What is Universe Sandbox? Well, that’s a pretty good question. Is it a game? Not really… But then why is it even on Steam and why does it cost money? These are questions I really don’t think I can even answer and, by the time you are finished reading this review, you won’t be any closer to knowing the answers yourself. You will, however, know what you can do in Universe Sandbox.
Universe Sandbox is, well, a universe sandbox made by developer Giant Army and released at the end of April 2011. In Universe Sandbox, you quite literally get to do whatever you want with our universe. Want to take our solar system and add a few new moons to planets or change the order of the planets from the sun? You can do that. Want to make the moon crash into Earth? That is also possible. Hell, are you even wild enough to want to make Andromeda crash into the Milky Way? Again, that can be done.
In this open-ended sandbox title, there is no limit to what you can do with the tools given to you. While you can’t really have much fun with things like nebulas or quasars, you can place and edit any asteroid, planet, moon, or sun that you can think of. There are lots of simulations to play with as well, or you can start with a blank universe and build your own galaxies and solar systems complete with fully orbiting planets and moons.
So, what can be edited when you set down something like a planet? Diameter and mass top the list, and putting them both up to insanely high numbers results in some funny situations, like watching an unfathomingly huge Earth sucking in the entire Milky Way. You can also edit the model and texture of any celestial bodies, which grants you the ability to make entirely new planets or suns. Fans of science fiction series like Star Trek or Star Wars would surely like this as it grants them the ability to quite literally recreate their favourite solar systems and such. There are about three pages of text fields and sliders to play with for each object you set down in space, which is pretty insane. I haven’t even touched all of the sliders and, truth be told, I’m a little afraid to because one false move and you’ll completely upset whatever you’ve been working on unless you’re one hundred percent sure of what you are doing.
The controls are incredibly poor and unresponsive, which is this Universe Sandbox’s biggest fault. There is a Sims-like camera control menu in the bottom left of the screen, but it is very slow and tedious to use. The alternative is using the keyboard and mouse to move about but, quite frankly, how successful you are with the control scheme is pretty 50/50. Sometimes I’ve been able to navigate my solar systems with ease while, other times, one false click of the mouse and the camera is locked or I’m all the way across the universe.
There is no sound effects or music to speak of at all and what little graphics you’ll find in Universe Sandbox aren’t really that breathtaking. You would expect a space simulator to have really nice graphics to reflect the beautiful sights of the universe, but nothing in this sandbox title will even come even remotely close to wowing you. It’s all average fare. This isn’t a good thing, but it isn’t necessarily bad either.
If you’re a huge space buff, then you’ll probably have a lot of fun with Universe Sandbox. There’s so much to do that it’s overwhelming and sometimes you may not even be able to think of anything to do because there are just so many choices. This is pretty much what happened to me, and it’s why I’m completely unable to make this review any longer! Universe Sandbox is a pretty cool tool to check out, especially if you like space. However, if you doubt that you’d use it any more than a few times then you may not want to lay down the cash for it.
PROS: + It’s fun to cause chaotic events in space.
+ Extensive tutorial section should help players learn the game.
+ Player is given complete control over events.
CONS: – No music or sound. At all.
– Sandbox is very intimidating for a while.
– Camera controls are terrible.
Terraria is a creative new action/adventure sandbox game by Re-Logic that encourages players to explore and be creative. While Terraria is often compared to Minecraft by many people, I won’t be making many comparisons between the two games because I feel that they are vastly different from one another. So, let’s dive on in and talk about Terraria.
First off, there is no story. After you make your character (picking a hairstyle, adjusting colour sliders, and slapping a name onto the sprite), you are just dumped into a randomly generated world with no indication as to what you need to do. Terraria does not hold your hand, so it is likely that anyone who didn’t properly research the game before buying it will immediately feel lost. Thankfully there is a “guide” NPC who will at least give players a few semi useful tips when he is right clicked.
The object of Terraria, right from the get go, is to harvest lumber and gather resources from subterrane locales so that you can outfit yourself with forged materials while also constructing a proper house or shelter for your character as well as the guide NPC. This must be done relatively quickly at the beginning of the game because, when night comes, flying eyeballs and zombies prowl the randomly generated landscape and they will not hesitate to tear you a new one due to the fact that players are grossly unprepared to take on either of these creatures upon first starting out.
To protect yourself for the nights, the game implies that you should use your hatchet to cut down trees and build a house. This is pretty easy to do. The hatchet, along with many other tools such as the hammer and pick, can be used by selecting them in your inventory and just holding the left mouse button down over whatever it is you wish to chop or cut. When you fell a tree, it will turn into about a dozen pieces of wood that you can pick up. Each piece of wood is a single block that can be used for building. If you want to make a square home, you’d need about forty pieces of wood (approximately five pieces for each side).
The wood you harvest can also be used to make objects such as chairs, work benches, and doors. Making the right objects and placing them in your constructed abodes can attract NPCs to live in your settlement. All NPCs have their own special requirments that must be met before they show up (as an example, a merchant will not come to settle unless your currency is equal to or greater than 50 silver coins) but beyond that, all they need is a room with a door, chair, table and sufficient lighting. Make a room with these elements and chances are you’ll eventually have an NPC living there.
There are several NPCs which all serve different purposes. The merchant will buy your goods and sell you various pieces of gear and miscellaneous items while the nurse NPC will heal your wounds. There are approximately six or seven different NPCs who can come to your settlement, and it feels really wonderful to have them show up and settle in your constructed buildings.
Beyond building houses and attracting NPCs, you can use the resources you gather to upgrade your equipment. Your tools (axe, hammer, pick) can all be upgraded, and you will also be able to forge armor and weapons as well. What you can forge depends on what kind of ores you have mined. Low tier ores such as copper or iron will give you pretty average armor and weapons that should enable you to stand up to creatures a little better, while higher tier ores such as gold or hellstone will definitely enable you to stand up and overpower most monsters with ease.
While Terraria’s surface world gameplay is mostly about building structures and staying safe, the underground gameplay is vastly different. With your trusty pick and torches, you will dive deep into caves and catacombs in search of ores and treasures. Terraria is fairly generous when you are close to the surface, giving you an ample amount of copper and stone while throwing relatively few enemies at you, but as you dig down deeper you will begin to encounter many new monster types that will force you to change your combat tactics often.
The underground areas of Terraria are actually far more interesting than the overworld. There are many different “regions” underground such as mushroom forests, underground jungles, dungeons, and rivers of molten magma. The environments that you come across depend upon how far down you are (except for underground jungles which are placed in any random underground location).
Now for a bit of technical aspects. How are the building/movement controls and the combat? They may feel a little peculiar at first since the game handles very much like a retro Super Nintendo game, but it is not hard to adjust. Placing blocks and building is extremely easy as it is just all point and click, while combat pretty much comprises of just pointing your character in a direction and clicking repeatedly until whatever you are fighting dies. It’s not a revolutionary combat system and it’s not at all deep, but it’s good enough and is fun at times. However, sometimes it feels as if monster respawn times are far too fast and you may be bombarded by upwards of half a dozen enemies at once. When this happens, combat may become frustrating or tedious.
Ingame menus can also be a little frustrating to navigate. While the overall presentation is pretty simplistic, the inventory screen is pretty cluttered and gets messy in a hurry. The crafting menu is nothing more than a column that you click through with your mouse. Clicking on an item will craft the item, but if you click even slightly off of the item’s icon, you’ll move the column to highlight another item, which can be a little annoying at times. The health bar is also confusing, as your life is depicted by a series of hearts like in Zelda… However, hovering over your hearts will present you with a numerical value for your life. Since whenever damage is inflicted in combat it is visually displayed in numerical format, wouldn’t it make more sense to just use plain text to display life rather than hearts? It is not always easy to judge how much health you are at. It’s an odd system, but it doesn’t put too much of a damper on the gameplay.
The graphics are pretty admirable as a whole. Terraria looks a lot like a Super Nintendo game, which may partially be due to the fact that the creator of the game previously worked on the freeware Super Mario Bros. X game. The creator seems to have a deep love for retro gaming, and it really shines through Terraria’s graphics. Enemies are simplistic but nice looking, and environments all look like standard 16-bit platforming fare. Anyone who appreciates 2D graphics should feel right at home in Terraria. 3D enthusiasts, however, are less likely to enjoy Terraria’s worlds.
The sound effects are mostly generic noises that won’t sound too new to anyone. Most of the sound effects in Terraria are bumps, clunks, and thuds. The music is a whole different story. It seems to be widely agreed upon that the music in Terraria is exceedingly pleasant to listen to. Like the graphics, Terraria’s music seems to have come straight out of the 16-bit gaming era. The day time music sounds cute and cheerful while the night theme is spooky and really evokes a feeling that you need to get to safety before the flying eyeballs make quick work of burying you six feet under.
So how much of a sandbox game is Terraria? Well, even though there is the goal of building a settlement and expanding it while keeping it safe, there is no time limit to it and you’re basically free to do whatever you want at any time you desire. For example, rather than working at upgrading gear and attracting NPCs, a friend and I have instead been focusing on turning a floating island into a stronghold that we can live in and store our resources and supplies in, and it’s taking several hours to do this!
Terraria is $10 on Steam and is a real steal at such a price. Free updates over time have been confirmed, promising that this already entertaining and open game will become even better with time. If you like dungeon crawlers or sandbox games, then Terraria is definitely worth checking out.
PROS: + Building is simplistic but very satisfying.
+ Insane amount of craftable items.
+ Multiplayer is loads of fun.
CONS: – Too much time is spent underground.
– Crafting menu and inventory are not user friendly.
– Combat could’ve been fleshed out more.