Don’t Starve, but massively multiplayer and very social.
Genre: MMO, Survival
Developer: Jason Rohrer
Publisher: Jason Rohrer
Release date: 8 Nov, 2018
Social like you have never seen before
One Hour One Life is a unique experience. I have never seen anything like it, and it brought a smile to my face several times. This is a massively multiplayer survival/motherhood and civilization building game. Life is transient, as everyone dies of age and is then respawned somewhere else entirely as a baby. In the end, it’s not about your personal progress, but the progress of generations of people cooperating together. Or else, you just run around naked in the wilderness until you die. I chose the latter.
I hate crafting
Before we start going any further, please bear in mind that I am probably not the right person for this review. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into… Truth is, I hate survival games and I hate crafting. The only one of them that I didn’t immediately hate was Don’t Starve, I enjoyed the weird world and pretty graphics; I played it in co-op and modded to ignore hunger for a while longer. When I play a video game, I want to make progress and explore. Crafting makes it slower for me to obtain what I want, hunger makes me waste time and even feel that I am moving backward instead of forward. I don’t have the patience for all of this. Gathering, hunting, farming, those are things that I am glad not to have to do in my everyday life, and I am not craving to perform these actions in video games either. As a society, we have moved past that.
One Hour One Life makes you cherish everything we have accomplished as a civilization, by making you relive those early steps as you strive to rebuild everything from scratch in a world with dwindling resources. Once again, people build homes to trap heat and organize their community to process better food, so that less time is wasted running around for a meal. But that’s an ideal dream that most players will struggle to achieve. If you don’t spawn in one of those advanced societies, you will see yourself in dire need to find food every so often while attempting to create simple tools while caring for babies. Anything as basic as making a fire or a hatchet requires a series of complicated steps, and if you don’t have reeds to make a basket you will have to painfully move each item one by one since there is no inventory… all the while having to fend off hunger. It’s insanely hectic and so overwhelming that it is certain that this is not a game for everyone.
The interface has everything required, from food/temperature meters to crafting recipes, but the fact that everything is laid bare on the ground, approximatively one item per tile, makes the places inhabited by humans as scary and daunting as the wilderness. Just remember to look for the berry field, most villages have one. In any case, it’s a lot of busywork but it seems like most players are willing to put the work in, and there are many flourishing locations. I have almost never seen griefing, so since it’s rare it can be funny rather than feel too annoying. Besides, the ephemeral nature of a life in this game means that everyone knows that they are bound to lose their situation.
Mum, I love you
Now that I have painted a picture of this massively online survival sandbox of crafting and building civilizations, here is what absolutely charmed me in this game: after death, each player is randomly assigned to another player whose character is an adult woman. The newly spawned baby cannot do anything at all, not even speak more than a few letters. The mother has to regularly breastfeed her child, protect them, and maybe even teach them. This random bonding between unknown people is very heart-warming, and I felt happy every time a new mother named me. “You are Rob,” she said. “You are Marie,” announced another one. I was a burden to them, and yet they took some of their time to give me a chance to live and be loved. No matter if we were in the wilderness or in a very advanced village, those early steps were always my favorite (perhaps in part because I could just enjoy the surroundings without having to craft anything myself). Everyone probably has a ton of interesting stories to tell, so here are a few of mine.
– I was born while my mother was running off-screen. She didn’t know that she was pregnant nor that she delivered, and my small legs could not carry me very fast. I died in between crops while my uncle was harvesting, without even wasting a glance at me.
– I was born in the wilderness to a mother telling me all about a great location that she would bring me to. She was gathering some supplies while watching over me when a new baby appeared, my sister. Our mother led us through the forest when she mistakenly stepped on a snake. She panicked and asked me to feed berries to my sister. Before I could put it in her mouth, she died from starvation. My mother was bleeding out, her last words were “I can’t believe there was danger”. RIP
– I was born in an advanced society, but it might have been a cult as I was asked to praise the god of machines and I was named Jesus. My mother was too busy teaching me about her religion to notice that she was starving me, I died.
– Later on, I was born in the same society to the same mother. She named me Jesus II. This time she fed me correctly until I was of age, but while I was listening to another one of her talks about god, I forgot to watch my hunger bar. I looked around, but this civilization was too advanced to have food lying around in the middle of the settlement. I died.
Finally, I will mention that there is a tutorial to explain the basics, and it’s possible to play multiplayer and be born together as quadruplets, but good luck to a mother putting up with that! The controls are based on left click to move or interact, right click for a few extra actions like interacting with a container, TAB is to parse through recipes related to what the player is doing. The game runs well at 60 fps, nothing to complain about. The graphics and sounds are pretty bare-bones, clearly the game is not as visually appealing as Don’t Starve. Nonetheless, I thought it was a nice touch that every character is smiling: it appeals to the more benevolent side of our psyche, and leads us to believe that everyone is nice and friendly, and we should help each other out.
One Hour One Life is a unique experiment, tasking its players to build a civilization from the prehistoric age to the medieval era (with more to come) in a huge sandbox world. Death is the great equalizer, claiming everyone after a short life and then handing them to a randomly assigned mother. This precise moment is my favorite part of the game, as it created sweet interactions between strangers. Sadly, the crafting and survival aspects of the game are very hectic and difficult to get to grips with, so a lot of people (like me) won’t have the patience to dive deep into the complicated systems of the game. It’s a lovely game that delivers on what it set out to do, but it’s clearly not for everyone.