Over the last couple of years, the survival genre seems to have finally calmed down. People have stuck to what they like and it will be hard to get players out of their comfort zone. Can Volcanoids unearth them and accomplish what so many other titles had issues with — keeping them interested?
Basics — Hit it with a wrench
Volcanoids is a first-person survival game currently in early access. The player commandeers a drillship — a giant machine that travels underground and serves as the base. It can be fitted with different modules to suit your needs, be it research, production or defending it against robots that inhabit the island.
Yours isn’t the only drillship within the world — there is a lot of robot machines showing up all over the place. Raiding other ships and grabbing stuff from them is an important part, as it helps with research, upgrading your drillship and completing quests. The questline makes you drill all around the island to figure out what is it exactly that the robots are doing to this volcanic island. Their actions make the volcano erupt periodically, causing more chaos.
The modules on your ship take up energy, so you need to balance the current outtake as having everything on will quickly drain all your power. And upgraded parts take up more space, which in turn means having to add extra sections to your drillship but only if you first upgrade the engine — and this is where the bulk of the gameplay loop comes into play.
Visuals — Digging deep
Volcanoids is steampunk through and through. A lot of the time in-game is spent in and around digging machines — they do feel as well as look giant and powerful. The insides of machines are fairly compact, giving off a submarine vibe with different lights, levers and valves all around.4
All of this is happening on (or under) an island with a giant volcano in the middle. The environment of it is quite nice, with greenery everywhere — all getting covered in the ash that spews from the volcano periodically. The volcano also creates pools of lava, making the island seem completely uninhabitable, a great contrast to the green meadows it returns to after some time.
There’s not much to say in the way of sound design as there is no music while playing. All of the sound effects are well placed with birds singing in the background and the giant machines rumbling as they create power from coal. I did find them a bit loud when I turned on the game, but that was quickly fixed by going to the options menu.
The Feel — All alone
While the first hour or two I felt really good about the game, first clearing the tutorial and getting my own drillship then fixing it up and adding modules after that the game seems to lose focus a bit. While quests were available, I almost forgot that they exist and was trying to upgrade my ship without full knowledge of how to get certain items. This is something that the developers are aware of and are trying to make parts of the game clearer through updating the game.
With that loss of focus Volcanoids had become somewhat tedious — I was trying to raid other drillships for parts, but for some reason couldn’t find what I was looking for. Only after checking online resources, I found out that the drillships can be fully destroyed and then the parts I was looking for would be available for scavenging.
However, the giant machines and running from module to module, turning them on and off to achieve proper output made the game enjoyable. Something I really appreciate is the fact that most of the actions on the ship can be done without looking at a menu — the consoles are fully working from the first person perspective, which makes using them so much faster.
Volcanoids isn’t too easy — while playing on the standard difficulty mode I managed to die a few times, be it to robots or the turrets some of the drillships have installed. The combat is quite basic with a few types of guns, grenades and healing. And healing turns out to be necessary as the enemies deal a decent amount of damage without missing.
While playing I kept thinking that this is an experience that requires friends. Similarly to Guns of Icarus, running around a steampunk machine with other people trying to switch things on and off and fix modules being broken seems like the natural step for this game. Thankfully, the devs are already working on it and I think that it will help with balancing some of the tedious stuff out.
While I enjoyed my time with Volcanoids, I was left wanting more — more weapons, more modules and more people I can play with. The base game that already exists will keep a player occupied for at least a couple hours, but until more content gets added they might not have a reason to return after that. Hopefully the multiplayer hits soon, and then a lot more shenanigans will be had.
Volcanoids is currently available on PC and Linux through Steam as an Early Access title.