There is no denying the existence of the crafting system. Within this genre, there exists a subset of games which use this as one of their main mechanics; in isolation, this mechanic can quickly become tiresome and boring. Factorio, developed by Wube Software over the past four years, has taken this concept and adds intricacy to a simplistic system.
With a focus on automation, Factorio allows the player to manage the smallest details of their resource collection process. By borrowing elements from management simulators and real-time strategy, Factorio is all about player control, and can quickly get overwhelming if you’re unprepared. The sheer amount of options and level of detail is staggering, and is certainly best experienced first-hand. Fortunately, a demo is available to help players come to grips with the game before fully jumping in.
You’ll generally start a game by gathering resources manually in order to create basic components and machines to automate mining and other basic tasks. You’ll then use those basic components to create more advanced components and machines which will take over some manual tasks like mining. Eventually you’ll start researching the multitude of advanced technologies, such as flying logistic robots, so you can then automate everything. This is the core of what this game wants you to do. By utilizing ‘science packs’ which you manufacture, technologies can be researched and unlocked for you to access. The ultimate goal is to research technology and launch a rocket into space.
There is a rather significant learning curve which can make it daunting to start playing. There are a few concepts in the game that you will need to understand in order to master the game. One such concept relates to how certain objects interact and operate in the world. This includes the basic movement of materials around your factory on conveyor belts and the operation of robotic arms called inserters. You will deal with these two items quite extensively, as they will be your main transport in the inner workings of your factories. Conveyor belts have two columns which can be utilised to carry more items. This becomes important as inserters in different orientations will interact with conveyor belts in specific ways when picking up or depositing items. Even such a simple task can become quite daunting given the required level of planning, and before long, the available options will balloon out, providing not just more problems, but more solutions. The complexity of this game doesn’t come from collecting resources or making an item, it comes from planning out how to move each resource through your factory efficiently.
This isn’t just a resource management game, as the local wildlife provides a constant source of conflict. The local wildlife generally fits into one of two categories: short-ranged and long-ranged. Enemies appear around nests, and generally maintain a tight perimeter around their source. If you wander too close to an enemy, they will attack on sight. This can prove to be a costly mistake in the early game, as you can be easily over-powered or overrun. The factories you build will also produce pollution, which will eventually attract nearby enemies. At the start of the game, enemies are rather sparse, but the need for expansion will quickly push you into conflict. To make matters worse, enemies become stronger with increased pollution output, so your competition will strengthen alongside you.
The graphics for the game could be seen as a hit or miss. The developers were obviously aiming for an art style consistent with the early millenium micromanagement games. This also extends to the UI, which uses a monotonous colour scheme and simple design elements. The camera is positioned overhead at an angle, allowing for the use of different perspectives to add depth to the game. For instance, the local wildlife resembles large bugs like cockroaches and worms. There are only a few designs which ultimately denote the strength of the enemy by their size and colouration.
The sound effects for the game suit the overall theme, with each machine given its own operational sound effect. The soundtrack for the game takes a minimalist approach, which certainly works in this application. The music is not a distraction, but instead serves as a backdrop to the action. You might occasionally notice it playing in the background, where the simple melodic pulse of the music will perfectly add to the atmosphere as you tediously construct intricate infrastructure. The industrial feel of the music is complemented by an almost-primal atmosphere that thematically reflects the game’s concept.
Similar to other management games, Factorio has a number of game modes. First and foremost, the story mode stars a space colonist who has become stranded on a foreign planet. It pushes the player through a handful of levels with varied objectives and conditions. All information, from the story to tutorial dialogue, is provided by text prompts. The writing is barebones and lacking in creativity, but the essential details are laid out in a clear manner.
To provide a varying experience, there are two puzzle modes, with each providing a unique challenge. The first mode tasks you with arranging conveyor belts to transport a number of resources from point A to point B in a very limited amount of space. The second puzzle mode adds in an economic factor to normal gameplay, which requires you to produce a specific item by buying the necessary space and items to create it. These modes shift the focus to different aspects of the game, and are generally enjoyable, so they’re certainly a welcome addition. For those looking for a freeform experience, there is also a free play mode to simply play from scratch. Finally, the sandbox mode allows you the creative freedom to build whatever factory you desire without restriction. Factorio can be a very daunting game, so having the option to test different functions and shift your focus is a refreshing change of pace.
If creating the perfect factory seems too daunting a task for you to take on alone, multiplayer is available. This allows for any number of players to collaborate and build the same project and fight for survival together. Additionally, the game has been available for mod support for quite some time, and there is an active and helpful community behind the game as well to help players get started.
Repeatedly researching more technology and requiring rebuilding because of exhausted resources or poor planning can lead you to question why you should continue this tiresome work. But when you zoom out the camera to see an overview of your sprawling factory stretching further than the horizon which is operating properly can make it all worth wild.
I encountered this game two years ago after watching a video on Youtube. Even with the stigma of Early Access games, Factorio stands out as a solid example of Early Access done right. The game is feature-rich, stable, and incredibly engaging. If you’ve got the right mindset going in, and you don’t mind the creatively-barren landscapes sprawling before you, Factorio has a lot to offer. It’s a unique game in the management genre, though certainly one for a niche audience. If you are able to stay sane while repeatedly refining and improving your factories to be slightly more efficient, this game can provide countless hours of tinkering.