Oxygen Not Included Is The Frustrating Colony Sim That I Can't Stop Playing
There are currently a number of colony building sims available, like Dwarf Fortress, Factorio, and Rimworld, another early access game. However, Oxygen Not Included brings something special to the genre. Klei Entertainment is the game development studio that brought us Don't Starve and its various expansions as well as Don't Starve Together, the online co-op version of Don't Starve, and Don't Starve Pocket, a well-done mobile port. With Oxygen Not Included, they have ventured into the sci-fi colony management genre while maintaining the survival, building, and crafting aspects of their most popular game. The graphics style is similar to that of Don't Starve, and it's that charming and quirky aesthetic and characters that truly bring this particular game to life. Still in early access, at this point in the development process, Oxygen Not Included is entirely playable, with very few bugs, primarily related to audio and visual glitches.
From Klei Entertainment:
"In the space-colony simulation game Oxygen Not Included you’ll find that scarcities of oxygen, warmth, and sustenance are constant threats to your colony's survival. Guide colonists through the perils of subterranean asteroid living and watch as their population grows until they're not simply surviving, but thriving...
Just make sure you don't forget to breathe."
At first glance, Oxygen Not Included appears similar to many other space colony development and building sims but also shares some of the mechanics of survival games. A couple of characters are dropped someplace in space, in this instance on an asteroid, and it's your job to guide the characters to excavate the area, begin to build and establish the colony, implement essential systems like power, water, food production, and living space, all while keeping your tiny humans, fed, hydrated, disease free, and relatively happy. It seems simple at first, but while basic survival games focus on procuring necessary items as you wander around and try not to get killed, a colony sim has the survival aspects to overcome, as well as a growing population. Your attention shifts from the well-being of a single protagonist to the colony as a whole. Players keep their humans, called Duplicants or "Dupes" alive, but there is an emphasis on building and maintaining systems. This type of game is great for multitaskers and players with attention to detail, though it suits many gameplay styles. Depending on how you choose to progress, you can focus primarily on a single aspect of the game — whether you play as a builder, an explorer, or even a decorator, you'll be equally satisfied with your options.
After you begin your first game and shuffle through a few suitable settings, or in my case, just leave everything on default because I wanted to learn by playing, you'll be asked to choose the first three Dupes that will start your colony. Each Dupe has a set of attributes, some negative and some positive, that will determine the tasks they will excel at and even their viability in the colony. Depending on your play style and what aspects you wish to focus on in, certain dupes may be better suited. Sometimes, it doesn't really matter if you choose three Dupes that appear to be absolutely perfect, they may not be suitable for the particular environment or better suited for others. For instance, in one of my playthroughs, my Dupes were dropped on an asteroid with practically no breathable oxygen and at least one Dupe with "Diver's Lungs" would have been helpful. Having not had much of an issue with oxygen production up to that point, it didn't occur to me as a very useful trait. This type of randomness is one of the game's major strengths, and if you enjoy that aspect, it will certainly keep each playthrough unique. However, you can eliminate much of the game's random nature by choosing a particular "Worldgen Seed" in the Settings dialogue box at the beginning of your game. In addition, you'll be able to shuffle through your Dupes until you reach a combination of attributes you want to start the game with.
For me, it is the Dupes that make Oxygen Not Included more enjoyable than other colony building sims. I tend to be an unforgiving taskmaster and with push my characters to the brink of death if it means more efficient systems and production. But, the Dupes are so charming and adorable that I actually want to make them happy. I tend to their needs and even decorate their spaces to please them. Watching them run around, working, operating machinery, and even sleeping is endlessly entertaining.
At first, the beginning stages of the game are overwhelming and confusing. There are a lot of controls, overlays, and stats to manage. It's necessary to keep a close eye on the upper left-hand corner of the screen for alerts and helpful hints and mini tutorials. It took me the first hour of the game to just figure out the basics because I made the mistake of attempting to learn every control and aspect of the game in those first moments. In reality, it wasn't necessary — I needed to start with the basics and move forward from there. Just dig. And dig some more. Then, more digging. After the first few cycles, things will start to fall into place.
There's no tutorial and players are meant to figure out things for themselves, which some players enjoy and others may find incredibly frustrating. Most of the mechanics are pretty straightforward, but some don't come as easily. I spent a full three hours struggling with running my power generators and other machines because I didn't understand how to connect the wiring. It was actually very simple, but for me, not entirely intuitive. Games like this are meant to be about discovering and developing your own systems and means of survival, so too much guidance would actually water down the experience. If you're a player that absolutely needs a tutorial or just want to research other players' strategies, there are plenty of guides available online.
After the initial stages of setting up your colony, the middle game hits a little bit of a snag. There's a steep learning curve and all of a sudden you can't keep up with your colony and everyone dies. Over and over... and over. But, unlike many games that are easy to give up, Oxygen Not Included kept me coming back. I wanted to try different strategies, explore the various biomes, do new research and build new machines. After a while, I stopped caring if everyone in this colony lived or died, because I would use what I learned in my next colony. Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it fun? Absolutely. This stage of the game requires attention to detail in is the time to start learning the finer mechanics of the game's technical management. Later, it is possible to acquire a state of automation where players have the ability to expand, tweak, and refine their colony.
Oxygen Not Included strength lies in that it truly offers players the ability to make the game whatever they want it to be. It is more than just a survival game, a colony management sim, or a building sim, it's a balanced combination that allows players to focus on the aspects they enjoy the most. It is difficult and challenging, with ups and downs of periods of relaxation followed by fast-paced life or death scenarios. With so much to offer, Oxygen Included feels, at this point in its development, to be a finished game, though it has the potential to grow into something even better as it moves beyond the early access phase.
Oxygen Not Incuded is available on Steam .