Back in 2017, Klei Entertainment, most well known for “Don’t Starve” released an early access version of their new game “Oxygen Not Included,” often shortened to ONI. It featured the same hand drawn cartoon art style that “Don’t Starve” utilized, except much more upbeat and cheery in tone. Since then the game has seen its official release in July 2019 and has evolved drastically, adding cute animals to tame, automation for your systems, new biomes, oil, and even space travel. But the cute, charming exterior hides a tough-as-nails, cut-throat survival system that is essentially running out of things: the game. You will run out of water, then oxygen, then power, then materials, then food, then morale, then metal, then oxygen again, then coal, then power, then fertilizer, then food again, then your duplicants will all get food poisoning, then you’ll run out of balm lily to cure them, then power again, then water again, then oil, then petroleum, then power again, then dirt, then food again, then sand, and finally everything will get too hot because you didn't regulate your temperatures properly, so all your buildings will break and your crops will fail and you’ll lose.
Seriously. This game is way more in depth than you think. This is the kind of game where each material has a specific heat that you have to pay attention too. You take control of a colony of “duplicants,” little printed people who you have too keep alive in the middle of a comet suspended in space. As you build your colony you expand out into the comet, researching new technologies to allow you to face the problems that will present themselves. Eventually you can make your way to the top of the comet where the vast expanse of space awaits you, but only if you survive that long. The game is incredibly complex with many subtle intricacies and tricks that you will pick up over time, but I will say that it has probably taught me more about engineering than any of my classes have. In a way, the cycle of running out of things and then fixing the problem, which makes you run out of other things, gives the game something of a process of teaching the player about its many mechanics and how to deal with them.
Things start off mundane, build a toilet, dig some dirt, build some beds, an algae terrarium, and from there you slowly expand until you're engineering entire heat dispensation systems to keep your automated ethanol production factory from overheating. Every problem can best be solved with a complex weave of engineering solutions to make sure you have steady supplies of everything you need without having to waste your precious resources. But heed me when I say that above all, regulate your temperatures. Almost every building in the game produces heat, and if you ignore it it will build up and come back to bite you. If buildings surpass their overheat temperature they will take damage and stop working, cutting off vital supply lines and forcing you to expend precious resources to repair them. And once heat is there, there is no good way of getting rid of it. Heat can only be destroyed by a couple processes, neither of which is very efficient or practical. And do not keep your heat-producing buildings near where you have your duplicants living or where you grow your food. Food going outside of its temperature range will not grow, and if you lose a temperate area to grow your food you will starve. Keep the two areas separated by insulated tile. The other thing I would say is learn how to automate your systems, it will be invaluable in the later game as things continue to ramp up.
As someone who has been following the game since its release, I’ve watched it grow and expand. And the first thing I noticed upon the official release is that the game crashes a lot more than it used to. When I first booted up the game after the update, it crashed. It also crashed twice more since then. I don’t think the early access version crashed a single time for me. The game still also remains quite buggy, tasks that get interrupted may not be completed by duplicants after, making you have to cancel the task and reassign it. There also remain some fundamental game balance issues. There is still no good mid-game intermediary for power production, you start with manual power generators and then get coal, and unless you get lucky enough to find a natural gas geyser you won't have a reliable means of power production until you get to the end-game when you are able to get petroleum generator up and running. Coal generators also produce a ton of heat and aren’t very efficient, and will eat up all your coal because you will need like five of them before you are able to get a petroleum generator up. Also, the problem with heat I mentioned earlier; unless you focus very specifically on dealing with heat early it can create a problem that you have no way to deal with later in the game. But all in all its still a solid game despite its challenge, and creating these intricate systems to deal each of the problems the game throws at you can be immensely rewarding. The beautiful hand drawn aesthetic lends the game a great deal of charm to help balance out the frustration.
Final Score: 8/10, this difficult, complex game provides a meaty and mentally trying challenge wrapped in a cute, artsy style that makes the game all the more lovable.