A new genre that hasn't fully established a name for itself is soon becoming a new craze on the PC platform. It's for anyone who has ever played with Legos or MegaBloks, or simply any gamer looking for something new.
At heart, Minecraft is a first-person sandbox game, similar FPS controls. It's a game about building and surviving. It's about collecting. It's also about blocks. Lots and lots of blocks. The land is made of blocks. Leaves are made of blocks. Animals are made of blocks. And your own character is made of blocks. Needless to say, if you don't like squares, you might see this game as an eyesore. But it is a pretty eyesore, with blue skies and green fields and trees. Even if you don't like it, the game's textures are easily moddable.
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The game consists of two modes: survival, and classic. Classic mode puts you in a randomly generated world with trees, grassy fields, oceans, and caves. You can place blocks of various types on the landscape to build, well, just about anything you want. The object of the game is to build, be it a house, a castle, a fortress, a castle in the sky, a fortress in the sky, a city, a whole planet; whatever your heart's desire. You can destroy existing blocks simply by clicking them, giving you the freedom to shape the world as you see fit. Various players have made life sized structures, such as ships, castles, or even full cities. Another common thing players build is sculptures, usually close replicas of 8-bit Nintendo characters.
Classic mode is intended for players who are only concerned about building things. Often, if you find a video of someone touring their latest masterpiece, it was made in classic mode. If all you intend to play is classic mode, you don't have to pay a dime -- you just need an account on Minecraft.net, and you're good to go. Should you decide to pay for the premium version, however, the game opens up to a whole different level. But it's not for everyone.
Survival mode, like classic, puts you in a randomly generated world once again. However, unlike classic mode where you can place whatever you want as much as you want, this is where Minecraft's survival mode differs and gives its game play a more unique flavor compared to other games of the same genre: resource gathering.
The object of survival is largely the same, but you no longer have the freedom to place infinite blocks. Survival makes Minecraft more of a game than an actual simulator, adding a health meter, armor, weapons, a huge amount of items to collect, and creatures, both friendly and hostile. This time around, destroying various pieces of the landscape often adds the brick itself to your inventory, giving you the ability to place it somewhere else. If it's not material used for building, it becomes an item that can be used for something else. Everything in the entire game world can either be harvested or gathered from. And I do mean everything: the ground, the grass on the ground, the tree trunks, leaves, sand, stone, even water and lava.
Also added to the mix is crafting. On the inventory screen is a 2x2 grid in which you can place various materials you collect to create different items. More often than not, though, you'll be going to your crafting table -- a 3x3 grid is often required to make most items. Luckily, the table itself can be created with the 2x2 grid alone.
To craft items, you put materials in a certain formation on the grid. For instance, two wooden sticks, one on top of the other, and three stone bricks going across on the top (forming a "T" shape) creates a pick-axe, used for mining. One stick, and two stone bricks on top of it creates a sword. Eight wood bricks formed along the sides leaving the center empty makes a storage chest. The game has quite a lot of recipes to discover, all which can be found in the game's wiki.
Many would argue the wiki ruins the fun of learning the recipes yourself, but considering the whole game is about crafting, not referring to the wiki often feels like playing an RTS game without reading the manual or playing a tutorial. (Plus, it can also save you the trouble of redesigning your dream mansion because you didn't realize you could create doors.) It also seems a bit jarring that there are no hints on how to make certain items, or even text pop-ups. In fact, once you pass the main menu and the game has loaded, there's no text at all, save for numbers to indicate quantity. Therefore, it's often hard to figure out just what the pixelated icons and models are supposed to be. Unless you read up on the game's wiki, you'll find yourself lost trying to figure out what that Hershey's kiss-shaped black thing is, and how it differs from the slightly deformed Hershey's kiss shaped yellowish black thing.
Survival mode seems to follow similar aspects of other games like Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing, but if there was a direct movie comparison, it would be labeled as the video game version of Castaway, sans the will to get off the island or curious volleyball companions. The items you create, and the recipes required to make them, often resemble well known island survival tactics. Use wood to make handles, stone to make sharp objects, flint and iron for tools, etc.
The game's first day can be a bit unnerving. Starting with nothing but your bare hands, it's a rush against the clock to build yourself some form of shelter before nightfall. This usually requires carving an entrance into the side of a mountain and blocking it back up, or if you're really fast, a small cabin. What happens at nightfall? No, not thunderstorms. Not tornadoes. Not hurricanes. Zombies happen. That's right: zombies. Zombies -- and spiders -- randomly appear anywhere there's darkness, and semi-randomly in caves (more on those below), so if you must venture off into the dark, it's best to make weapons and armor for yourself, but most important, light. Torches not only serve as a source of light, but they prevent monsters from appearing where you place them.
There aren't too many enemy varieties, although more are planned. The most notable is this guy:
It ain't easy being green, especially if you're made out of gunpowder.
This is the Creeper. Unlike other monsters, such as zombies, spiders, and skeletons, they make no noise. Once they spot you, they silently home in on you, light a fuse, and explode. (The explosion sound effect is quite loud compared to others, so I recommended lowering the volume.) These guys will scare the bejesus out of you if you're not paying attention, and they can also destroy any precious structures you have built that aren't made of stone. The Minecraft Creeper has become some sort of an Internet meme, often in comics or demotivational posters.
It should be noted, however, that combat isn't exactly the game's selling point. (It's quite easy, save for the creeper -- at least before you figure out how to kill it in melee without it exploding in your face.) Previous versions of the game would actually give you points whenever you killed enemies, but scoring -- as of the current version -- appears to be broken, only showing some weird variable. If anything, it would of been nice if the game scored points based on what you build or harvest instead.
Exploring outside gives you that island survival experience, but venturing into the caves is where you'll find the good stuff, such as stone, coal, and ore. The game can generate random caves, all with varying twists, turns, and heights. Unlike outside, caves can become pitch dark, so once again, it's imperative to bring torches. Monsters can also randomly appear in the caves where it's dark, though I have seen some spawn in areas where there should have been enough light to prevent them from doing so.
Although Minecraft is supposed to have a light and humorous tone, this part of the game can easily be considered the scariest part. You'll be approaching dark hallways and crevices in order to light them up, only to find a monster was silently waiting for you there. The game likes to randomly play scary sound loops in the caves. This video should give you an idea.
The Halloween update is the biggest and most recent one for Minecraft and not only fixed numerous bugs, but also added an entire new dimension to explore as well as new enemies.
Notch, the creator of the game, has finally been able to get a bigger team to help fully develop it. It will be going beta Dec. 20. Currently, the game is at a discount until the beta is released, but even if you buy it now, rest assured you will be buying the game in its current and all future forms, so act quickly.
Unfortunately, in its current state, Minecraft has a few problems. Most bugs go unseen, but some of the items in the game, like milk from cows, don't have any purpose. Usually, food heals you, but milk bottles just refuse to be opened. To me, the biggest gripe is the fact that whenever you die, you respawn exactly where you started in the game's world. This is a problem, and here's why:
In classic mode, you can change whether you want a small or large game world. Survival mode changed that. In survival, there is only one world size: infinite. The world is generated in-game, as evidenced when the game starts to hitch a bit. When you reach the edge of what the game world has generated, more world is created on the spot. The sheer size the world is simply mind boggling. Think MMOs are big? According to the game's wiki, the game's world, if you allow it to, can reach up to nearly eight times as the surface of Earth before the game starts glitching up. Not that there really is any reason to keep going that far (or any video proving the fact), but it is a technical wonder. Keep in mind that as the bigger the world gets, the more hard drive space is consumed.
Thus, this makes dying in the game quite an annoyance. Build a 300-mile-long wall in one direction and suddenly die. You'll drop all your items and have to trek back another 300 hundred miles, undefended all the while. And you better hurry because any items you drop in the game world will disappear after a while.
Another drawback is what to do when you've actually built what you wanted. It may sound harsh, but Minecraft is essentially a level editor turned into a game, the editing requiring you to get resources instead of just copying and pasting. The game play really ends there. You might start the game digging up all these materials and suddenly realize, "Why are am I doing this?" The game can become a bit of a drag -- if not downright pointless -- if you don't have any building goals in mind.
All you're really doing is placing walls with no interactive objects (aside from switches, but they just move stuff around). What you can build is a great deal, and while it may take you ages to do so, once you put down the final brick, you'll be straining for something else to do. The fun lies in the labor you have to go through just to get the materials, like the levels in a game, and the final product is your end credits. But then all you can do afterward is walk around your creation -- not like you haven't done so a hundred times already.
The game's random worlds are so well done that it leaves itself begging to have some kind of adventure mode in which the goal is to actually explore and slay monsters, instead of just building in one spot. Luckily, such a mode has been announced, though getting the crafting side of the game completed has been the top priority for the developer.
Minecraft also sports a multiplayer version, which seems to have a few bugs in survival (as opposed to classic), but this is probably because survival has more content, such as ladders, doors, torches, or actual lighting. But unless you have a group of friends that play Minecraft, multiplayer comes with its own price. Only one world can be loaded at a time on any server, and the idea is for everyone to have the same goal, to help build, and to make things go a lot faster. But there's also nothing restricting the more "special" type of players who feel the need to destroy all buildings in sight and leave the server. If you can't deal with that, you're better off going back to single player. It's like you're the only person left on the planet, with only pigs, cows, chickens (all of whom you may need to kill for resources), and zombies to keep you company.
These shortcomings are most likely due to the fact that the game hasn't even hit its beta stage, but even though it doesn't quite seem fully fleshed out, there's no doubt that for an alpha, it has a lot of content. It may not be for everyone, but we'll see when the game goes gold.
Presentation - N/A
It's alpha, not important just yet.
Story - N/A
<Insert deserted-on-an-island character here> is determined to rebuild the world anew.
Graphics - 6
Yes, all it consists of is 16-pixel blocks, but it does seem to have its own charm.
Sound - 8
Tranquil soundtracks outside, spooky tracks inside. ("Heigh-Ho" will be stuck in your brain in the mines.)
Game play - 9
Lego blocks, only life size!
Current Stability - 8
Pretty good for what it has, but some items have no use.
Lasting Appeal - 10
Keep dreamin' and you can keep buildin'.