Factorio – Early Access Preview
Like a lot of modern day video games, Factorio started life as an Indiegogo campaign that began in January 2013. Wube Software, the developers, only asked for a modest €17,000 ($25,000), and beat that margin by just over €4,000 ($5,800). A small sum in terms of modern game development, but enough for them to get the ball rolling. Since then, the sales via their website have been slowly tallying up – over 100,000 copies according to the developers themselves. That’s nothing to sneeze at for a small group from the Czech Republic. Is it just me or are there a cool bunch of games coming out of Prague, right now? In February, Wube decided to release Factorio onto Steam via their Early Access program, and considering it’s been in active development for 4 years at this point, $20 USD isn’t much for what is a largely fleshed out cornucopia of crafting goodness.
Factorio is a top down building and crafting game where you play a character who has crashed landed their ship on an alien planet. Their only hope of survival is to pull together any resources they can find and build a rocket from scratch. From digging the ore all the way to launching it into space, you take control of it all. Starting out with nothing but a few iron plates, you build your first pickaxe and start digging. It doesn’t take long to figure out that doing it all yourself will take far too much time, so what do you do? Automate everything. This is the core of what Factorio wants you to do, and even in this early access stage of development, when everything you build comes together in a way that works, it is immensely satisfying.
Playing the game itself is actually quite simple in terms of getting used to how the controls all work, as well as the various building short-cuts you come to learn over the course of time spent with the game. Where the depth, and consequently the steep learning curve, of Factorio hits home is in the crafting system. You see, crafting things like iron or copper plates is easy. Set up a mine, put down a few transport belts and watch the ore as it moves from one place to another. Put down a burner at the end, and a couple of inserters – a robotic arm that picks things up and puts things down – and watch as it all happens in an automated heaven. It’s pretty neat.
It’s when you need to start moving more specific things around that you need to start getting creative with your factory designs. In order to research new technologies, which open up expanded building and crafting options, you need to create what’s called a ‘science pack’. Each form of technology requires at least one of four different types of science packs, which need to be placed inside a Lab in order to be utilised. Science packs are made from various components, and of course you could run everything back and forth yourself, but that gets old quickly. So instead, build a few more transport belts and move your components over to where you need them most. It’s like trying to logically find your way around a knotted extension cord at first, but once you start to pick up on what the building blocks of each component is and what further components they can be used to make down the line, you’ll notice your designs become more flowing.
And when things start flowing, it’s a sight to behold. It’s like watching a nest of ants, each with their own specific roles and responsibilities, go about the clockwork tedium that’s required to make everything tick like it should. When tracks start to clog up, you need to work quickly to free up the backlog, otherwise everything grinds to a halt. Managing this is where most of the time ends up being spent in the mid game, after you’ve put your most basic building blocks in place. Finding the most efficient method of getting things from A to B sounds menial on paper, but it’s an itch that it turns out I didn’t know I had.
I didn’t even mention the locals yet. On top of managing everything going on with your factory, you have the local fauna, which mostly resemble giant bugs. They don’t take too kindly to all the pollution that builds up once you’ve gotten things running, and they’ll come running over, often in high numbers, to cause you all sorts of problems. Thankfully you can build stone walls and turret defences to help keep them away. Build a way to automatically restock your turrets with ammunition into your factory and things can largely take care of themselves. You can also research armor, different weapon upgrades and even a car later in the game, allowing you to explore the apparently infinitely generated terrain.
Despite being an early access title, Factorio feels remarkably fulfilling. The developers have indicated there is still a bunch of work left to do, but with a functioning campaign mode, freeplay and a co-op multiplayer mode (which requires a bit of work to get working – port forwarding for the win), Factorio has a lot for you to do already. Watching everything come together after hours of build up is a big pay off, and one that leaves me very much looking forward to seeing what Factorio’s future holds.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.