I bought Autonauts on at 75% off sale last holiday season, with every intention of installing and playing it right away. Instead, it sat in my library, uninstalled until recently – I had forgotten about it entirely until it showed up in the October Humble Choice. Then, just this past week, it was also in the Killer Bundle 14 on Fanatical, and I guess that was the thing that pushed me into finally giving it a whirl.
It’s an interesting concept – you build generic robots and then train them to copy your actions in order to automate production of your colony. The tutorial is kind of drawn out, and then you are tossed off the deep end without a rope. This isn’t me complaining because I don’t know how to program very well – although it’s true that I do not know how to program very well. I expected a learning curve there. Where I didn’t expect to struggle was in figuring out what the tools do, what kind of items go in what kind of storage, and so on.
I did hunt down a good guide (which actually helped more with the programming fiddly bits than anything else), and a pretty decent wiki, and that might have been enough to slow my frustration to a manageable level, but the colonist mechanic was a huge turnoff.
Colonists in Autonauts are vaguely creepy crying naked people who need you to do absolutely everything for them. In return, they give you “Wuv”, which is the currency you need to feed into the research station in order to unlock new tech. At first, it’s not so bad. Send one robot to feed them whatever you decided to farm for food, and another to collect the Wuv they drop.
But the game is designed around meeting ever more complex colonist needs, and as you level them up by doing so, the Wuv the drop gets larger. Which is great, because research costs also increase exponentially, but annoying, because you need a storage area for each level of Wuv, which means you need a robot to deal with each level of Wuv.
I absolutely hated the colonists almost from the get go. There’s very little in-game indication about what the colonists require at each level, and you either have to guess based on what new techs your unlocking, or look it up outside the game. It’s … not ideal.
It’s unfortunate, because I think there’s a really good game here, marred by some really questionable design choices. The art style is fine, the sound design would be fine if it weren’t for the ever-present sound of crying babies, but the gameplay annoyances are frequent, at least, they were for me. This might, in fact, be due partially (or even mostly) to my weakness in programming efficiently, but I’m not sure that that’s it. Obviously, level one bots need to have weaknesses, or why would you research the other tiers, but I think at the lowest level they have just a bit too little memory, and too small of an active area. It makes the early game drag in ways I don’t feel like it should.
There are three modes, Colonization, Free, and Creative, each of which has progressively less restrictions, and might solve a lot of my problem, but I’m not sure that taking away the need to research techs would make the game any more compelling for me. I’m satisfied with having put in a dozen or so hours for the $5 I paid for it, but I acknowledge that this one just might not be for me.