Steam Early Access is often a hotbed for games that sound interesting. It also happens to be a place where one can often find games so early that they feel more like unpolished demos than partially finished products. Exoplanet: First Contact is one such game that covers both categories quite aptly, for all the good and bad that implies.
The story is pretty straightforward, if too familiar for a space tale. You play the role of a smuggler who's taken on the guise of a courier. On the way to the planet that your group of so-called geologists wants to visit, your ship is hijacked and you're thrown into the airlock. Somehow, you survive your fall to the planet, and the only thing on your mind is to get payback and get your ship back.
Exoplanet bills itself as a single-player survival, story-based, third-person, action RPG with a Space Western motif. It seems like a mouthful, but it isn't that intimidating once you get your hands on it. Action occurs in real time with either melee or projectile attacks, and they control the same as in any other game. Killing foes always nets you XP, and you will level up, but the benefits of doing so aren't immediately apparent. You'll get quests along with multiple dialogue choices when meeting up with people, but don't expect morality choices to accompany that. As for survival elements, the basics like sleep and hunger are there, and you can cook meats and craft new items from what you've gathered.
The blending of so many genres seems to work on paper mostly because they already complement one another. We've seen RPG elements like leveling up and XP gains in so many other games, so it feels rather normal here. Survival elements add a nice wrinkle, but they aren't too invasive since it takes a long time before your health is affected. The comically larger-than-normal storage on your person ensures that you'll always have materials on hand, and the crafting and cooking systems are fairly simple to grasp. If you jump in from a standard third-person action game, you'll have an easy time adjusting to the additions.
At the same time, there are some things that you expect from each genre that aren't present in Exoplanet. Combat feels stiff when using melee weapons, and shooting feels better if you can come to grips with its lack of weight. It doesn't help that enemies rush toward you as their only tactic, giving you the chance to have other species attack one another on occasion. For a survival game, it's cumbersome that you can only access important stats like thirst or hunger through a separate menu. Fewer HUD elements make the screen look cleaner, but doing the menu juggle isn't a better compromise.
It doesn't help that the look is currently very rough. When starting up, the textures come in at a very slow pace, and the final result isn't that inspiring. There are hints of color here and there, but you'll mostly look at lots of badly textured sand and rocks. The various aliens and creatures consist of bipedal aliens with arched feet, jumping spiders, overgrown lizards with alligator jaws, and cattle with multiple horns. Compared to other games, this feels rather pedestrian, as if we ran into an irradiated Earth instead of a more exotic locale.
The biggest thing people will notice is the game's general instability. Pick up an item on anything but flat ground, and you have a good chance of the title severely chugging. Do it in the remains of a broken building, and the game will act frozen except for a frame of movement every few seconds. You can sometimes fix this by going back to the menu and returning to the game, but it often takes several tries, and the menus might not appear for a good 10 seconds. Aside from this, the game is prone to crashing quite often, and the autosave checkpoints are far from one another. Given the amount of wandering you'll have to do, expect to restart often if you don't manually save.
There's a shell of something interesting in the latest build of Exoplanet: First Contact. The rudimentary parts of each of its genres are functional, and thus far, it seems like the blend of those things can work if given enough time. However, the myriad of technical issues make this an extremely fragile game in its current state. It's still worth checking up on to see if things get better as time goes by, so you may want to wait to grab a copy of Exoplanet.
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