Space Engineers Review

JPep here, with a review on the open world, sandbox space simulator of Space Engineers. I had high hopes for this one when announced as I am a fan of the other space-based sim on Xbox; Elite: Dangerous. This review is coming a little late as the game has already released, but there is quite a lot to digest and a steep learning curve.

Space Engineers plays as an open world sandbox game defined by creativity and exploration. Much like Minecraft, Space Engineers tasks players to gather resources used for crafting different modules. There are many module types, each with varying functions. You can use your module blueprints to build spacecraft, orbital stations, moon bases, rovers, tanks, science vessels, fortified military facilities, nite clubs, restaurants, and what ever else you could possibly think of. And again, much like Minecraft the game features both Creative and Survival modes, with no limit to what can be built, utilized, or explored. The game features both single and multiplayer modes as well.

Space Engineers features a realistic, volumetric based physics system, so everything in the game can be assembled and disassembled, damaged or destroyed. Objects are constructed from block like modules interlocked in a grid and behave as though they have mass, inertia, and velocity. Each individual module also features its own volume and storage capacity. 

Inspired by reality and by how things work, Space Engineers strives to follow the laws of physics and is rooted in today’s current technologies and that which is in the realm of feasibility in the near future. Solar power, battery packs, hydrogen thrusters, personal jetpacks, mining drills, tools for dismantling equipment, and various other technologies are all available to you. 

While mostly concentrating on construction and exploration, Space Engineers can be played as a shooter as well. The developers have stated that they expect to see players avoiding direct man to man combat and instead focus on building weapons and machines of war. That said, it is also possible to infiltrate an enemy fortification on foot. But it should really be more about the machinery you build and not so much about troops.

As I said, there is a lot to take in. I feel as if you’d need to take some college level classes just to learn how to play. Moving your character around is simple enough as the game uses the standard first person control methods that most gamers should be familiar with. The jet pack however, I found to be severely disorienting. It took me a few playthroughs of the first scenario before I felt reasonably comfortable. I’ll give this problem a small pass as it may be that I’m just so used to using a HOTAS for flying around in Elite: Dangerous that any kind of flying around on a gamepad just feels off. I just mention it because that’s how it felt for me. Your experience may be different.

Piloting ships feels better than the jetpack, strangely, though they use the same controls. Perhaps it’s that a ship feels more weighty. In fact, the bigger the ship the heavier it feels. This is a pretty good indicator of the actual physics of the game. For me the problems begin with the sheer number of controls that they try to squeeze onto a gamepad. If you manage to figure out how to open the controller scheme layout you’ll find a looooong list of controls to scroll down through. When you start getting into two button combinations to perform a single action, or worse yet, three button combinations, it really becomes overwhelming. Needless to say, I haven’t done much creating. But I’ve become pretty good at wrecking stuff. I’d recommend an Elite controller if using a gamepad just to be able to map some button combinations to the paddles on the back. The game does support keyboard and mouse controls on the Xbox, so there’s that. But I was never a keyboard and mouse kind of guy, which is why I mostly play games on console instead of PC.

There is little tutorial in the game. Combine this with having to navigate the confusing interface to reach the help menu is frustrating enough. To compound the frustration, once you get to the help menu you’ll find it to be full of links that take you to YouTube videos, effectively taking you out of the game to show you how to play the game. I hated when Elite: Dangerous did it but I feel Space Engineers takes it to another level. I wish the developers took the time to provide more training scenarios with deeper instruction instead of these YouTube links. Another issue is the extremely small text in the interface. You’ll have to play with your nose to the screen if you’re on anything smaller than 40 inches just to be able to read it. 

The game looks pretty enough when it’s not loading in scenery in large chunks. Textures are nicely rendered once loaded in but it doesn’t happen as smooth as I would like which really breaks the immersion. I do like the modular look of the ships and stations and bases that you can build as it’s very similar to the technology that we have floating in orbit around the Earth today. But the developers have even stated that the sheer size of the worlds you are able to create can be quite taxing even on a One X, which makes me wonder why they bothered to bring it to console in the first place. At the time of this writing I haven’t been able to explore any other player created content but that is supposed to be a feature.

Sound is pretty basic but appropriate. It’s mostly quiet in the vacuum of space and the game handles that well, even in a battle between two opposing ships. It doesn’t feel like you’re hearing a thunderous explosion as another ship is destroyed but more like the shockwaves echoing around in your own ships Hull. Explosions on your own ships however come in loud and clear.

I haven’t played the game long enough to experience all of the things shown in the trailer because of my frustrations. But I’m sure that those that can persevere will feel rewarded once all the mechanics of the game can “click” in their brains. Even Elite: Dangerous, a game that I ultimately ended up loving, was uninstalled twice from my console before things “clicked” for me and made sense. I sincerely hope that is the case for me with Space Engineers. There is massive potential here, but the severe learning curve holds the game back from being rewarding or any fun from the start. It needs more in game training instead of YouTube links. And it seems co-op is limited to only four people on a One X  which really can reduce the scope of the game. I would have loved to be in space with entire communities of other players simultaneously. But, as I feel that this game will forever be a work in progress, much like many modern games, I hope the developers can continue to support the game with add-ons and enhancements for years to come. Especially with the Series X on the horizon.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of potential with the groundwork Keen Software have set here in Space Engineers. However, it’s an incredibly obtuse game to get into, not helped by a lack of clear, legible information in game (relying on YouTube links instead). If you’ve the patience to get stuck in though, the scope of what can be done will likely surprise and amaze you.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.
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Good
  • Some nicely detailed visuals
  • Plenty to sink your teeth into if you have the patience
  • Decent audio
Bad
  • Visuals occasionally don't load in fully
  • Can be quite frustrating to play
  • Still buggy
7.5
Good
Gameplay - 6
Graphics - 7.5
Audio - 7.5
Longevity - 9
Written by
Born in New Jersey across the Hudson from Manhattan, I've been playing games for over 30 years. I can confidently say that I've played at least one game on every console ever made. An accomplished Forza artist, I enjoy racing games, platformer/puzzlers, adventure/RPG's, sports titles, and arcade shooters, although I have been known to play some FPS's on occasion. JPep715 on Xbox and jpepek715 on Twitch, feel free to add or give me a follow.

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