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Impressions - Habitat: A Thousand Generations In Orbit

Or 'how recycling will save humanity'

Habitat: A Thousand Generations in Orbit is a strategy/simulation/survival game about constructing an improbable spacecraft out of debris floating in a post-disaster Earth's orbit. It's out on Early Access now.

The first time you move is incredible. You've slowly built this absurd, rickety contraption of rockets, buses, burger restaurants, fire-breathing animatronic T-Rex heads and cruise liners, and it looks like a stiff breeze would tear it into so many lethal pieces. Yet now you have to fire up assorted jet engines and thrusters, and make this absurdist space hulk travel across the skies. Never mind that there are deadly, mine-spitting nanoclouds and inconveniently-placed explosive gas cannisters strewn about Earth's orbit - simply going up and a bit left feels comparable to asking a massive, skinheaded Londoner in a red and white football shirt if he's a Tottenham supporter.

It is, however, rather more beautiful. As that Junk Titanic shudders into motion, somehow holding together (even if the cruise liner is wobbling alarmingly) as its many rockets carry it towards the next patch of potentially useful atmospheric debris, the sense of achievement is immense. I made this. It works. It can provide a home for Earth's survivors.

A new addition to the 'building stuff in space' genre that's proving rather popular of late, Habitat has more of an RTS feel to it, although a rudimentary understanding of physics is essential. A booster fitted at the wrong angle is going to drag you far off-course, or too many burger stands dangling off starboard will affect the way the whole crate moves. Then there's stuff like fitting weapons and grappling hooks, which require slowly and precisely turning the ship mid-fight to keep a bead on enemies and obstacles. It's reminiscent of naval combat games. When you do get a lock on, and trigger a whole raft of lasers and missile launchers and flamethrowers and junk-throwing gizmos to unleash hell on whatever's approaching, it looks and feels marvellous.

Or at least it would if I hadn't fitted an enormous lens on the wrong way, so when I fired my ginormous laser at an approaching nanocloud its beam was not directed towards the angry grey nano-blob but instead reflected back into the heart of my habitat. Oh dear. As I watch my shipping containers and rockets and animatronic T-Rex heads spray across the vast expanse of space, madcap dandelion seeds across a jet-black pasture, I feel not loss, but guilt. Sorry, humanity. It's all over, because I can't tell which way a bit of curved glass should face.

This speaks as much to my ignorance of the concave and the convex as it does to one of the issues in the current Early Access version of Habitat, and one that I hope gets ironed as it slowly creeps towards full release. This is that it's extremely fiddly. I'm constantly selecting the wrong object, or not realising that something's the wrong way round, or failing to build a connection between two structures because the interface will only allow it when the cursor is in a pixel-perfect position - one that's got very little to do with the locations you're interacting with. But hey, Early Access is as Early Access does. This is only the start of the something.

Habitat certainly seems to be going somewhere good, with a rather more gonzo take on space construction and physics than other faintly similar titles stocking Early Access' crowded aisles, but in its current state we're really talking proof of concept. In its current, very limited state, it's effective at making me excited when I stumble across some new hunk o'junk dozing in orbit, wondering what I can use it for, where it's best fitted, if I'm going to kill everyone in the installation process. The question is whether later builds of the game can add in enough new stuff to maintain this excitement, or if floating burger vans and Statue of Liberty heads with laserguns fitted to the point of her crown stop being funny two hours in.

That said, Habitat straddles a thin line between thoughtful and wacky as it is, and I wonder which is the true priority. Is this going to be a game about attacking space monsters with MIRV-spewing Taj Mahals, or one in which you struggle to reach far-flung resources by assembling perfectly balanced array of second-hand jet engines? Somewhere in between works for me, so I hope that's where it stays.

Habitat's out on Early Access now. It's unfinished in its current state and everything is subject to change, naturally.

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