The bombs have fallen, everything is mutated to heck. But yet in Atomicrops you’re strapped with a gun and a farm to tend.
Bird Bath Games’ Atomicrops has got more than just fruit and vegetables as collectables, objectives and currency — it also has the concept of growing them threaded into its nature. While on first play it feels like a twin-stick shooter with roguelike elements, the more you play, the more you realise that it’s a journey propped up by a hundred tiny survival tips that you can only learn through experimentation and failure.
When it comes to growing produce — in the real world — it often takes many years for the plant to create anything even remotely successful, or for you to wrest control of the output enough for it to resemble what you actually wanted. Trees take bloody ages and the vine-based plants take years before they produce anything more than a bitter pulp. In time though you learn which produce to keep and which to throw away — equivalent to how we try and try again when it comes to roguelikes.
Most first runs, after the skeletal tutorial, are furious bursts of fire before being overrun by the denizens of the wastes that surround your farm plot. Atomicrops‘ procedural generation can sometimes place the little hubs of enemies so close together that they are – to the early player – indistinguishable. The variety of pick-ups is baffling on first glance — heck, the types of pick-ups are baffling at the start. Why am I automatically watering but not tilling? What do I even do with a pig now? AAAH!
But it all starts coming together, death upon death. Even without tooltips or little pop-ups you very quickly learn to value the single-use items rather than stockpile them. You learn that if you grow your crops in a square and use fertiliser on them that they are worth massive amounts more. You learn that kiting enemies — dragging them from their safe areas — isn’t necessarily a good idea, as there are plenty of enemies who dodge and dart around the non-space trying to kill you. A dozen deaths in and you’ve finished a few seasons, out-paced a few bosses, used materials to rebuild bridges and explore more areas. Then you die again.
Atomicrops has far more in common with the dungeon-diver (or tower-climber) than it might originally seem. Each day-cycle is equivalent to one of its peer’s floors, where you can dart around and dodge or engage with as many enemies as you wish, and that day then ends with a visit to the town where you can potentially spend some of your hard earned loot on upgrades, heals and bonuses. Its main difference is that none of the loot which enemies drop, or which you find in those hubs I mentioned earlier, directly translate into revenue. For that you need to grow them. This is the major difference, this pull back toward a central point in order to see your projects bloom. In most games we can run away from danger, returning to a place we’ve cleared out for our own safety, but in Atomicrops there is no safe place without risking losing your entire harvest.
Conceptually it is incredibly smart, and it’s also pretty close to that when it comes down to the controls. Certain elements, as I said earlier, are automatic. If you walk near plants which need watering, and you have water, then you’ll water them. If you run out of water and you walk to a well then you’ll automatically refill. However, for every element which requires zero input there are some which require two. Tilling, planting and digging requires you to indicate a direction and hold the action key – if you don’t then it’s all based on which direction you were roughly moving in, and that leads to high chaos. This means that neither mouse and keyboard (better for giving that direction while farming) or controller (easily better for accurate shooting) feel perfect for the game, and I spent a lot of time blaming the controls for my own failings — like an awful craftsman blaming tools.
But the controls are just a small distraction from a tightly-wound roguelike. Atomicrops‘ fantastic, lumpy/crafting-clay art style means that every new enemy is a delight to behold, while the goofy soundtrack never seemed to wear too much on my ears through my playtime. If you’re willing to die a few times to get to grips with it then you’ll see that there has been a lot of careful work put into cultivating Atomicrops from concept to its current state.
Atomicrops is available in early access on the Epic Store.