REVIEW: Factorio

Sep
11

REVIEW: Factorio

With a name that reminds me of a long lost Italian Plumbing brother, Factorio is here to test your logistics prowess.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player, Multiplayer
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Wube Software LTD.
Publisher: Wube Software LTD.
Release date: 14 Aug, 2020

Reviewer’S Note

I will be the first to admit that sometimes I get a bit addicted to games. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I must admit that addiction still does sneak up and catch me every once in a while. Satisfactory was a game I had sunk well over one hundred hours into before I even realized it. Then my PC died a very unsatisfactory death…. again. This time though the Phoenix likely won’t be rising from the ashes. Temporarily reduced to using an old under-powered laptop and looking to scratch my logistics and planning itch, Factorio is here to save the day.

Introduction

Factorio is a deceptively complex two dimensional logistics simulator. When I first started playing the game it seemed a bit simplistic and dare I say a bit tedious. I honestly didn’t enjoy starting up Factorio and was worried that perhaps I had finally had taken a game that I couldn’t in good faith be positive about. I liked nothing about it! This was odd considering how much I loved Satisfactory. Everything seemed like a chore, it took too long to do anything and the quests in the tutorial seemed to be massive wastes of time. Set this up, okay great, now produce an excessive amount of an item…. which means now you basically have to sit there and wait for it, meanwhile shoveling in some more coal every now and then to help it finish. It wasn’t until a little later on I realized the reason why I wasn’t really enjoying it was because… I wasn’t really trying to think outside the box. I was getting tired of grabbing coal and walking it over to the furnace any time it shut down. After giving it a little thought, I tinkered a bit and automated the coal supply. The excessive wait between doing the task and having the resources needed to advance the tutorial was to do two things: Prevent you from trying to manually create all the items without a basic automated factory and to give you time to think about ways you could speed things up and improve upon the bare bones you were given to work with. By the time I was done the tutorial and branching out on my own I had a much better understanding and was ready to create my needlessly complex factory!

Pretty much any task in the game can either be automated or made better through automation. Some items can’t even be made by the player without automation. Part of the challenge is getting the items you need to create something to the correct place in order to actually craft the item. A poorly laid out factory may be able to get you going but it definitely won’t be sustainable. As you progress up the tech tree better ways of moving items about your base become available to make things easier for you. Alas, this means you may have to be prepared to bulldoze your previous hard work in order to build again. Fortunately anything you dismantle actually just appears in your inventory again so if you want to relocate it is rather simple to do so. The way your base is designed is entirely up to you. Some people will argue a compact and efficient base is the optimal design because things move quickly through the production line. Others may argue that a well-spaced out base allows for easy enhancements to infrastructure and makes it easier to create new routes as production demands shift. Then there are those who will just cobble together what they need as they need it and forgo the complicated planning entirely.

I have to say I really like my current base. It’s designed to be a kind of a walk through history. Nothing was ever removed. The factory simply grew out from its humble beginnings. The old tech of the starting area gradually improved until reaching the end game technology in the outer ring of the base. Sure the old hand fed coal furnaces are out, the resources are gone, and the production boxes are full, but I felt compelled to just leave the foundation in place rather than trying to erase that part of history. The power grid started nearby and all of those machines are still working away feeding their belts with the resources that will change shape several times before being stuck in a bin and forgotten in some out of the way place. I have no idea where most of the stuff goes anymore, but that doesn’t really matter at all. It’s time to board my rocket ship and go back to Earth. The base will still be there working away when I am gone, the robots taking care of everything.

Combat and Friendly Fire

Besides just pulling raw resources from the ground and shuttling them through your network of factories in order to produce whatever goods you may happen to want, there are other elements to deal with. There are enemies on the planet that don’t take too kindly to your presence. Maybe they don’t like you for being different than them, or perhaps they don’t like that you are stealing their resources and converting their home into a noisy wasteland. Either way your base will come under attack and if you go wandering or driving too far, odds are high you will encounter resistance. Fortunately, you are lucky enough to have a few weapons at your disposal to defend yourself. Walls and turrets can help protect your base and armor and firearms can help protect you.

An interesting thing to note is that you can’t just fire your guns freely at the enemies. You will damage anything you shoot…trees…buildings anything. Same thing goes when you are racing around in your car. If you plow in to a building or power pole, as one often does when goofing off and going too fast, you will likely do damage or even destroy whatever you crashed in to. Repair kits can be used to patch up damage, but it’s best to avoid the damage in the first place. Carefully aim your shots or aim away from things you care about when trying to deal with invaders.

The enemies are a major and unavoidable pain. The game does let you know when your base is under attack, but getting to the area being damaged in a timely fashion is another problem entirely. Often by the time you get to the site of the attack the enemies have already crippled that part of your base forcing you to rebuild. If it is a key part of your base such as a power plant, your entire production line might go down until you repair it.

Mad Science

The tech tree I mentioned earlier is interesting. You need to produce science research of various types in order to progress the tech tree towards whatever it is you are trying to produce. Science research comes in the form of… you guessed factory produced goods! Combining elements you are currently producing with other elements allows you to produce various different colours of science. Some of them are more complicated than others so you will need to ensure your factories are producing what you need in order to… well learn how to produce things you don’t even know you need yet. Most of this game is actually just that, working your way up the tech tree and upgrading your base in order to keep up with the ever changing demands for even more complicated to produce items. It’s a good system really as it helps give you little goals to spur you on. Trying to come up with better and more efficient ways to keep up with the input demands of your various factories added that extra layer of gameplay I was missing at the very start of the game.

As you progress up the tech tree, more advanced ways of doing things come in to play. For example, pipes get in the way when you are trying to lay belts down. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could build pipes underground so they don’t block your path? Well you can! Don’t you wish you could get those puny little manipulator arms to just reach out to the next belt over to grab items rather than trying to come up with a complicated shuttle system to get the item it needs? Well there are longer arms you can research which do just that! Getting tired of walking? Well why not build a vehicle? Sure it’s a bit of a slog to grind through the previous tiers of research to unlock the car, but with just a small bit of effort you will soon be riding around in style! As you move through the tiers, better versions of existing structures unlock as well that will help you produce even fancier goods! Isn’t science grand?

Controls and User Interface

The controls in this game are not overly complicated but are in fact rather simple. The only real concern is that the default layout doesn’t entirely feel natural to me. As you may already know from my previous reviews, I never change the default controls away from what the Developer has set them to. It took me a bit to get into the rhythm using the controls as they were but in the end they did work as planned. Some of the short cuts, such as pressing q while pointing at a power pole or belt made it very quick and easy to expand a belt or add another power pole without finding the items in your inventory.

Speaking of finding items in your inventory, one thing that I really liked was that so long as you had the prerequisite raw materials in your inventory, you could manually produce the most basic items without having to make all the individual parts. Selecting a blueprint you already have the raw materials to build will cause the game to automatically start producing the individual components required to make it. Example, automatically turning copper plates into wire before making a circuit board and putting that circuit board into the item you wanted. That is definitely an improvement over a certain other logistics and factory building game I have played recently.

The user interface in general isn’t too complicated although the menus do sometimes trip me up. For example in one of the tutorials there were several enemy spawning areas near my base and they kept attacking my power plants. The game suggested I go kill the enemy spawners. I was able to take out two of them, however, the third was nestled in trees and my shotgun approach of running around avoiding their toxic ranged attacks (and the toxic pools they leave on the ground) while blasting away with my shotgun didn’t work here. I tried using my machine gun and had similar issues. Sure shooting the trees will eventually take them out, but that toxic blaster and enemies attacking me made that into a not very practical solution. I then had the great idea of dropping a turret near their base. The only issue was that I had to manually load it which is fine, except, ammo automatically goes into your ammo slot rather than your inventory. I started getting hit while searching for the ammo in my inventory before remembering I had to unequip the ammo and place it in my inventory before I could easily load my now destroyed turret. Once I reloaded my save (for like the 10th time for that one enemy base) I pulled off my cunning plan and their base was no more. Now I could focus on getting my very first car… which I almost instantly crashed into a power pole and took out power to half my base.

Graphics

Factorio doesn’t look all that fancy. The general muted tones and the small but yet somewhat detailed factory elements look a little drab. However as you progress through the game, the more advanced factory and transportation elements begin to look a lot more interesting. It makes sense that the early stuff is kind of plain because it helps you appreciate the more advanced buildings. Sure even those are not all that fancy or overly detailed, but for a 2D game, Factorio looks just fine.

Audio

The sound track for the game suits it quite well and it is enjoyable enough while playing the game. The basic clicking sound of placing and removing things is a little dull and repetitive, but it’s easy to understand why the developer went with the minimalist approach to that sound effect. When you are close to a building you can hear it working away but when you move a little ways away it is silent again which is a nice touch. If all the buildings in the area were playing their sound effects at the same time it would get quite cacophonous. For some reason the gun turrets firing at the hostile wildlife and the sounds made by the wildlife as they attacked and were subsequently gunned down were quite enjoyable.

Verdict

So, should you pick up Factorio? This is going to be an interesting verdict for me to write. First off, had I wrote this a week and half ago, it likely would have been a Save for Later at best. I’m not one who looks at other reviews before coming to my own conclusion first, but I did take a peak this time around to see if I had been mistaken about the overwhelmingly positive reviews this game had received. While the game was stable and did as it promised I wasn’t enjoying it despite being someone who enjoys these sorts of games. I pressed on and then the magic happened, the boring repetitiveness of the game and the excessive amount of time wasted waiting for things to be mass produced kind of melted away and left behind a rather engrossing game. Coming up with better ways to do things, finding ways of connecting old parts of my base to new parts to make these fancy new parts hooked me right in. Looking forward to unlocking the next impressive factory element and then seeing what comes next, having that goal in mind really helped me start to enjoy the game. Even the manipulator arm stuff that I thought was annoying early on (spoiled by Satisfactory letting you directly connect factories to belts) became a fun element as new styles of arms became available. Having to coal power the early arms was a major pain early on but it really helped me appreciate the convenience afforded by electricity. If you are looking for a complicated but not-very-system-resource-intensive logistical factory simulator then Factorio should be right up your alley. If you give it half a chance it actually does get quite good. If you need elaborate, highly detailed, sparkly ray-traced graphics, instant satisfaction and are rather impatient then perhaps this isn’t the game for you. While it didn’t make a good first impression on me, it did make a good lasting impression on me and it is definitely a game I will Save.

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