An early look at: Factorio [Early Access PC/Mac/Linux]

Factorio is the love project of Wube, a developer based in Prague, Czech Republic. I open with this because, just like the idea of a game being made in Prague surprises me (even though the idea of a game being made anywhere – especially a western nation – shouldn’t), this game is surprisingly amazing. Factorio takes everything that is good about management games and gives you total control in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve been bogged down with minor trivial pursuits.

The premise behind Factorio is simple: You have crash landed on an alien planet. All you have to start with is some basic materials and the ability to craft. From there you make a pick axe to start mining the games recourses, coal, iron, copper, and stone. After few minutes you will make a small smelter set up. With that, you can make iron and copper plate, and with plate production underway you can then get burner miners going so you no longer need to mine as much. Very quickly you start to feel powerful and in control.

Before long, you will quickly find yourself wanting to start research, which requires a lab. The lab requires power. Power is reasonably easy to set up initially, all you need is a water pump, boiler and steam engine. With them built, you can put down your lab, hook it up to the steam engine, then add some science packs to the lab (the one you hopefully had building in your personal construction queue that processes things in the background while you’re doing other tasks). While you start some basic research for better logistics or production, you will realise that now you have power you can use electric mining drills that won’t need coal fed into them like the burner miners. With better miners you immediately realise you need more smelting production to both keep up with the miners, and more importantly to meet your growing demand for metal plates.

Here is where the game starts to live up the factory in the name. With ore sites and coal not always being close you need to move them to a common location. To do this, add some belts that miners can output onto, then use inserters to move the coal and ore into furnaces… presto! You have automated Iron and Copper plate manufacturing! Now you’ll find you want assembly machines, to help make full use of plate production. What does this mean? More belts! More inserters! Get all the plates to the assembly machines, which will in turn make them into basic components like iron gear wheels and copper wire.

Combining these basic components with the plate you made earlier, you can start making electronic circuit boards, belts and a few other basics. Most importantly, you can now make your own science packs – all in the basic assembly machines. That’s right! Once you have the science packs being belted from the a assembly machine to the science lab you have automated science! Of course, you still need to tell the lab what to research, but you no longer need to use your build queue to make the packs. It’s probably around this time you’ll want to put down more labs to do research faster, and when you’ll start to notice you’re not generating enough power.

This is where the game can get a bit tedious. To improve the power, you might want to start an entirely new setup, or scrap the old one to recycle into the new setup. This time though, you have more of the components for the boilers and steam engines already automated, making it much faster to build the end products. So even though you’re doing the same task again, you’re doing it faster. (Tip: Now you have coal being belted to the furnaces you will probably want to belt coal to the boilers to make sure they never run out.)

With research happening at a steady rate and your plate production meeting demand, you have the time to set up automated production of more things like inserters, circuit boards, assembly machines and even more belts. As you do this, you should try to keep your growing factory neat and tidy – but for your first playthough, this will likely be in vain as you will eventually end up not having enough space for something essential. (Another tip: Underground belts can help a lot with getting things around your base.)

If you haven’t meet the planet’s locals yet, you will most certainly will soon. The locals start out as not-too-threatening bug creatures that will occasionally attack you and your equipment. Over time (as you cause more pollution and clear their nests to make space for more mining), the bugs will evolve becoming much bigger. Then they’ll become armoured, get a ranged variant, and of course become more aggressive. Thankfully the game has a simple solution to this problem: The automated gun turret! Placing a few of these around your walled perimeter will keep you and your factory safe (Another tip: Be sure to either belt ammo to them or keep an eye on their ammo levels manually, you don’t want it running out!)

The ultimate goal of Factorio is to build a missile defence system, that will allow you to both call for help and allow them to safely come down to rescue you. Depending on how much of the game’s research you do this can take upwards of 24 hours play time to do, especially on the first play through. What I have covered above can take up a couple of hours of play when learning the game, while figuring out the best way to lay out belts, factories and inserters will keep you up playing that little bit longer. The game goes on to have solar power, drones that can build, repair and move items to where they are needed, power armour, trains, and so much more to discover.

Factorio features a singleplayer campaign to learn the game’s mechanics before jumping into a sandbox game or (even better) a multiplayer game with your friends that will have you either learning from them or wanting to rework everything they do.

As the game goes on, it does slow down a bit as you place bigger mining sites and expand your factory, but the game’s controls and hot keys do an excellent job of stopping it from becoming too tedious. All of the bigger jobs can always be broken down into small chunks, and these allow you to easily set short, medium and long term goals throughout the whole play through.

Overall Factorio is the king of what I consider to be management and building games. You feel powerful and in control of what’s going on in your factory knowing everything you have automated was done by you.

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