As I explore a strange steampunk island I’ve just arrived on, the earth begins to rumble, my senses disoriented for a few seconds. Getting back to my submarine, I seal the doors behind me in preparation for inevitable danger, looking out of a handy periscope, only to see the island suffer gigantic volcano explosion, and my vision gets blocked. With the smoke gone, the once green environment is now concealed under a layer of ash, though I’m capable of venturing out yet again. From there on, Volcanoids asks to construct a ship core, setting you up for what you’ll be spending much of your time playing with. An open-world, base building survival game, it sends you out on a quest to reclaim this land for the people once more, and somehow figure out how you’re going to silence the volcano all by yourself.
Developer, Publisher: Volcanoid
Release Date: January 29, 2019; Reviewed on: PC
Testing specs: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070
Available via: Steam
Volcanoids is one of those impressively distinct games in its genre, attempting to throw in a few interesting spins on a simple formula. Your base here is in fact a mobile drillship, used for protection against consistent volcanic eruptions, as well as traversal to further areas. My one complaint here is that travel is rather limited, and only lets you move to certain areas preset on the map with a push of a few levers. There’s no real sense of control at the moment. Once you have a drillship though, the game follows a logical upgrade process where you expand the capability of base systems through crafting various modules, which keeps the interest going. Ranging from production to defence, these would soon have you extend the home drillship into a lengthy structure that folds up and digs underground, although you don’t get access to crafting until you’re back on the surface. It is a generally intuitive system, and Volcanoids also explains the process at every step, sometimes with too much detail. It did allow me to get the hang of crafting rather quickly, however, so I’d often get ahead of the game’s quest objectives.
You’re always informed about the next step along the journey, with very detailed quest descriptors ensuring you’re never lost in confusion. Volcanoids never hinders your progress, whether it be in its simple base building that is never difficult to accomplish, or clearly outlined objectives. Further on, in the least demanding crafting system you’d possibly find in the genre, expanding your drillship is consistently smooth, and I never had to find a hundred of something to build fifty of another. It always took just a few parts to get the next module built, and after a few hours in, I already had an impressive-looking drillship serve as my home base. Interior-wise, there isn’t much available thus far, though given industrial nature of structure builds, one can only do so little here. Still, there’s room for creative gamers to build impressive designs with what’s available, which always counts as a positive. With a solid game foundation available in Early Access release, the developers can always expand on these features to give players variety later on.
Exploration doesn’t seem integral to the experience so far, but you also don’t want to be stranded far from your home base when the volcano is about to go off. You do have a countdown timer at the top of the screen, so eruptions never really come as a surprise. Perhaps through various difficulty modes, players will have the option to toggle it off, judging imminent danger via tremors in the island’s ground. I found Volcanoids to be rather easy for a start, with light survival mechanics that don’t rely on standard thirst/hunger metrics, and consistent UI clues for when the next explosion was coming. Your drillship wails in a loud siren thirty seconds before you need to be completely safe, and it moves fast in digging underground, so I was always capable of escaping the volcano’s eruption. This light difficulty is easy to master, though I appreciated having it as a new player. As the game enters Steam Early Access, I’m sure a lot of complexity is yet to be added.
Volcanoids doesn’t pack in much exposition, though its brief intro sequence effectively lays out one’s intentions from the get go. When you aren’t messing around with placement of different modules on your home base, you assault an enemy faction of robots that at some point emerged on the island. A trusty starter shotgun kept me protected from most threats, though if you aim to go after many hostile-controlled drillships, grenades come in handy against groups and more durable structures. Larger enemy bases were an absolute nightmare to challenge, however, as the limited weapon arsenal and lack of armor leave few ways to deal with their turret defenses. Hiding behind cover usually helps, but the closer you get to a drillship, the enemy can consequently move it underground to escape your assault. You tend to encounter robots all over the island as well, and they serve as fun combat distractions when you’re busy with something else.
The visual design here is also impressive, injecting a solid note of steampunk into the island’s natural areas. Small settlements dot the map all over, though so far, I found few reasons to go out and explore the island. Apart from collecting the necessary research, which unlocks a new tier of upgrades, Volcanoids doesn’t have enough compelling reasons to explore the island, and it could do away with showing you exact locations of where to get that next tier of upgrades. I did appreciate the clarity in objectives here nevertheless, which sets a clear roadmap for player actions, but some mystery is certainly needed to maintain consistent interest a few hours in. You won’t spend much time mining resources either, though I can’t complain because other games force you to gather considerably longer.
Volcanoids is off to a great start, packing in all essential features you’d expect from a survival-based exploration game, while delivering a unique premise with its design. It’s a surprisingly polished title, which you don’t always get in my experience with Steam Early Access releases. I don’t want to go into too much technical detail here, but Volcanoids runs quite smooth for an Alpha version, and I’ve yet to experience a single system crash or massive framerate drops. To add a cherry on top, if you love steampunk settings, the game well delivers on its premise. In a genre that’s become vastly expansive and at the same time rather repetitive, if you’re looking for a change in standard fare of open-world survival games, this one shouldn’t be missed out on. Volcanoids isn’t extremely different just yet, though stands out quite well, and has much potential to evolve through community feedback.
You can follow Volcanoids’ development on Steam, as well as on the team’s trello discussion board. A game code was provided for review purposes.