Every Monday we send Brendan to the far-flung reaches of the early access galaxy. And sometimes we even receive a report back. This week he finds himself stranded on a stormy, alien-infested planet in Osiris: New Dawn [official site].
I have survived many things – the dinosaurs of ARK, the mad men of Rust, a degeneration of the self in DayZ. This makes me perfectly suited to colonise and thrive on the dusty, Mars-like planet of Proteus 2 – the only map of this new survival game. I crash-land on the planet, patch my suit up with duct tape and set off for the great unknown. I reach a huge crater and peer in – what riches will I find here? What wonderful discoveries? Oh, look, a giant worm has leapt out of the ground. I have discovered a giant worm. Also, I have been eaten.
Welcome to Osiris: New Dawn. Like those that came before, this is a game of collecting resources, crafting items, building a base and periodically dying at the hands of your fellow man or in the jaws of some horrifying form of multi-limbed wildlife. Everything is in its place, like the static Rust map of old, and your map device provides co-ordinates for your exact position. In PvP servers the astronauts are divided into teams – the UNE and the Outlanders - and they are spawned in different areas. Not much gets explained to you upon landing, apart from how to fix your suit and how to get as far as saving your progress. Like its forbears, Osiris doesn’t waste much time teaching you anything beyond “here’s how to build a shack, okay, off you pop.”
But the gist is enough to get anyone familiar with the genre into the swing of things. I took my space hammer to some rocks and, hey presto, plutonium. I struck a tree and, lo and behold, some berries. I shot a giant spider with my pistol, et voilà, eaten by a giant spider. It’s a survival game all right.
I had some trouble getting a multiplayer server to run correctly, however. A result of this is that you're going to have to suffer a review of the single-player experience. Hardly ideal, but then again, it was the game's own fault. First the lag was causing ghostly astronauts to appear and vanish in front of my eyes, then I was informed that no more structures could be built due to overcrowding. I looked around at the empty wasteland and frowned. Only 12 people are allowed on a server right now. I could not see any of their buildings.
Eventually, these and other issues chased me onto my own private game, where I could control how fast the deposits of iron and copper regrew, or how nasty a bite from a Giant Land Crab was. I left these alone for now but they would come in useful later.
Remember when Rust gave you a shack to start with? Something safe and easy to make? This does more or less the same thing with an inflatable dome. Somehow this bubble of cloth and plastic is strong enough to keep out horror-animals with spikes instead of feet - a property I am glad it possesses, since my first night on Proteus 2 was spent peeping out the doorway and taking pot shots at the ‘arachnids’ and ‘gnats’ that leapt around outside and hissed liked nightmarish cats. Often their spiny limbs would clip through the wall of the shelter and this would make me a mix of unsettled and amused. I killed them all before sunrise.
I doubt the creatures here would be so creepy if the night time wasn’t so profoundly dark, requiring a torch at all times. My battery has yet to run out but when it does I will have to scour the planet for lithium. The monsters, meanwhile, are both scary and a nuisance. By default there are a lot of them. Some, like the land crabs, are vicious from the moment they see you, others such as the tortoise-like Tumbo, will only attack if you get too close and others still leave you alone no matter what, like the tiny parasite. Physically, they’re wonderfully alien, a ramshackle posse of critters with inspirations ranging from Dead Space’s necromorphs, ancient trilobites, ostriches, Dune's spice worm and Starship Troopers’ bugs. As a work of alien creature design, I like them a lot. As a videogame enemy, they are infuriating pests.
Let me explain. I set up my starter dome in an area with a lot of iron and lead, thinking it would be smart to be near some resources. Unfortunately, I had to kill a Tumbo, one of the tortoisey creatures, after it protested at my presence. First my robot helper began shooting at the animal. Everyone gets one of these AI pals at the start, to help you mine or fix things. But they are hopelessly dumb, often getting stuck behind terrain or objects. The robot was killed within seconds. I shot the alien to death in the head. Picking the alien meat off the ground, I dusted my hands and began setting up my home. Let's see, I'll put a depository box here, a forge here, yes, then some nice -
The Tumbo reappeared.
I turned to look at it. It started howling at me and I had to put it down again, running around in circles and slowly chipping away at it with my pistol until it fell.
Hmmm. I got back to work, mining some rocks and exploring. When I came back to the base, I saw the Tumbo had respawned again. So, I realised, the enemies respawn in exactly the same spots all the time. Excellent. I killed the same giant tortoise seven times, doing the circular shoot-him-in-the-head dance every time, before I lost the rag and packed up my inflatable home. I had to destroy the forge and deposit box and relocate everything 75 metres away. He still spawns there now and I have to look at him from afar and seethe. I cannot describe how furious that Tumbo made me.
This is maybe because, as with other craft-em-ups, Osiris asks you to invest a lot of time. Playing by your lonesome, it can take hours to get a habitat up and running. I eventually built a bigger structure only to discover you also need to fill in each wall individually, which means more trips to the iron deposits, more shovels full of sand into the forge to craft glass, and more journeys out across the planet’s surface to get faraway materials.
In the beginning, I loved this. It felt like a real undertaking – walking out into the wilderness in the middle of a huge duststorm, terrified that night would fall any minute and that a pack of arachnids might show up. The visuals do it a big service here. Rain and dirt gets on your visor, warping or obscuring fine details of the land. The wind howls, the trees bend. Through the sand you can see some movement – a shadow? - but you’re not sure what. Like all the best planets, this one has an atmosphere.
But the more the game’s crafting tree was revealed, the more I began to resent those journeys. The biggest sin of survival games is reproducing the grind of old MMOs – not through numbers-go-up experience levels, but by making the process of crafting intentionally long-winded. I made a chemistry table for my habitat, determined to figure out how to craft plastic. For this job, it told me, you need Hydrogen gas. Hmmm, I had seen some gas columns rising from a crater on the horizon. I shall go there and investigate. And I’ll bring a gas canister too – that’s forward thinking of me! I am a clever and handsome astronaut. I'm basically Matt Damon.
I trekked to the crater, probably a kilometre and a half in-game, and peeped into the crater bed. There were two trilobite snake baddies lurking in there and I shot them in their heads. I trudged down, filled up the gas tank at a geyser sprouting yellowish hydrogen gas, and boosted out with my jetpack. Mission accomplished. Back in the habitat, the chemistry table told me, well done, Brendan. You have enough here to make one piece of plastic.
I looked at the crafting menus, at all the things requiring 2 or 5 or 10 pieces of plastic, and I nodded. Then I nodded some more. That's fine. That's fine. You know what? This game was not going to stop me from building that biodome I want. I went out to the forge and crafted eight empty gas tanks – no small job in itself - and marched straight back out to the geysers.
By this time I had also altered the server settings. I toned down the density of alien creatures, and gave resource deposits bigger yields. Every journey spent dodging animals only increased the sense of grind. Any advantage I could give myself in terms of mining, I took. The thing that was keeping me invested in this inhospitable planet was my home base. You can build biodomes, hallways, solar panels, a barracks, a laboratory, computer desks, 3D printers, oxygenaters, water pumps – and all of them serve some real purpose in terms of your survival. I may have been irritated by the process of building my habitat wall-by-wall, but this also gives you the chance to plan and build your base by connecting portals and airlocks in the places you want, eventually creating a kind of ‘modular’ space outpost. This was what kept me going, the chance to get creative and build a home - not the animals or the mining.
I came back from the geysers with eight gas canisters on my back, all packed to the brim with delicious, explosive hydrogen. It was as much as I could carry without being slowed down by encumbrance (more on that later). I made a bunch of plastic bits and created a fabricator. Happy days, I can definitely make some wires and things now. I’ll have a machine that makes oxygen in the habitat and I won’t have to sleep in the inflatable dome of shame anymore. This is it, this is the future!
We need gold for that, Brendan, said the fabricator menu.
I nodded. I nodded furiously. Fine, if I can’t make wires and things I’m sure I can get to work on the biodome instead. I must have enough plastic left over for that.
We need more plastic for that, Brendan, said the chemistry table.
At this point, I did not nod. I told the game to take a flying leap and turned it off. Maybe my patience for crafting and survival is taking a hit, maybe I am not the survivor I once was. Or perhaps any survival game that ensures you can only build a single thing each time you come ‘home’, from your countless trips of scraping metal off the floor, needs to take a good look at itself in the game design mirror. It’s MMO grind given a new form and it is exhausting. On top of that, the curse of pitiful inventory space of No Man’s Sky seems to have infected this game in the form of encumbrance. Carry too much and you can’t sprint, which makes you never want to go over the limit. Given that most of things you are mining are chunks of heavy metal, you will fill up fast or you will be encumbered a lot. It takes a long time to do anything.
These complaints are a pity, considering how much Osiris has going for it. But they should be easy to tweak and fix (just make deposits more common, or require less for certain items) which would be a huge relief to anyone like me who is otherwise enthralled by the setting. After all, the world is gorgeous – a ringed gas giant hangs in the sky, storms kick up red dust, meteors sometimes rain down from above, a giant sand worm lurks in a notoriously magnesium-rich crater, and nightfall brings with it a deep darkness that is all-encompassing and genuinely nerve wracking. Given the choice between playing more of this or going back into ARK: Survival Evolved, I would still definitely choose the sandstorms and otherworldly vistas of Osiris.
There are other things waiting for those with more patience or friends than me. Keep working up the tech tree and YouTube tells me there are rovers, hover bikes and spaceships to craft. Right now there is only one planet, however, meaning a spaceship can only really take you into orbit to see the planet from above. But future updates are going to let you fly to neighbouring planets, the devs say. That and other future plans make this something to watch. In time I can see it being a decent addition to the genre, a time-dilating planet where players will lose yet more hours of their precious lives. I’m just not sure if its habitable yet.
Osiris: New Dawn is avialable on Steam for £18.99/$24.99. These impressions are based on build 1366441.