Under development and mostly underground are two ways to describe Volcanoids. Genkipro previewed this back in 2019, and the game is still in Early Access two years later.
Type: Single-player, Multi-Player Co-op
Genre: Action, Adventure, Simulation
Release date: 29 Jan, 2019
I happen to enjoy a wide range of base building games from classic Real Time Strategy games like Command and Conquer and War/Starcraft to Factorio which took me a while to get into, and Satisfactory which I had a hard time stopping. I think RTS games lost something when base building stopped being the forefront of game design. There is a certain charm about raiding enemy bases and sometimes capturing their buildings for your own use. Capturing their construction yard was always something I tried to do, even if by the time I managed to successfully take it the game was more or less over and victory was assured, it was still fun to do. Just plopping down units summoned from nothing is okay too, just without having to worry about your base makes it seem kind of less interesting to me. Volcanoids is a modern take on the classic base builder and I was happy to give the drillship a spin.
Volcanoids could be classed as a base building Real Time Strategy game. Instead of building a stationary base, you are constructing a long mobile drillship filled with all of the equipment you need to survive and thrive. You also have the ability to attack, raid, and destroy rival drillships. About the only thing you cannot do in comparison to a traditional RTS is build units, instead it is just your character who wanders out and mines resources and fights the robot hordes. That is okay though, with games like Satisfactory, I have gotten used to my solitude and have grown less reliant on sending wave after wave of nameless basic units to their death just to put a dent in the fortifications of the enemy base.
As you explore and attack enemy encampments, they will in turn seek out your drillship and start attacking it. Fortunately, you can put up some turrets to defend your ship in your absence or retreat it underground. While away from base you will rely on whatever guns, grenades, and armor you have crafted and your ammo reserve as well as your trusty pickaxe to defend yourself. While the guns and melee weapon are kind of par for the course, grenades are interesting so I would like to talk about those. Grenades seem to come in two varieties right from the get-go and which one you get appears to be random. You will either get practically nuclear blast level of high destruction that can almost vaporize an enemy drillship compartment to grenades that have all the strength of a wadded up tissue paper being thrown by an angry infant. This might actually be due to an attempt at realism (armor designed to work from exterior attacks rather than interior, explosion in a confined space vs open area, etc.) and I do appreciate that approach. Take the unassuming copper door for example (and the neighbouring components and walls). Throwing a grenade while outside, does not seem to faze the door in the slightest. Throw another and it might not do anything either, a third one though will breach. That is understandable and acceptable. Throw one grenade at the door (but on the other side of it) and the door, the walls, and all components within the surrounding area are blown to smithereens (usually). One could argue the outside is armored and the inside is not, but the textures on the walls make it appear like it is just a thick sheet of metal, so not quite sure. I have thrown grenades and they have done very little in the way of damage even inside, reloading the save and throwing it again caused the entire compartment to practically fall down around my head despite throwing the grenade in roughly the same spot. All in all, I quite enjoy grenades. As you progress you get better gear to make your life easier, but at the start it will be a little rough.
You will spend a great deal of time exploring and gathering resources in order to craft everything you will need. Let us talk about crafting now. Crafting in this game is confusing and convoluted to put it mildly. It again is likely a form of realism and I can see myself growing to appreciate it eventually, but having to constantly run between machines in different parts of my ship (both in the tail sections and the second level) in order to carry out even basic crafting is a bit of a chore. There are so many tabs to click through and those tabs are impacted by the status of your drillship (deployed or not), that you will likely need a notepad to help you keep track of things. Everything needs to be built from components and each of these components practically needs a different machine to make it. Unless you carefully plan based on what the final product needs and refine enough of each precursor component and all their precursor components and so on, in order to fulfill your ultimate design, you will likely find yourself running between machines a lot. Plus, there is the matter of if the items need to be in your personal inventory or the ship’s main inventory (and not a secondary storage area). The machine can only see items that are in the specific inventory it is looking at rather than a more global player-controlled view of inventory. It would be nice if you could automate some of the more basic features, perhaps that is something the future will hold, but for now it is all done by hand. Ultimately though, this isn’t so bad and you do get used to it eventually even if I still got confused from time to time, however, there are factors that add to the aggravation. That is deployment status impacting machine and resource availability and the volcano.
The volcano is an interesting element of this game. Like clockwork, the volcano will erupt, and the duration between eruptions is based on your difficulty settings. When it erupts you better be underground otherwise you and your ship will be melted and turned to slag. You have an ever-present timer that ticks down to the next eruption as well as warning sounds to let you know you better be ready to burrow if you want to survive this. It more or less keeps you from being away from your drillship for long periods of time, and forces you to move your drillship if you want to explore neighbouring areas. The thing is, there are only a limited number of places your drillship can surface so you still must be mindful of how far you wander off. You also have a limited inventory so you have to be sure you have room to carry anything you actually want or you will be forced to throw away things to make room. Even your drillship has limited storage capacity but you can expand that easy enough. Speaking of expanding, your drillship can be expanded both in abilities and in length. The longer your ship, the more room you have to add redundant machines (to speed up the process) or new machines (to expand production capabilities). Longer ships though are harder to defend so you don’t want to expand too soon unless you are prepared to place turrets to defend it.
Upgrading your drill, for example, will allow you to explore underground more readily by giving you the strength to drill through harder substances. This opens up more areas to explore. At this time, most new areas do not offer that much in the way of fresh scenery but there are different resources to collect. These resources allow you to further expand your drillship and producible items so it is a worthwhile task to do as soon as you start running out of interesting things to do in your current area. The Captain who gives you your quests will hold your hand and guide you through what you need to do next for the most part so you can rely on him to let you know when it is time to move on until at least until you are capable of figuring that out for yourself.
Combat in this game is a little lackluster. Robots of a few different colours and styles will attack you. You can dispatch them easy enough even on harder difficulty settings, and loot them for components. They are being produced in their drillships so if you are raiding one of them you will need to keep an eye on their completion percentage in order to be prepared to fight them off again or just blow up the drillship module to stop the machine from manufacturing them, whatever your preference may be. Individually or in small groups they do not pose you much of a challenge, but supported by turrets or in larger groups they are a formidable enough force. This is especially true if you are so busy ducking behind cover to heal that you do not pay attention to your surroundings and fall off a cliff into a lava pool or even water because you can’t seem to swim. You just walk along the bottom slowly dying until you find an egress point.
This game can be played in co-op and I have to say the game does feel much better in co-op as you can take turns crafting things and can both go out to collect supplies. The enemies do get harder though with more players so it doesn’t really change the balance of the game. Unfortunately, although I was enjoying it, I only had a limited opportunity to co-op the game.
The game is actually fairly visually appealing from a distance. The steampunk aesthetics are always fun to behold. Underground areas have a dank quality to them and the surface has either an ash strewn wasteland feel or a vibrant lush world depending on how long it has been since the last volcanic eruption. If you look at things a little too closely they will look a bit rough around the edges, but that could just be my system being a bit underpowered in the GPU department at the moment (although still meeting the requirements for this game). Trying to watch the volcano erupt via a periscope probably is not the best way to see it as volcanic ash blankets the land quickly and obstructs your view of the show. There are a few different robot designs that distinguish themselves from each other based on paint colours. The submarine you arrive in actually made me feel like I was getting a ride with Captain Nemo. It is a shame you can’t do anything with it once it parks at the start. The moving parts on the drillship never really got old to watch, which is a good thing because you will be watching them often. The underground 2D minigame is even a bit fun to navigate around to find your next surfacing location. The game does get more and more flashy as you go through due to the increase in technology although the interactivity of the modules in the drillship do add to the visual splendor.
The game does a great job having steampunkesque sound effects. From the sound of the hail from the captain, the claxon when the ship is under attack or volcano is about to erupt, the rumble of the volcano to the clanks of the drillship as it tries to surface or burrow to even your footsteps on the deck, it is all pleasing to hear. It is one of the areas that I really cannot find any fault with in the game.
Controls and User Interface
Okay, on the surface, no pun intended, the controls for this game are fine. Walking around on the surface or in the drillship work as they should. Having to press number keys to swap between items is okay. Overall, the general controls for this game are perfectly acceptable. The User Interface is also minimalistic and easy enough to understand. The issue comes from having to deal with all those machines and their submenus and remembering exactly what does what and when and won’t do this, that, or the other thing and where its items need to be stored to work, and if you pick the item up from the machine or if it auto-stores in the ship’s hold. It almost gets overwhelming at times and I feel the crafting system detracts from the game after a while. Sure, when you are first experiencing it is fun, but over time it wears out its welcome. Eventually you get used to it and come to terms with it and try to appreciate the slight sense of realism having to use a ton of random machines to produce any one item (even simple items!) but I still would like it better if items that get auto-dropped and auto-used in the hold anyway could somehow magically auto-produce as needed if the resources are available while trying to make more advanced items that use those components. Maybe I have just been spoiled by games like Factorio and Satisfactory though that allows you to automate earlier components as you tech up. Honestly, I don’t mind the convoluted system in Volcanoids, just wish it was a little more consistent like all items need to be in the hold to be used or all items auto-deposit to the hold or all items need to be in the player inventory to be used, etc. When you get up to tier 2 and higher this feels even more necessary.
So, should you pick up Volcanoids? It is an Early Access title and it still feels that way. I am sure given enough time to polish and develop the game that this will be one that will be worth playing. Right now, it feels like one long tedious fetch quest that just keeps getting repeated ad nauseam. There is very little in terms of variety. Go out, collect resources, come back, dance around the inside of your drillship as you work the various fabrication machines, go out and do it again, hiding from lava often. Sure, as you progress in the game there is more to do, such as instead of blowing up a COG (that’s the robots) drillship by blowing up its modules until it explodes, you blow up a big laser drill thing by blowing up its modules until it explodes. You also get to enjoy crafting even more items based on the new resources you found and you do so by building more machines inside your drillship and then dancing between all the machines in your drillship…trying to remember which one does what or even what you are doing. These are all Early Access issues I am sure though, eventually the game will be finished and likely polished and refined up that the preview will no longer be accurate. Speaking of previews that may be dated, since I am pretty much done mine, let’s take a look at Genkipro’s preview to see how the game has progressed in the two years since it was written.
Genkipro’S Preview of 2019
I have to say, while I can see some areas the game has progressed since then, such as the ability to customize which was recently added, the game seems like it is still pretty much the same as it was back then. The combat system has been overhauled a bit, but it is still more or less as Genkipro indicated. I have to agree that early on that the game does seem quite interesting and fun to explore but with the convoluted nature of crafting and each new area being more or less the same as the last (in the same map level anyway) it does get a bit tedious over time. It also appears Genkipro noticed the strange rough edges in the game as well so I guess my old GPU is off the hook for that one! I think Genkipro’s preview still holds up today, even if it is a bit dated now. You should go check it out if you are still on the fence!