Indie Games Uprising III Review: Xenominer – The next generation

The last game review in the Indie Games Uprising III line-up takes us, or more appropriately, crashes us on a distant alien world. Despite its alien appearance, many of us will be doing something we are quite familiar with in this unfamiliar landscape; mining. Yes, Xenominer is an alien twist on what is quickly becoming a classic genre, but does it stand on its own?

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never played Minecraft. I know, crazy huh?  While I’m not quite sure how I’ve avoided it thus far, I have, so I’m approaching Xenominer completely clean and free of any expectations from the other mining games (and also completely free of any pre-existing knowledge of how they work). Whether this makes my review more or less reliable I’m not sure, but that is the situation.

A view down one of the many tunnels in my system.

Now for the meat of it. Xenominer has you waking up on a strange alien planet after your ship has crashed. Your ship’s computer, Daisy, gives you the low down and helps to guide you through the first few steps of the game (though in a slightly less than clear manner).  After you learn the tricks of the trade, right trigger mines a cube of the landscape, left trigger places a cube, you need oxygen converted from ice, solar panel recharges your battery and so on, you are more or less free to roam. There is one major exception of course, each morning the sun rises and the radiation shines down due to the weak atmosphere and will kill you if you don’t find shelter.

The goal of the game seems to revolve around collecting the right materials to build better equipment in order to… do something.  I say it as such for two reasons. One, after the initial introduction there just isn’t much explanation what is going on or if you are doing anything worthwhile (or if there is something you should be doing). 2nd, after about two hours I had goofed around a lot, dug some holes, crafted some buildings, built a couple of parts and such, but had hardly accomplished much. Still, the experience had been enjoyable.

Had been.

At about two, maybe two and a half hours into the game I died. Originally I thought it was because my shelter was insufficient but I learned later that you in fact die if you sit idle for too long. Why was I sitting around doing nothing? Because on this attempt at Xenominer I hadn’t yet figured out that if I went far enough underground I would be protected from the radiation so I was spending the day periods sitting in an alien structure. Since there was nothing to do in there, I simply left the game run for a bit waiting for nighttime to come. I had become pretty accustomed to death in the game by this point (I had already died about 8-9 times that I can remember from the day time radiation at this point), so when I realized that I had died (seeing the respawn screen) I simply sighed and decided to refill my now empty glass of wine and check twitter before respawning. A couple of minutes later I returned and hit “A” to respawn. I walked over to where my stuff had been to collect it, only to find it all gone. Nearly two hours of mineral collecting, part building, etc., all gone. Now, checking with the developer there is a time limit to pick up your stuff after a respawn, which is fair. I still have a problem with this never being mentioned, and of course the fact that the respawn screen counted towards that six minutes (not to mention that I died from simply from standing around waiting for the sun to set). Everything lost I chose to quit the game and hoped that maybe I had saved at some point somewhat recently. I hadn’t.  As a result I was set back to roughly 15 minutes after I had started the game.

My underground lair, still a work in progress, but it does have two floors and several tunnels leading out of it.

And so I quit Xenominer for a while.  To say the least, I was annoyed and immediately drafted my first review full of reasons why Gristmill Studios should be stranded on a real alien planet for all of this. There is definitely a lack of explanation about the time limit, and the respawn screen counting towards it is an obvious bug (and you dieing after a couple of minutes of inactivity likely is too), and this is an issue that needs to be addressed. That said, I decided to let cooler heads prevail and give Xenominer a 2nd try with a completely different play method.

The monument that stood above the main entrance/grand staircase leading into my lair.

My 2nd go of the game proved far more successful. While I still felt ultimately lost about what I should be doing, I started by simply digging downward and quickly carved out quite the underground lair. Over the course of a few hours I expanded my lair, using tunnels to explore further out, with various staircases leading to the surface and setting up small home bases along the way.  Occasionally I would stop to build some monument to show the direction back towards my main home, or to highlight an otherwise well hidden tunnel entrance. It took some trial and error that I would have rather avoided, but I did eventually get the hang of Xenominer and enjoyed it. Quite a bit really.

Crystals in an arrow formation mark a tunnel entrance, with one of my navigation monuments in the background.

That said, I’m still not sure the point. I’ve built quite a few cores, mined a lot of rare minerals, but still haven’t gotten much past the point where I landed in anything other than tunnels mined and ominous monuments built.   Additionally, there are a few things that just feel missing from Xenominer, though not entirely fair to put on the developers. At the end of the day, the only way I can share any of my Xenominer experience, what I’ve built, what’s I’ve done, is some very low-quality camera shots of the game that I’ve posted here. The combination of a less than clear point to the game with no social features means that while I enjoyed Xenominer, I’m not sure how likely I am to keep spending time in it.  This certainly isn’t the game that will have me finally getting hooked by the “craft craze”.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: XBLIG
Time to completion: several hours.
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: 80MSP ($1)
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points
Recommend Purchase Price: Can’t go lower!
Why you should buy it: Addictive style game with a strange alien atmosphere.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: Lack of direction, several bugs that can really ruin the experience.

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About Tristan Rendo

I’ve made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.