Platform: PC (Early Access, £9.99)
Developer: Handyman Studios
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
When it comes to Terraria in space, Starbound may be the big craftbox on campus, but it's actually just one of three futuristic 2D crafting survival games that broke cover at roughly the same time. DarkOut never quite delivered on its tense and stylish survival when it launched last year, yet the dark horse of the trio is still quietly in development, slowly preparing to offer a very different take on what we usually expect from the popular sub-genre.
Edge Of Space is superficially very similar to its peers. After being marooned in a hostile area of galactic real estate, you'll have to subsist on the bare minimum of equipment; mining and crafting your way to superior gear and shelter as you explore the environment. Despite two years of development, it's still rough and ready, both in terms of the visuals and placeholder-strewn state of the the Early Access build.
Within a few minutes, however, you'll realise that Handyman Studios have a unique little proposition on the slate. If Starbound makes us feel like a settler or pioneer, Edge Of Space makes us feel like a soldier. Instead of pickaxes and bows, Edge Of Space presses a particle accelerator cannon into our armoured mitts, straps on a jetpack and throws us into the unknown with our fingers on the trigger.
Or at least, it will, when it's finally finished. Now that a new patch has added multiplayer and even official Terraria content, it's high time we got involved.
As opposed to a discrete world or planet, Edge Of Space takes place in an impossible zone of floating rock, an asteroid belt of sorts with numerous blocks of randomly-generated land precariously hanging in place. A drop into the abyss awaits intrepid adventurers, so it's small wonder that players are equipped with a jetpack from the get-go.
Blasting around in your surprisingly generous exoskeleton instantly lends Edge Of Space a dynamic and aggressive personality, as you're free to navigate the smaller blocks of land on the lookout for rare minerals to excavate, or delve into the larger looming chunks to explore caverns and locate upgrade stations buried deep within. Being a fan of Halloween Harry (anyone?), I was quickly in my element.
You're also given a gun before the tutorials end: a rapid-fire particle accelerating pulse rifle. It's just the first in a whole arsenal of weapons, from shotguns to rocket launchers, which you'll craft and keep stocked with ammo over the course of your adventure. Edge Of Space often feels like a classic sidescrolling shooter, recalling the likes of Jetpac, Dark Void Zero and the original Duke Nukem as you go on the jetpack-enabled offensive... before being forced to take the defensive fairly quickly.
Edge Of Space doesn't waste any time in introducing hostile targets. Dozens upon dozens of horrible extraterrestrial beasties infest your new floating home; from hordes of airborne jellyfish (whose bio-luminescent organs make for excellent torches) and steely-shelled crabs in the higher levels to utterly bizarre genetic abominations as you descend through the biomes. Major events can see crab nests or jellyfish spawners appear in the most inopportune of places, making exploration tense and nervy despite your high-tech firepower. It's tough and uncompromising, with the odds stacked heavily against you from the start.
So you'll have to set up shop and get your craft on to weather the storm. In a pleasing twist, there's nary a pickaxe in sight, rather a selection of long-range laser saws and drills are on hand for the all-important excavation. Digging speed is still painfully slow when you encounter tougher elements, but you'll soon carve out your own piece of the frontier, gradually assembling workbenches, command centres, scientific equipment and new gear. Not to mention occasionally teleporting up to a orbiting research station for advanced blueprints, courtesy of some hard-to-craft items. Your base eventually becomes a critical defensive position, which you'll keep up and running thanks to an army of repair drones and a hail of bullets.
Familiar stuff, but Edge Of Space's crafting system is also a refreshing change of pace, and addresses one of my most irritating personal bugbears with the subgenre. Namely: junk. Though most craftboxes allow you to combine or refine certain common materials into more useful elements, you'll often end up loaded down with vast amounts of pointless dirt a few hours into each session.
Edge Of Space, conversely, takes a unique approach. Whereas most games demand specific components for each crafted item, here we're asked to provide a category of material instead, allowing you to make full use of all your resources on-the-fly. As an example, bullets can be fabricated out of any bulky element, such as dirt, clay, stone or any rubbish you happen to have on hand. Cryorods (Edge of Space's equivalent of respawn tokens) require both ice and organic elements - whatever you happen to have on you. We're in the future, after all, so why not let cutting-edge technology work for us? Compared to Starbound's restrictive 'Pixels.' it's an absolute godsend.
Oh, and to confirm your selection, you'll have to click on a big friendly button marked 'SCIENCE.' We like that immensely.
Personally, I hope that Handyman has the courage to go one step further and get rid of the whole crafting table/workbench formula. It has never made much sense to me beyond artificiality imposing barriers to progression (you wouldn't waste time creating a table after being shipwrecked, rather you'd build the things you actually need), so axing this aspect would shift even more of the focus onto the unique and interesting combat, exploration and survival.
A brand new patch introduces multiplayer (which works fairly well and makes for a much easier early-game experience) alongside Terraria's Skeletron boss, who assumes the new title of Omegatron. This crossover content has been promised for months, so it's great to see this tricky encounter make an appearance, cementing Re-Logic's blessing and silencing any number of trolls calling 'clone.' Numerous smaller tweaks and fixes are also included -- many by way of smaller hotfixes over the last 48 hours -- further bringing the core gameplay in line with our expectations.
As with any Early Access game, we have to separate excitement from real-world practicality by discussing whether or not you should spend money to enter the beta. In this case, the answer is an emphatic "not yet." The game itself is still incredibly early in development, rough and ready, stuffed with placeholder assets and bereft of loads of promised content. Mechs? Vehicles? No dice. Much of the experience still feels primitive and unfinished... because it is. £9.99 is therefore a tall order and a big ask, even if you'll get a free copy for a friend. You might be better off waiting for more early-game enemy variety and better level curation before taking the plunge.
Recent updates were prefaced by weeks or months of complete inactivity (beyond very speedy community management, congratulations on that front), and often introduced a raft of new issues. As an example, we were bereft of keyboard item shortcuts for months, before the multiplayer patch came along. Which, in turn, broke the tutorials. Several new hotfixes have gone a long way towards rectifying these new problems, but even so, investing in the project at this stage feels like a gamble despite Terraria's blessing.
But should you be excited about Edge Of Space? Yes. I certainly am. Now that Handyman Studios seems to have implemented the multiplayer codebase and built the foundations, they can start adding content on a more regular basis, building the meat of the game around its now-functional skeleton. As they continue to do so, we'll keep reporting from the front lines and the wild frontier, and keep you up to date with the latest.