Monday, February 29, 2016

Factorio, or why I may never see my family again

Grade: B
Platform: PC, Mac, GNU/Linux
Genre: Building, supply chain management, resource management, sim
Price: 20€

Odds are good that when you saw the genre entry for this review, you had one of two reactions: puzzlement, or joy.  For the puzzled among you while its true that many (if not all) games have an aspect of resource management some games are more focused on that part of the game than others.  Factorio is really nothing but resource management.

You have to mine iron to make iron plates.  But you have to mine coal to fuel your smelters which turn raw iron ore into iron plates.  You have to use factories to turn iron plates into iron gearwheels.  You have to use iron gearwheels and iron plates to make conveyor belt segments.  You have to use conveyor belt segments to......

If your eyes glazed over there, then Factorio is probably not for you.  Try the demo anyway, its free and you might find you harbor a previously unknown love of supply chain management.  If, on the other hand, you're the kind of person who really started loving Dwarf Fortress when you discovered how detailed the game was when it came to making goods, then Factorio is right up your street.

Factorio is about building a factory complex, shuffling the raw materials around to make finished goods, and shuffling the finished goods around to make even more complex finished goods.  For a game of this sort it has a startlingly small number of resources: copper ore, iron ore, wood, water, coal, and oil.  That's it.  But they're combined, refined, reprocessed, and produce a plethora of goods and intermediate products, and every single thing needs to be moved from where it was produced to where it is needed.

You'll discover that to avoid making a factory as tangled as a plate of spaghetti, and one that's nearly impossible to expand, you'll have to make your factory sprawl.

There's alien bugs who hate pollution and will attack, but they're mostly included just to add more challenge and to force you to expend resources defending your factory.  Combat is meh at best, in the traditional sense, but it fits the theme rather well since the whole point of the game is automation so it makes sense that the focus of combat is on automatic turrets (so far I've found the easiest way to beat the bugs is to "walk" turrets to their hive).

The problem with games of this nature is that their appeal largely rests in the learning curve.  Figuring out how to make a factory work is the challenge and once you have it cracked you either go completely obsessive and refine everything to the utmost, start trying to see if you can build a Turing Machine in game (you can), and otherwise really get into it, or you lose interest and wait until the next game comes along and can consume you until you've learned all its secrets as well.

Factorio hopes to avoid that by encouraging a vibrant modding community, as a result the game is very mod friendly and has a nice interface and lots of modding support.  So far the mods are looking good.

All of which is doubly amazing since technically Factorio is still in pre-release and the developers don't think its anywhere near finished.  Despite having been available through for quite a while, it is only very recently available on Steam and that only through the early access program there.

However, unlike most early access games, which often seem like varying degrees of scam, Factorio is polished enough it could be called a finished product right this second.  There's lots more the developers intend to add, but if they were all hit by the hypothetical bus tomorrow Factorio would still be well worth the price.

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