When Besiege appeared on Early Access, it caused a ripple of excitement through the PC gaming community. Made by Spiderling Studios, this promising little mechanical sandbox has been a surprise hit.
The basic premise of the game is to design a machine of war that will be able to complete a single, simple objective. Each level can be completed with the same machine being carried over, or a completely new design. Refreshingly, the only limitation placed on the player is in the size of the creation – denoted by a dotted cuboid and the parts available to work with. Thankfully, there are enough mechanical components and weapons included so as not to limit how much the choice the player feels they have.
Certain levels will be achieved quicker with a catapult-like machine, while others require some form of anti-infantry approach. The great thing is though that because of how well the mechanical components work within the game’s physics engine, how you choose to deliver that anti-infantry solution can come in a near limitless variety. The creative element of the game is certainly strong enough to support users in their quest to build replica trebuchets and fantasy-inspired whirling blades of death equally.
At the moment there is a single chapter included in the game – one of four that are planned for launch. This chapter includes 15 stages that are unlocked by defeating the previous level. As mentioned earlier, the levels are really simple. When you have a machine that’s capable of beating the objective, the play through will be less than a minute. I feel that this isn’t the main point of the game, though. The point of the game is to encourage experimentation and to learn from failure. At most, with repeated attempts, you’ll spend five or ten minutes actually playing the level. The bulk of your time by far will be spent building, tweaking and redesigning.
The objectives themselves aren’t all that varied – most of them basically ‘destroy this tower’ or ‘collect this object’, but there’s enough variety in the level design to keep things interesting. Some levels will include regiments of archers that will look to stop you from getting to your objective. Others include land mines and magical laser-shooting obelisks – all designed to push you back into working on your design. It would have been very easy to allow the player to build one awesome machine in the first level and progress through the entire game – something which would have destroyed the fun of Besiege – and something that Spiderling have thankfully managed to avoid.
The art style and general look of the game is worth a mention of its own. Besiege looks more like a piece of graphical design software. The user interface is very slick, but looks more like Photoshop than a game. Within the actual gameplay window, there’s a satisfying combination of minimalism – most of the level is a blue void – and a pleasing cartoon style to the important parts, those being your machine and the objectives and obstacles. I’m not sure if this was done as a conscious design decision from the start, or a compromise to avoid performance problems when there’s a ton of physics calculations happening – or even if it’s because they simply haven’t gotten around to making the ground, sky and backgrounds yet – but I like it. And I hope they keep it this way.
When it comes to the combat, all it really needs to be is functional. As I said earlier, it’s not the main focus of the game. It’s a fun little reward that the player gets for building a working machine. It’s all physics based, there’s some humour implied, I feel, with the way that the little enemy soldiers will burn or be crushed – a bit like living skittles – and it’s accurate enough to not feel frustrating. That being said, the new player will have to experiment a bit with more extravagant designs to make sure that their machine doesn’t crumble the first time it runs over a wondering chicken or is struck by an arrow.
Hopefully they’ll work on the tutorial as the game comes close to full release. There are some basic principles that really aren’t explained well at all – the best example of this is steering. It’s not particularly intuitive (well, maybe to a mechanic or engineer it will be), and in particular building a machine that steers properly when you press left or right is far more involved than I could figure out without resorting to help from the Internet.
Spiderling Studios have also said that they don’t plan to add any multiplayer support for ‘technical and performance reasons.’ This is a little disappointing, as at the moment Besiege is a very solitary experience. This could be alleviated somewhat if they include something akin to Spore’s creature and vehicle libraries, which allowed you to view and import other people’s creations from within the game.
Also, for a game that is seemingly made somewhat with YouTube and Twitch in mind, there’s a distinct lack of sharing, integration – again, though, the game has only just reached version 0.1 so they could well be on the to-do list.
If you were to ask me what game I would buy from Steam that’s under $10, I’d be hard pressed to come up with many suggestions before I got to Besiege. It is one of the great champions of the Early Access system and I would whole-heartedly recommend it to anybody.