Space Engineers is a recent addition to Steam's Early Access section, which allows players to get a taste of games still in development. Developed by Keen Software House, the game has a premise similar to Minecraft, allowing players to use blocks as a primary mode of construction. The difference between this title and the numerous clones looking to cash in on the Minecraft concept is that Space Engineers places you in a fully three-dimensional environment and allows you to build ships and space stations that be interacted with.
The alpha currently only allows for the games creative side, allowing you an infinite amount of materials to construct your ideas with. After mastering flying your little engineer around and block placement the games possibilities become rather evident. Opening up the construction menu presents you with the options to start a small or large ship, or a space station. Despite the games early build construction, deletion, and piloting of ships is pure joy.
After laying down a skeleton players can then place crucial components to allow their ship to function: reactors for power, gyroscopes for maneuverability, gravity generators, thrusters for movement and finally a cockpit for piloting.The utilizes a system where holding the place or delete buttons (mouse left and right) will allow you to easily place or eliminate large numbers of pieces. The tool is highly useful, as is the ability to flip, and rotate pieces along multiples axes to achieve the desired affect. While the tools themselves are useful their corresponding buttons are rather odd and occasionally clumsy to use, something that can be taxing to figure out for your first hour or so of gameplay.
The game consistently makes you think about your choices in a variety of ways. For instance, placing more thrusters will give you great acceleration, but you'll also need to make sure you have the power to operate them at maximum efficiency and the gyroscopes to allow the ship to be able to turn like a leaf on the wind. Currently, the game isn't punishing you for things like not having too much power, though it will let you know that you've exceeded your limits.
Perhaps a truly interesting feature is the physics of the game. Objects that are pushed on in space will float off into the abyss, ships that have no thrusters to act as brakes simply can't slow down, and collisions are simply a marvel to behold. The game offers you some pre-built ships to fly around for inspiration, so naturally I decided to test out how things blow up in the game. The result was rather impressive for an alpha; crashes form jagged and even curved angles, giving a realistic appearance and the size, shape, weight, and speed of the objects all seem to have been accounted for. Little fighters crashing into heavily armored behemoths won't do a thing, while those same behemoths can chew massive holes into destructible objects.
The main construction blocks you use in the game are essentially armor pieces, allowing you to design ships with emphasis on protection in certain areas such as vital systems. I have to say, I'm very excited for the directions this game could go. Multiplayer support could allow for a wealth of fun ship-to-ship engagements where players can literally build the competitors with different strategies in mind.Already I've seen ships designed for long range engagements, evasiveness, and even ramming opponents like the Greek ships of old. While weapons can be placed currently they can't be used, so it remains to be seen whether the physics engine will deliver on the combat, but judging from the gravity and collision mechanics I think it'll be worth the wait.
On the whole Space Engineers is shaping up really well, and most importantly is completely playable in its current state. Unlike a lot of the alphas you'll get access to this game can easily entertain you for hours on end due to the quality of the build. The game is currently selling for $14.99 on Steam.