Minecraft, the indie sandbox game that could, has become an internet phenomenon in the relatively short time it has been out, sweeping PC gamers off their feet. The simplistic idea of being thrown into a world of digital building blocks never could’ve been predicted to cause as big of a joyous uproar as it has managed to do. Against all odds, the game has received tremendous praise and admiration from gamers and critiques everywhere.
Remember that this is a review based upon the beta version of Minecraft as the developer has stated that it may never be 100% complete. When it comes to childhood memories, building blocks are on most people’s list. Minecraft is essentially the video game equivalent of the great childhood past time, with more mechanics. You play a blocky shaped person placed in a randomly generated world of blocks. Your mission is not stated, goals not defined, no story, and not even any hints to guide you as you venture out. Your beginning will mostly be a self-planned list of fetch quests where you must go gather resources from the land to build into useful tools to build a small shelter. Don’t build a shelter, and at night you will be attacked by a handful of enemies out to make your day (or night rather) a miserable one.
Rewarding Complexities – The purpose and clear focus of Minecraft is great gameplay. The need to resort to a guide for any sense of knowledge can be a withdrawal, but once you catch on the fun begins to seep in. Simply hold your mouse button as you point at what resource (block) you would like to collect and hope that you are wielding the proper tool to mine it. Once you have broken it down into its raw form it will appear in your inventory for later use. Combing different resources in the proper way will craft you a new tool, resource, weapon, armour, utility, or anything else that’s possible to create. Have something you want to place? Just point your reticule where you’d like to place this and press the right mouse button to place it down. This simple control scheme will yield wonders for your creative and adventurous side.
Use your imagination – I feel that I am a fairly creative guy. I won’t be shocking the world with the next best Little Big Planet 2 level or jaw dropping Minecraft creation but I do enjoy freedom of expression. This is where the bulk of fun and excitement comes from Minecraft. Whether you are building a large castle to rein supreme in, building a small shack to prepare for a zombie invasion, or maybe creating an intricate set of mine tracks and portals, you will have a great time in your own way.
Minimalist Charm – Minecraft has great gameplay, but that is difficult to show through images or even video. So when you take a glimpse of a screenshot or video, you may be thrown back when you see the oddly simplistic and blocky look to things. The blocky look is for functionality purposes as you may have guessed from the game play mechanics, but the simple appearance is both charming and a drawback. The graphics are anything but stellar in Minecraft and won’t be giving any current games a challenge in the visuals. This isn’t necessarily a problem either though, because when I imagine Minecraft with the eye popping visuals of Killzone 3, I get shivers down my spine. The art direction fits the game fairly well but when looking at some user created skins, I can’t help but feel that they could add something more to make it smooth over.
Questionable Online – The online in Minecraft is playable at its best. If you want to play online with your downloaded client, you’ll have to do a direct connection to your desired servers IP. This is a huge inconvenience to the match making gamers have become so accustomed to and hopefully will be changed. This unfortunately, is not the end of the online suffering. The game itself can be very difficult to play with several people at once. I tested it on several connections, ranging from dial-up to broadband, and could not get a proper problem free game to play. This however, can be seen as more of a personal gripe as I know of people who have gotten online to work and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just a warning if you were expecting cutting edge online play.
Resource Hog – Minecraft can be played offline with the use of a downloadable client. This client is a windowed application that can be run from any desktop once authentication with minecraft.net has occurred once. I am very against this model, not enough to dislike it, but enough that I would gladly except any change in offline play concept. The reason it doesn’t work is because it just becomes a system hog. I have tried the game on several computers to see the difference and even on the best system I still had some hiccups and frame skips. There is a promise to eventually create a proper client and it can’t come soon enough.
Some guidance required – There is little I truly dislike about Minecraft except for the extreme darkness a new player is placed in. When you first start out you expect some guidance, story, starting goals or objectives, or at least some quick tips, but you are a stranded player in an unknown world. There is no direction given whatsoever, not even as much as a control scheme (although one can be found). Requiring an online guide can be a real pain and makes the beginning steps feel boring and more like work than play. This is a common complaint but luckily it is in beta stage and might include more meat to its bones when it is closer to completion.
Minecraft is a great creative experience that will have you mining for the rarest resource to finish your towering masterpiece for weeks to come. The lack of any help, solid online, and a proper client can be a downer at times, but the gameplay and simplistic visuals give it a voice most high production commercial releases dream of. Due to its beta stage, it is offered at a reduced price and it is something you have to check out.