Factorio

Assembly lines, production graphs, logistics, resource juggling, electric supply, industrial train schedules, technological research, and so many conveyor belts. It’s not work; it’s play!

Game Name: Factorio (2016)
Developer: Wube Software (no other games at this time)
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux (reviewed on PC)
Categories: 2D, Strategy, Survival, Sandbox, Multiplayer, Supply Line Juggling, Automation, Crafting, Industrial Manufacturing, Extreme Resource Management, Alien Infestation, Tower Defense, Escalating Complexity/Difficulty, Moddable, In Development

May Appeal To: explorers, tinkerers, builders, thinkers, learners, train conductors, civil servants, xenophobic combatants, survivalists, craftsmen, detailists, OCD junkies wanting an acceptable outlet, and transactional efficiency masters. If you’ve ever busted out a red pen and took pleasure in written revisions, you might have the right mindset.
May Repulse: instant gratification chasers, redundancy allergics, ‘big picture’ people, macro managers, and corner cutters. If you’re fighting an addiction to crafting games due to their monotonous and tiresomely open-ended nature, avoid this one at all costs. It’s just too good at what it does.

Comparable To: Starcraft’s zerg and Starship Troopers’ bugs for alien opposition. It bears likeness to Minecraft and Terraria’s resource gathering/processing, has a Sim City attention to zoning and facility management, Anno 2070’s supply lines juxtaposing warfare, a modded Age of Empire map feel, and Space Empire V’s research tree of micro-progress minutiae; Factorio borrows land-based tower defense from the genre at large, and is easier to progress and excel in than Don’t Starve Together’s multiplayer.

Learning Curve: The whole game is a learning experience that intrigues and rewards with each gradation of the challenge. Very little requires a source wiki for explanation.
Game Length: 20-100+ hours depending on personal goals
Difficulty: Though combat is configurable and generally ramps up to ‘nuisance’ level, this is mostly an intellectual challenge. Take that as you will.
Mastery: Never. There are too many ideal production ratios, build orders, and variables present to ever declare the game beneath you. However, there’s an ever-increasing state of familiarity and accomplishment in the game that doesn’t seem to diminish.

Story: Survival dude is stranded on roach planet. He must DIY a spaceship.

Presentation: Churning gears and motors belch unregulated emissions into the pristine natural surroundings as you lay down a new line of conveyor belts to transport continuous plunder, excavated from the nearby mineral patch. Machine gun towers chatter distant and tinny and you know the resulting bleat and squelch of purple bug entrails spewing forth are the result of their accidental contact with a freight train whose path was designed to circumvent the homebase’s perimeter. This silence to autonomous and sudden violence pleases you as another row of resource collectors gets placed in rhythmic and resounding ‘THUMP’s, the percussive track to Factorio’s own meandering and wistful industrial droning.

On first viewing the repetitive -almost abstract- sprites of the terrain and your own personal infringement upon its quiet majesty are a bit ugly and obtuse. After a while, your eye accommodates to the grotesque perpendicular angles of boxy machinery and flat concrete jungle with its haze of coal dust and air waste. I never quite saw the game as ‘pretty’ though the symmetrical industrial patterns of my own blueprints and the hypnotic dance of rotating robot arms and belts of varying speeds did invoke something akin to a trance where I could comfortably experience Factorio without revulsion. The sound effects are sparse, the music forgettable, though I’d lose stretches of time without noticing or caring of the game’s presentation.

One of the perks of autonomous fort building and survival is shelling the indigenous wildlife with HE rounds after steam-rolling their spawning chambers with your coal-guzzling handmade tank. Bear Grylls will never admit to it.

 

Unique Features: The literal logistics of this game’s mechanics have never been detailed or balanced to this high of a degree before -from sticks to cogs to cars to robot assistants to personal shielding devices, there is a tangible sense of progression in not only resource refinement but the skills it takes to quickly turn raw materials into complex items via meticulous planning and emendations. Among the many multi-stage tasks involved, combat is a refreshing way to turn order into chaos vs the other way around. Multiplayer only enhances the enjoyment possibilities with role delegation.

Gameplay: Factorio is a classic sandbox where you’re not impeded with dialogue, story, objectives, or restrictions but simply start the game as an armored biped in a field of nature’s wonder. Without instruction, you recognize your origin on the upper-right map and simply start right-clicking multicolored mineral patches within your field of view, perhaps running for a brief time to find the epicenter of contrasting fields that could prove a useful spot to lay down new structures. In your build menu [hotkey ‘E’] you find a handful of self-explanatory factory items and their corresponding requirements.

After some time, you’re funneling raw metals from mining extractors to storage boxes. After some time, you’ve escalated the operation to produce gears, microchips, and copper rods. After some time, you’ve determined research paths towards more potent weaponry, articulated factories for advanced development, and theoretical sciences like drones and shields. After some time, your base is completely surrounded by impenetrable defenses, trains run on variable-triggered schedules to deliver yourself or materials from satellite bases, and you’ve experimented with complex circuitry with boolean operators. After some time, your solar-powered exoskeleton is a force to be reckoned with, offensive capsules of roach-fighting chemicals can be dropped, and a swarm of logistical bots armed with guns and repair modules maintain the whirling maelstrom of maze-like proportions, everything thrumming and humming in its duties by your own hand.

Do you choose to further conquer the teeming waves of enemy mobs, or are you complacent in merely using your logistical acumen to construct a space-faring vessel, leaving your machinations toiling tirelessly behind?

For Science! My game-ending escape rocket hurls into the unseen sky but I might stick around. Maybe leave a bigger carbon footprint in optimizing this labyrinth of greasy machinery.

 

Additional CommentsEvery match is a challenge of micro-management and continuous tweaking as you adapt to meet the requirements for the next stage of your tech evolution. All elements are self-guided and self-imposed, so the impetus to accomplish the next feat comes at a leisurely pace while the player decides to either throw down a stopgap measure in haste or to refine an existing product line to reduce waste or square footage. It’s never been more true that you get what you put into this.

What I Liked: The balance and depth is incredible. In similar games, you might plateau out on an intellectual or production level as you learn to spam/cheese a particular winning method. In this game, the ‘objectives’ are to loosely get better at the game and that comes at the player’s mastery of planning and game knowledge. I chose a peculiar design because it was easy to understand and augment one round, whereas the next iteration inspired me to try something else with a completely different set of assembly line forks. I enjoy going back and revising my techniques to solving production problems, learning from past mistakes where I boxed myself into a figurative and literal corner. I enjoy the high concept of crawling around an intricate machine that doubles as your base (triples as a work of abstract art), along with the relief/distractions of mounting vehicles of destruction and tearing swaths across the hardening/expanding organisms throwing themselves against crumbling walls. Multiplayer is also a blast and where this game truly shines. More features are to be announced by the developers.

What I Disliked: Factorio doesn’t typically have releases that drastically alter gameplay though patch .15 nullified the effectiveness of many of my designs mid-game. While the biggest changes were welcome (research is now more complex and evolved science classifications in regards to the products used as research ‘fuel’), I’m a little soured by the integration. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t rise to the challenge like every other player and simply rework existing logistics to accommodate a shifting target though. Optimizing previous designs is a large part of what the game is about, after all.

I don’t like the latency I experienced during long multiplayer matches and it’d be nice if there were swimming, burrowing, and aerial enemy units to make me re-evaluate defenses more often. Lastly, liquid and gas flows are assholes sometimes, inadvertently contaminating other pipes and requiring a complete deconstruction to resolve slip-ups.

Glitches Experienced: Despite strong upload/download speeds on both our computers, the human not hosting multiplayer matches did experience game-breaking lag past 20 hours of play. You can get a lot done in that time though.

Hours I Played: 80 solo and 68 cooperative play

My Personal Reaction: I simply love it. Minecraft always rubbed me the wrong way with its simplicity and lack of intuitiveness. Starbound made a bunch of bad decisions after the gem that was Terraria. Factorio takes it all to the next logical step and empowers the player by automating all of the redundant actions. Once you set up an assembly line you don’t have to perform the same boring task 1,000 times to game’s end. Instead, your headquarters becomes a tangled, multi-threaded mass of intent purpose, and how well you design and recover from foibles spells the difference between success or failure as an active participant and decisions truly matter long-term. This game can cheerfully and unapologetically eat an afternoon. I find very little fault in that or its concept.

Noob Tips: Iron and Copper are your lifeblood – prioritize their delivery. Despite dwindling output, oil wells never truly cease functioning. Coal can supplement oil production with the right technology. Do not waste a single precious chunk of uranium until their proper implementation is researched in the wiki.

For fun’s sake, avoid all efficiency tutorials and blueprint spoilers!

Depth and Replayability: Extremely High – PvP, PvE, Sandbox, and Cooperative modes will keep you busier and more entertained than you deserve for this price. Build a pretty base, build an efficient base; max all researches, sate that bloodthirst with a zergling genocide, or create any number of your own challenges and restrictions.

Suggested Value: $50 (it sells at a fraction of this)

Where to Buy: Steam, GOG, Factorio.com

Subjective Categorical Ranking:
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The ‘chipped’ towers extend bonuses to electric smelters, which produce copper or iron plates based on which reserve is lowest. An infinite number of layouts awaits the eager factory foreman.

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