I’ve been playing Planetbase for a couple hours now, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface.
Planetbase is a new outer space base-building game that just hit Steam, and it’s been in the service’s top three best-selling games all day. It takes some time to dig into, but I’m starting to really like it.
Here’s how it works: you’re the architect of a planetary colony (initially on a Mars-esque hunk of desert rock, but you unlock harsher worlds as you progress). You’re responsible for structures—all the way down to the placement of individual bunk beds in dorms—and your workers prioritize their actions based on what you’ve built. You’re still responsible for their happiness, hunger, thirst, and whatnot, however, and there’s a ton to account for. You’ve got make sure your base is structured such that water, oxygen, and power is flowing through its spiderweb of electronic veins, which means organizing buildings intelligently and then connecting them to one another. On my first run, I failed to do that, miserably. And my colonists died, even more miserably.
TL;DR: everybody died of asphyxiation on the first night because my only energy source was a solar panel. Powerless, my oxygen generator unceremoniously ground to a halt. That’s when the screams began. They didn’t last long, for obvious reasons.
This happened after I’d done the tutorial, which did a good job of holding my hand and walking me through things step-by-step, but was also a busted fire hydrant of information. There’s a lot going on just beneath Planetbase’s surface, and its interface—while adequate—takes some getting used to.
I began Attempt The Second determined to keep everyone from suffocating in the heartless vacuum of space without so much as a warm touch or a friendly voice to comfort them. Which is to say, I built a shit-ton of power structures. Solar panels, wind turbines, power collectors—the works. And... it worked! I built out my base with other essentials—a dorm, a place to eat, a bio-dome for growing crops, a processing plant, a mine, and of course, a bar—and my humble space base survived the night. My first milestone:
Then I un-clenched my fists, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath for the first time in far too many minutes. Perhaps I was restricting my own airflow as a gesture of solidarity. Or, more likely, I was worried as hell.
Now, it should be noted that milestones and a slowly accumulating currency called prestige are the only tangible markers of progress in Planetbase. There aren’t really missions (milestones are the closest thing), and the game can get kinda monotonous in between major milestones. It is definitely not, by most measures, a fast-moving game. You might get bored. Sometimes, you’ve gotta make your own fun.
Since my first night, I’ve been expanding slowly but surely. One of the cool things about Planetbase is that you really can build your base however you want. You’ve got to array things sensibly to a certain extent (air, power, water, etc), but the rest is up to you. I like making my dorms feel like homes; no two are exactly the same. Same with my bars. It’s nice to take a breather and watch my tiny people chill out in them. There’s not a whole lot that sets my colonists apart, but I’m starting to like them, pick out their individual schedules and tendencies. Sometimes I lean in close to my monitor and whisper to them, in an almost motherly voice:
“YOU ARE ALL EXPENDABLE ANTS IN MY GLORIOUS COLONY. REMEMBER THAT IT IS ME WHO MADE THIS, AND ME WHO CAN DESTROY IT. Love you!”
After a few nights, I reached self-sufficiency. I felt like a pretty fucking cool space dude at that point. Like, the kind of space dude that, if he was just walking down the space sidewalk in some random space suburb (spuburb), he’d still turn heads because of the confidence he radiated.
And then he’d get space crushed by a goddamn space rock:
The enduring message of Planetbase—at least, after a couple hours—seems to be, “Don’t get cocky.” It’s been immensely satisfying building up my base so far, but I know it can be so much more. Apparently I can go from a handful of people to hundreds, to a base that very literally spans the planet. And yet, rocks fall from the sky as though hurled vengeful space deities saying, “Don’t. You. Dare.” But I will dare, even though Planetbase’s Steam page warns me of sandstorms, intruders, and solar flares, and beta players mention “hundreds of ways to die.”
I’m about to build a landing pad, which will usher in my base’s next era. Fearing certain death, I might have over-prepared for my next handful of colonists, but who knows? The planet is a big place. I haven’t even had to sound an emergency alarm yet. I’m excited to see what awaits.
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