Imagine, if you will, a beautiful alien world. Lush green forests, crystal-clear waters, the freshest cleanest air and the perfect silent stillness of a world untouched by industry. Nothing but the sound of nature and the wind in the trees, swaying gently. Factorio is a game about fixing this atrocity. Fill the water with pumps, clear the forests to place factories and replace the sounds of nature with the perfect, synchronized clockwork clanging of heavy-duty machinery pumping out the blackest smog into the air. Like it says on the package: this is a game about automation.
You begin Factorio by crash-landing on one such procedurally-generated planet of infinite size (yes, actually infinite) with nothing but the clothes on your back, a few metal plates you scavenge from your crashed escape pod and the ability to CREATE. Your final objective is currently rather moot – you are to launch a satellite into space, supposedly as a beacon transmitting your coordinates for some rescue team to show up. Whatever. This is a game about the journey, not the destination – even launching the satellite doesn’t actually end the game but rather pops up a small “You win” message before letting you carry on with your planetary mega-factory.
Factorio kicks you off quite slowly: use your metal plates to craft a couple basic tools, mine some stone, create a rudimentary coal-powered drill, chop a few trees, and make a couple boxes. It’s all very simple stuff and the game’s current campaign is more of a tutorial that will teach you the basics from crash-landing to self-sufficiency. Research also plays a major part, as you develop your tools and constructions from the rudimentary to the fantastic.
Once you have a couple drills going, coal obviously isn’t going to cut it – you’re going to want some electricity. So you craft a water pump, some steam engines and finally the lights go on. Coal drills are removed, to be replaced by electric drills with greater clearance rates as you strip-mine the land bare. Countless conveyor belts and robotic arms sprout like mechanical mushrooms after acid rain, moving materials and products from drill to smelter to assembler, eventually coming out the other end as whatever you desire. Slowly, automation begins.
This is the part of Factorio that appealed the most to me and it just happens to be the core mechanic of gameplay: Automation. Your factory is a growing, living organism that takes a life of its own very quickly. It grows, it moves, its veins pump coal and ores, it exhales dark clouds of acrid smoke, it is always on the lookout for more iron, copper, oil, whatever it hungers for next. There is no way you can manually provide everything to it so you constantly build more machines to feed resources and electricity into even more machines and the factory grows once more.
While you are the only truly intelligent being on the planet, you are not the only sentient life form. The planet is home to a species of alien animals and they actually like the peace and quiet. The bigger your factory grows, the more pollution you spew into the air and the water, the more these aliens are going to want you gone. They will attack you relentlessly with countless waves of aliens (remember, endless game world?) you are going to repel – or better yet take the fight to them. Defense is a constant task because the aliens are never going to give up, so you must be prepared. Build factories to churn out countless bullets, design intricate defensive lines to put the Maginot Line to shame, add lasers and landmines – all in the name of defending what’s yours. You even get to build a tank, complete with machineguns and a turret firing heavy-duty shells to really drive home the message that you are now the king of this planet.
Factorio is a game you can play by yourself and enjoy immensely (as my 200 play hours testify to) but it also supports online co-op. Playing with a friend who is within earshot is recommended, but not necessary. It eases the burden somewhat, as two minds designing a mega-factory are going to work better than one and shouting “QUICK! MORE PLASTIC!” across the room is a lot more effective than on Skype. On one occasion we simply divided the great state of Factoria between 3 people, each responsible for a different aspect, until our minister of defense missed a gap in the base’s defense and was “accidentally” run over with a tank when aliens destroyed a handful of laboratories and their associated production facilities.
Graphically, Factorio is very simple. Using pixelated art style, the overall design is best described as “Functional Modern” with the conveyors and factories looking modern and without unnecessary frills. A lot of work went into those simple graphics, though, and you can tell what’s what at a glance. What’s more, it also means the game can run on pretty much any PC (the game’s minimum requirements are a dual-core 1.5Ghz CPU and 2GB RAM which certainly qualifies as “A Toaster”) so you can dig up an old laptop you have sitting around and play with your friends.
With everything currently available, the game is still growing. It is officially in Steam Early Access since February 2016 with no final release date set – but it is one of the most polished and complete Early Access games I’ve played. The developers also deserve a special mention, as they post weekly update logs, maintain a strong community relationship and just do a lot of things right outside the basic development that I wish more companies would do. I believe that the developers taking a strong interest in the community is a powerful driving force that makes the game better with every update.
Since this is an Early Access game, it doesn’t feel just right grading it yet but I do wish to close on a recommendation: if you enjoy fine-tuning production lines, tinkering with the smallest details, planning logistic routes that are “just right” or just creating real automation that works independently, Factorio is a game for you. It takes a while to really get into, but once you do, there is no stopping. The factory grows.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.