“Autonauts Pre-Pre-Pre-Alpha” Review
I looked at my empire before me, and I found it wanting. I saw my hundred – men armies, and I found them boring. I saw a well – oiled machine, so beautiful in its efficiency, yet mundane in its practicality, and found this machine made of machines to be uninteresting once built, somewhat interesting during creation, and hopelessly lost before it. By my own imagination and creativity I had created a series of assembly lines that earned me more resources than what I could ever use, more robots than any man needs, and more managerial headaches than I have ever found in the real world.
The world of Autonauts is cruel — or at least version 21.2. In the first two hours, I was thinking to myself, “When does this game get fun?”. For the next six hours, when I was up until midnight creating a conglomeration of autonomous labourers, I thought “You know what, maybe this game is fun after all”. The next morning I gave it another two hours, and thought “Never mind, this game is evil”. And that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s an accurate sweep of what the game is: evil. It suckers you in and spits you out. It gives you eye candy and then it numbs you with the horror of programming. You can reap the world before you for great profit, but you can never lose anything more precious to you than your time. That’s what this game does: suck your time up, and I barely even enjoyed it.
I thought I did, at some point, enjoy this game. Perhaps it was the result of a delirious mind who was so fascinated by the novelty of the bots before me that I didn’t know. Maybe I had confused convenience for entertainment, such as how I have the ability to clone robots ad infinitum by tossing floppies at them, or how I can make those robots make more floppies, or how I can make a floppy to make more robots that make more robots. It’s all tedium in the end, a pointless exercise in the end, and whatever interest the concept holds ends up waning as the hours go by. But mostly, I’m just sick of this game. Sick of playing it, sick of writing about it, and sick of thinking about it. For three days I thought it was a good experience, and for three days I was wrong. It’s like oxycotin in this way.
Given you’re a very smart boy and – or the other genders, you’re probably using your 200 IQ to determine I think this game is a bit of a pisser. A bit, yes, but before you pass judgement on my passing of judgement, I feel it’s appropriate to espouse what the heck I even did in this game so you may avoid the same mistakes I’ve made, such as not writing this review for three days. Please enjoy this very long and not – very – interesting story that spans in front of you, so that you may fully understand why video games are ruining my fucking life.
Volume 1: The Order of the Stick
I started out as a cubist representation of a lady in a skirt and T – shirt, which is when I knew she was going to die. The only clothes less appropriate for survival is a neon – blue skin – tight wetsuit with mechanical stilettos and no regard for bras. This being a Unity game, I expected the engine to die before she did — a slow, painful death, where the world corrupts and the audio screeches and the performance drops into frames – per – minute, because, once again, this is a 3D engine that cannot handle 3D games. Although it does drop into a crisp, clean 20FPS when you get going, I had a small chuckle at how easy it was to forget about its innate badness, mostly due to the other badness of collecting wood.
Yes, wood! It’s one of those games, those survival – crafting games where you get some wood (always wood) and some stone (always stone) and then build yourself a tool, a workbench, some better tools, and — well, it pretty much ends there. I had started out banging sticks and rocks together to make an of – course – axe and an of – course – pickaxe to kill some of – course – trees and mine some of – course – rocks, and it was at this point that I wondered if this was all I was going to be doing. You chop the tree down, you dig a hole, you plant the seeds, you wait for the tree to grow, you kill it, and the circle of life continues.
My axe broke when I chopped logs, so I had to find more sticks and rocks. I built a little storage area for my logs, but my axe broke again. Then I ran out of sticks and had to go across the map to find more sticks. I looked over my blueprints and thought how wonderful it would be to have a quick – start guide within the game instead of being dumped on the Autonauts project page, because stubborn old me wants to play the game as – is and not have to rely on an external strategy guide just to figure out you’re supposed to build the workbench first. So as I was building worthless crap like water storage and wood huts for my baby, I neglected to even build a table, which has vice – grips before I had even discovered metal.
Wait, what baby? Oh, yes, there’s a bunch of naked, quivering infants washed up along the shore, and the game gives them a little sad face above them to make you care about them. You throw them in a hut, and you think they’ll be fine. Ten seconds later, they want food — but they never die, or even grow up to my knowledge, so they are essentially a liability. The art style of this game is so reductionist in its cubes (and they are always cubes) I thought they were baby seals instead of alleged humans, and “Monaka” was a cutesy fictitious species instead of a Lou Bega’s Mambo № 5 looking – ass name. Typically it’s a good idea to make humans look human, but what do I know? I’m just a frog.
They have this habit of bending their limbs in uncomfortable – looking ways when you’re not looking at them, which is an attempt at avoiding a single static pose, but instead looks like the animation engine borked. I thought Monaka was intimidating me, so I tried to eke some porridge for the little bastard. Given how I thought the “oven”, which is just some sticks on fire, was too advanced for the guise of one woman, I decided instead to make a much simpler dedicated porridge pot, which is a huge bucket of water with a stick poking out. But the requirements for porridge was unreal! A bucket of water? One cereal seed? A clay pot, of all things? Why do I have to add more water to a 20L tub? Why can’t I just use the bucket as a bowl? You’re asking me to fashion pottery when I’ve barely mastered banging rocks against sticks!
I eyed up the cereal crop so I could harvest some oats before my alleged baby allegedly starves to her alleged death. So I use my axe on the crops. Instead of harvesting them, I dropped my axe in them and lost it. I then picked it up again because all the objects in this game stand upright, as gravity is just a theory — though the violation of physics did save me from finding more sticks. It was when I realised I spent a significant portion of the thirty minutes I spent thus far finding sticks that I would be better off crafting the workbench I was supposed to have made twenty – eight minutes ago — but try telling that to the sad – faced baby.
Yes, there is a lot of tedium in this game. No, it does not get better.
Volume 2½: The Workbenchion Arc
I constructed the workbench. I ran out of logs to construct an axe with, so it was back to more tree farming for me. The sheer thrill of botany, eh? I ended up making our old friends Wooden Axe and Wooden Pickaxe. No, don’t ask me how a wood blade can mine rocks, or other wood for that matter. If I was was an idiot I would go back to the crops and drop my axe again, so I instead crafted all of the tools they wanted. A flail, a sickle, a scythe, a hoe, a shovel, and the bucket of water, because there’s no option to make a wooden bowl. No, Monaka doesn’t accept any old tosh for her watery porridge. She only wants the premiere tableware for the refined tastes of a newborn baby, who is significantly bulkier than the protagonist who has done non – stop woodcutting and crafting inbetween running to each destination, so the harp seal fan – theory thickens, in addition to our fair lady having the metabolism of an anoxeric bulimic.
Never spend your wood on a hoe, because, like all hoes, they’re bloody worthless. For the ten hours I played this game I haven’t found a single use for it, though it’s also possible I’m on Big Dumb, but at that point I didn’t care. Same for the flail — and what the heck is a flail anyway? It looks like a weapon, but there’s no enemies in the game. Wiktionary tells me it’s something used to thresh cereal. But I can already build a threshing machine, and I already cut the crops down with the scythe! Perhaps if I was a Real Reviewer I would use every single tool on every single tile in order to cover the use case of the literal thousands of players who have played this game before me and have already discovered more to bitch about than I ever could. Unfortunately I’m just a Fake Gamer who plays Fake Games in his own Fake way, so please forgive me if I do not intrinsically understand the use of every single item and every single mechanic in every single indie game I ever play.
So I got some cereal. Not the Coco Pops type where it’s all nice and processed and they can put a bara furry mascot on the box and get blocked from Twitter by thirsty gay boys — just a yellow geometric blob. As I, too, have 200 IQ and know that cereal needs to be threshed to be processed, I decided to build a windmill. I then remembered from RuneScape that windmills produce flour, not seeds, and decided to build a threshing machine instead — so don’t say that video games never taught you anything. I had to flog some more wood together, despite the machine exterior obviously being metal, and a shovel, despite the top of the machine using a mallet. So we’re using 5th – century agriculture with 15th – century windmills and 20th – century processing techniques with 25th – century robots to serve babies so fat they could come from the 30th – century.
At this point in time I have half – baked materials thrown about thirty square metres all around me, so the threshing machine spitting out some seeds and straw would remain there for the hours it took me to devise a sorting system for all this crap. Considering the “difficulty”, a word I use in the loosest sense for the difficulty never arises past “click things”, of throwing some grub together for this infant, I procrastinated on figuring out even rudimentary organisation. But I got the seed, and put it in the pot to think about all the misery it’s caused me. If you’re a parent (and I pity you if you’re reading this blog), then why not do the same for your kids? Just throw them in the pool for a few minutes as punishment for being subservient to them for the rest of your life.
Next was the clay. Like everything in this game, finding it wasn’t hard. It just takes more time than it should to do, given how mundane the things you end up building are. The furnace I had to build was trivial — five globs of unrefined clay dug out from the local clay patch. I’m no clay expert, but shouldn’t you need something harder than a shovel to dig out dry clay? And why have I been cursed to write “clay” so much over the next few paragraphs? But anyway, I brought some more clay to the clay furnace to furnace my clay pot. It turns out that I already needed a raw pot in order to make a cooked pot. Yes, I sequence – broke an open – world game. How about that?
It turns out I need a spinning wheel. Give Minecraft credit — it didn’t require you to build five different workspaces just to make some damn soup. Or is the game mocking me for putting up with this bullshit by naming its spinning wheel the “Clay Station :)”? I am not making this up; the smiley face is part of the canon, official, no – bones – about it name of the buildable structure titled “Clay Station :)”. Even after ruminating on it about a dozen times, I still have no idea why the smiley is there or what the context is for why, at any point during this game’s development, there would be a face there. Does Unity even support emoji, or does it need the proprietary $47.20 Emoji Builder Starter Set Plus/Pro add – on to support a decade – old standard?
Seriously, fuck Unity. But you know what’s worse than Unity? Wood. Yep, more wood for the spinning pot, more trees to plant, more dirt to shovel, more logs to chop, more planks to flog, more planks to chop, more poles to throw at buildings that add more busywork to what could otherwise be a perfectly functional, if uninspiring world – building game. And the spinning wheel wouldn’t just be satisfied with a plain wood spinner, even though the axe is satisfied hacking trees made of its own flesh. You have to find another rock to make it work! Of course rocks are only five seconds away, but why should I even need one at all? It’s a disgrace to me as a Gamer.
Oh, you’d think the wheel would be done by now? Think again, fucko. You need a wheel for that! So as to what the rock is for, despite being the closest thing to a wheel in the worldmodel, remains a mystery lost to the mists of time. Think you can make a wheel on the workbench? Off your bike! No, build a wood router, put it right next to the workbench, and throw more wood at it. Yes, including your wooden axe, so you have to craft another one. Did I mention you can only place this crap on a special type of floor that you need more wood to build? What, that sounds nuts? Yes. Yes it is.
You get a plank and finish off your spinning wheel, to no fanfare. You then dig up two more clay, bring it to the “Clay Station :)”, and spin it for two seconds only for it to unceremoniously spit it on the ground next to you. I would think that wet clay and grass would not mix together, but what do I know? Clearly the Clay Station :) developers are more intelligent than me — 201 IQ and all. Then you bring it all the way over to the clay furnace, throw it in there, wait another unceremonious two seconds, and then finally, finally, you have your brand – new, freshly – fired, pristine piece of clay tableware ready for your infant’s refined palette.
Just kidding. You need to put wood in the furnace before that happens.
It was only then, after over twenty minutes of building set – up, tree – farming, wood – burning, clay – shoveling, starving – infant – next – to – me manual labour that I had finally, after all these years, gotten my little Monaka the porridge that she so desired. I fed it to her, she smiled in her hut, burped it all out, and left behind a dirty clay pot for me to take care of, just like the dirt she spit up while eating my labour of love. Is this the price to pay for parenthood? To work so hard on such meaningless things for someone who cannot comprehend the efforts of your actions?
I brought the dirty pot to the ocean a few seconds away. It wouldn’t let me clean it. Another few seconds coming back, and I pondered what to do with the dirt. Another few seconds looking at my workbench, I found a stick – and – wood broom that I could use to clean up the dirt. I looked around the map for more sticks, looked at all the trees that needed my attention, looked at all the rocks I would need to build more stuff, and took one good look at my character, saw the little village I had built with my own two hands over the course of two hours, and looked at this naked baby beside me.
I looked at Monaka. Less than fifteen seconds after I fed her, she was hungry for more porridge.
It was five minutes later when I was washing her in my wood tub that I was thinking to myself: “You know, when the fuck do I get my robots?”.
Volume 3.58/²: Autonaut’s Oddysee
I thought to myself several times over the course of this expedition what the point of all this effort was. I would find out eight hours later there was no point, but that’s in a bit. My village was pitiful, my baby was fat, I was a big dumb dummy for even picking up a baby, and there were a dozen other wriggling harp seals across the known world. The title in the game had “auto” in it, and I didn’t even auto anything, beyond being an autocracy of one over a village of two, at least until my baby is old enough to vote and kick my dictatorial ass out of office.
Perhaps you can call me an idiot, but wouldn’t it be better, at some point during the two hours spend doing menial chores that you could have better spent doing menial chores inside your own home, to just give you a robot, so that you don’t get bored and piss off doing the same thing you can get out of any discount tree – cutting game? It’s possible I was supposed to discover the robot – building building within ten minutes of gameplay and use it to breeze through the rest of the game proper. But it’s the idea that I can even go so long without finding it, or indeed any notion of fun at all, that is most damning to the game’s credit. I was following the cues given to me by the game, trying to obey my child, trying to eke out a farm, and still found myself back where I started: bored and incredulous.
And I’m bored now. I’m bored thinking about it, I’m bored talking about it, and once I did end up getting my robots, I was bored playing with them because all you end up doing with them is extracting more resources in an easier fashion. What do you spend the resources on? Buildings to get more resources! You can also build some walls and some doors, maybe build a bridge to get to the next island over where you can find more trees, even though you can make every resource grow infinitely in a loop. But the placement and moving of buildings is so unpleasantly sticky that I didn’t even bother — and they don’t even form any practical use. What do we need to build walls for? It’s not like there’s going to be a Mongol hoard coming at us. They’d just walk right through them anyway; collision in this game is a stern suggestion rather than a rule.
I ended up building the robots. I’m not like that DOOM previewer who couldn’t grasp the fundamental technique of moving and shooting at the same time. Generally I expect a games critic to, at the least, be good at games. So while I may only be the 511th most skilled Super Mario World speedrunner of all time, I still believe I have significantly more transferable skills across games than the average man, even if I stopped speedrunning months ago and I haven’t entered a gaming competition in over a year. So yes, in this game about building robots, I ended up building the damn robots.
But why bother? I wasn’t having fun in this game. I was waiting for the potential for fun — the same potential that casinos use to keep you hooked to video poker and slot machines. The same potential that bad games hold over your head to keep you playing, like an RPG that promises to get good later through bigger and better game mechanics, even though you’ll be doing the same basic attacks over and over again for the entirety of the game. It’s the same here: get some resources, build more resources. Get tired of typing the word “resources” and piss off to do something else.
Something like this. The next eight hours of my Autonauts experience can be described as follows: make a robot, make that robot gather more crap, make more robots, have those robots make their own robots, have them gather more crap, find more and more efficient ways to gather crap, end up with a hundred different individually – programmed robots that are very good at gathering crap indeed, take a look at all that you’ve built, find your empire wanting, and then feel sick every time you look at it because of how much time you wasted on this game.
This game needs a point. There is none here. There is no ultimate goal, no quest to go on, no worlds to explore, no grand schematics that you can create, no people to meet, no story, no character growth, no personal tales of intrigue and wonder. There’s just crap all the way down, robots who gather them, all within the same hundred square metres, until you get to the point where you have thousands upon thousands of units of crap, which is more than you’ll ever need to construct anything in the game proper. In this way, it’s the most succinct satire of capitalism ever seen in games: you make stuff to make more stuff. For what reason? To have stuff. It does not fulfill you.
But I didn’t hate the game. Not entirely. I found it mildly enjoyable, and I found programming the robots to be interesting in the first few hours and then nothing more than a chore afterwards — just like real programming! I liked being able to optimise the efficiency of my machines, but there’s no point to it, so fuck it. I liked the idea of having to take care of a village of infants past the willpower of one woman and forcing them to grow up in the company of cold and uncaring machines, but there’s no story in this game, so the themes can go right to heck. Also the art style looks nice and Unity didn’t piss itself and die, so there’s a plus, even if it created a 30GB log file in my config folder for having the absolute gall to run the game for a few hours in the background. Thanks, Unity.
But on the whole, I stand by my original assessment of this game being evil. I will now spend the rest of my time finding something to wash this experience out of my brain forever, which is a quote you won’t be finding on the box art.