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SAN FRANCISCO — During a private demonstration at this year’s Game Developers Conference, I finally got a chance to see a build for this year’s strangest resurrection: Asteroids: Outpost (heading to Steam’s Early Access “very soon”).
Look, let’s get this out of the way right now. Outpost looks and plays nothing like the original game. If you’ve been following our last few articles on this, you already know this (and if you haven’t been keeping up — surprise! It’s a sandbox MMO!).
This doesn’t mean that the project’s many ideas don’t have promise. It just isn’t going to be that Asteroids.
Space real estate
Asteroids: Outpost takes place in a far-future setting where human beings have taken to the stars to plunder valuable resources. Apparently, one of the richest deposits for profitable materials isn’t on a nice, safe, secure plane — it’s on a large, cold rock spinning in space and surrounded by an unstable asteroid field.
The demo started off with an overhead map of the sizable tumbling rock the player is planning to suck dry. From here they can plot out the layout for our first outpost. Initially, the demo gives the player a main building and a giant turret. Once a prime location for these two structures has been chosen, the game jumps into a first-person perspective, live from the surface of our new home.
Where and how you lay out these initial structures is important. Players have an oxygen tank with a limited supply of air. The only place where one can breath easy without having to constantly monitor oxygen levels is inside a building. So laying one piece of your compound a mile away from another could shorten your life span in the game significantly. Especially if it is a turret, since these hold the key to the most important part of the game: mining asteroids.
During the demo, an asteroid shower bombards your compound every 30 seconds. Being caught outside during one of these storms is, obviously, highly dangerous. The turret building has a dual role in this case, to help protect you from being squashed by a stray rock falling from the sky and to turn those asteroids into usable minerals.
When a turret destroys an asteroid, the space rock’s basic compound structure will float to the ground. In order to collect this, you leave the building and quickly mine the valuable material with a special tool. You can use these resources to craft more equipment, weapons, upgrades, building types, etc.
Sounds like a simple enough, yet stressful, daily routine to follow. But other players are doing the same thing. If you wind up with a friendly neighbor, you can work together to build a giant utopian outpost full of shared turrets and buildings. Perhaps even share in the chores of shooting down asteroids and mining them for loot.
If you wind up building next to a player that isn’t so cooperative, things can turn interesting. You can walk right inside of anyone’s building and steal resources, turn critical systems off, and physically destroy the joint. Damaging a section of an outpost can also seriously detriment its ability to produce oxygen.
The kicker to all of this is that anyone can mine the goodies dropped from a shot down asteroid. They aren’t necessarily the property of whoever did the shooting. So one end goal of sabotaging someone’s habitat doesn’t necessarily have to be to outright murder them via suffocation, but to distract them with repair work while you greedily drill away at the goods sitting in their front yard.
OK, so it’s not ‘that’ Asteroids
With this GDC demo of Asteroids: Outpost, I can see where the sketch lines Atari has laid down could lead. The overall idea has a lot of potential if you’re into the idea of griefing others to their death in deep space.
I suspect, however, that the waviness of the lines is why they are going with an Early Access release strategy, which I am told is coming, “very soon”.
It’s sitting in that uncertain spot where the concept seems sound in theory when we’re going over its functions and playing alone. But it’s going to take a large batch of trolls mixed with a helping of friendly cooperative players poured into the experience to see if the foundation holds.
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