’ve never been so involved with building bases, so I prefer exploration-focused games like The Forest and Raft over more creative games like Minecraft and Valheim. The Planet Crafter: Prologue, which released on Steam last month, is my newest survival / crafting obsession. It combines the exploration of Subnautica with the hyper addictive progression of an idle game in a way that feels like it was made to ruin my life. I’m glad the prologue is a limited selection of what The Planet Crafter has to offer because if it hadn’t interrupted me after a few hours, I might not have been able to stop.


At first glance, The Planet Crafter doesn’t look like much. The first 30 to 40 minutes start like with Subnautica or Breathedge – you can leave your pod and collect resources in close proximity, but are limited to a short range as you only have a few seconds of oxygen before you have to walk back to the pod. You will have to spend some time collecting cobalt, iron, titanium and silicon, which are scattered around your capsule quite unnaturally, until you are able to make the necessary upgrades to venture further, like a bigger backpack, an oxygen tank, water bottles and the like flashlight.

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The goal of The Planet Crafter is not immediately clear. After making the first few upgrades, the quest log will disappear and you will have to figure out where to go and what to do for yourself. I found myself building whatever I had the resources to do just to see how it worked. After building a drill and wind turbine, followed by reading a series of informational screens in my pod, I finally realized the goal of The Planet Crafter: transform a desolate planet into a living, breathing world.

There are three development categories to be followed: pressure, heat and oxygen. Pressure is created by drilling into the ground, heat is created by building heating, and oxygen is created by growing planets. Setting up drills is easy, but it costs energy – hence the wind turbines.

Heaters require iridium, which you cannot find near your starter capsule. The same goes for vegetable tubes, which need a seed for plants to grow. To continue the terraforming process, you will need to go to the various crash sites around the world and remove them for materials. With the right resources, you can build bigger and better drills, heaters, and vegetable tubes that continually accelerate the terraforming process.

The Planet Crafter doesn’t care at all about the aesthetics or organization of your terraforming machines. You can place a drill anywhere on the floor and it will instantly increase your print production by 0.02 / s.If you run out of power you can build and record a wind turbine or solar panel anywhere in the world. No cables need to be laid or connections made. Whatever you build will add to the entire system no matter where you build it.

It may seem too simple, but this efficiency allows for more exploration and adventure. At least in the prologue there is no reason to put down roots and build a main hub somewhere. Just grab the precious resources, build your machines exactly where you are, and then move on to the next point of interest. Survival / crafting games tend to get bogged down in resource gathering and tricky systems, especially if you put a lot of energy into building bases, but The Planet Crafter knows how to keep things moving.

Planet Crafter 2

The three arms of terraforming are aided by custom progression paths that automatically unlock new blueprints as you build up pressure, heat, and oxygen. The first heater only produces 0.3 heat per second, but the improved heater produces 4.5. Both heaters use the rare resource iridium. So if you want to maximize production you have to go back to old bases, disassemble your outdated machines and build new ones in their place.

As long as you have enough solar panels to keep the system running, your machines will work automatically, constantly making progress towards your next terraforming goal and unlocking blueprints. Once all three processes are up, The Planet Crafter takes on an idle game quality that I really like. When you use your resources to build the highest quality machines, your numbers grow faster, and every design you unlock has the potential to grow production exponentially. Occasionally I would stare at my terraformation monitor and just watch the numbers go up. It’s like Subnautica and Cookie Clicker had a baby and I can’t get enough of them.

The world is, as you would expect, a rather desolate wasteland, but there are some surprises and interesting sights to see. Your main points of interest as you explore the world are crashed spaceships that are full of rare resources, but you will also find some rare materials that grow naturally in special locations around the world. There are also weather events that will shock and surprise you, especially if you are far from a shelter when they occur.

The prologue ends when you complete the first stage of the terraforming process and color the sky from red to blue. I can’t think of any other survival game that rewards progress through global changes in the environment, so watching the sky turn blue was exceptionally cool and I know I did just that. Trailers for the full game show remarkable evolution in the ecosystem as you progress through the terraforming stages, and I can’t wait to see the world change as the game progresses.

The Planet Crafter is not for everyone. It doesn’t look particularly impressive, there isn’t a lot of history, and there has been no fight (so far). For self-motivated survival fans who enjoy exploring and character development in games like Subnautica and Breathedge, however, The Planet Crafter hits the right note. Check out the two-hour prologue now available for free on Steam.

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