Survival Sandbox games are always an interesting genre to tackle. With some many things to consider and so many different ways to approach the concept of survival, it is always interesting to jump into a new sandbox and see just how the developer attempts to tackle these many facets of the design. Recently I spent some time with ‘Steam Hammer’, a steampunk take on the survival genre currently in Early Access on Steam. After several hours of digging, running, building and dying I have walked away with some mixed feelings on this Steampunk Survival game. This is our preview of the Early Access title ‘Steam Hammer’.
When I first fired up ‘Steam Hammer’ I was greeted with a limited but functional character creation screen. As this title is still in development the options for character creation are limited; but with selectable mutton chops and a sweet steampunk themed faction to choose from it does feel like there is some potential as the title is refined. With time hopefully we will see these features fleshed out. After some quick cosmetic choices I was dropped into a bleak looking wilderness setting with nothing but the clothes on my back and the vast world before me.
The first thing that I took note of was that graphically the game is simply functional. It is by no means an ugly game but rather uninspired. The landscape, foliage and textures all seem generic and dull; a bit of a letdown to say the least. As a game that boasts a steampunk setting it would have been nice to see a bit more time spent on the visual aesthetic of the game.
As I began to explore the world I quickly realized that what the game lacks in visual appeal it makes up for in sheer depth of many of its other game systems. Crafting, exploration, construction and skill progression take a front seat in development for the title, each one adding an incredible layer of depth and progression to the gameplay. It’s a fairly steep learning curve, especially for the survival genre newbie and I recommend that you spend some time looking up youtube tutorials for the game if you have never played this style of game before. ‘Steam Hammer’ is catering to the hardcore survivalist and it makes no qualms about it. The menu systems are deep, well thought out and robust and if minecraft was the first thing you thought of when you read survival genre earlier take a step back and realize that this is a totally different type of survival.
Although complex and sometimes frustrating to master, the crafting and construction systems in this game are some of the deepest and most satisfying I have played in a while. It took me a couple hours to get a basic campsite up and running, which I attribute to both the steep learning curve but also my inability to focus on one thing for more than five minutes. Once I had a basic handle on how the systems, however, construction progressed quickly and became more and more satisfying as I developed my character.
As much as I loved the construction, exploration and crafting side of ‘Steam Hammer’ I have to confess that as well developed as these systems are the combat, general movement and character animations are sorely lacking. This could be in part because the title is still in Early Access and my hope is that with time these latter system will be fleshed out, refined and cleaned up. However in its current state they are a hot mess. Combat is especially dismal and at the moment is my greatest frustration with the game. I died several times to a pack of wild wolf things simply because my weapons never seemed to land a blow. This is especially frustrating when you have been farming materials for the last hour and drop everything on death. I do want the clarify that I’m not upset with the way the developer handles death, in fact I love real consequences in my death mechanics. What’s frustrating is that because of state of the combat, the death mechanics become brutal and in turn leave the player with little desire to continue playing.
My other gripe with the game is that it is still fairly buggy and on occasion suffers from severe latency. Several times I would attempt to perform an action such as mining or cutting and nothing would happen. On other occasions my inventory wouldn’t collect materials I was farming even though I was well within my carrying weight. This is where one of ‘Steam Hammers’ greatest strengths becomes one of its greatest struggles.
The game really doesn’t offer you anything by way of explanation. You are, for the most part, left to your own means to figure out how things function in the world. From a discovery standpoint this is wonderful. Figuring out how to light a fire, for example, was so satisfying when I finally completed the task. However in times when you're faced with the issue of inventory I mentioned above, it's difficult to distinguish if I was dealing with game bug or simply a game mechanic restriction. This became frustrating on several occasions and I spent more time googling for answers than I did playing the game which in this writer's opinion is never a good sign.
In its current state ‘Steam Hammer’ is definitely a work in progress. There are some well-developed systems as mentioned but there are also still some pretty unpolished mechanics in the game. This coupled with bugs and latency makes Steam Hammer a bit too unforgiving in its current state. Hopefully with time and community feedback the developers will be able to help bring this game up to its full potential.