Built Block By Block
By Adam Sturrock
From snow capped mountains, lava filled pits and cascading waterfalls the sheer variety that can be found in Minecraft is astonishing. While its blocky, retro exterior suggests a game of poor or middling quality, Minecraft, an indie sandbox title produced by a small firm in Sweden – now owned by a not so small Microsoft – has inexplicably broken the barrier between what most in the industry would call hardcore and casual gaming. You can play it on your phone, your tablet, your PC and your gaming console. It has plush toys, t-shirts and a Lego partnership. The world is Minecraft crazy.
But why? Minecraft has a certain charm that permeates throughout its ecosystem. Its mechanics are simple to understand in possibly a similar fashion as Lego; while playing with a family friend, rather than pushing through the awkward small talk, we bonded over a Splitscreen session creating a quite dapper mountain house, blurring hours into minutes. It isn’t the prettiest game in terms of polygons and detail, but it has this quiet beauty that coats the ecosystem that you explore.
For the first time, gamers who play on the next generation consoles have a chance to join in on the action. But is it worth it? It isn’t a massive technical jump, the changes are definitely visible for any hardened player to notice but not to the extent that other games on other platforms will feel like they are missing out.
One of the more starker elements of the game and possibly one of the most unconventional is the fact that the game has such a limited narrative to follow. Rather than being dictated a storyline, you improvise one on the fly; each game is unique. You are a simple block-man/woman dropped in the middle of a random sprawling sandbox. With your intuition and curiosity you learn to survive; first by creating tools by chopping down trees and then hopefully you start to build things to a larger scale: a house, a fort, a castle, the Statue of Liberty – ever expanding as you get to grips with the game mechanics.
At night you face challenges that threaten your life: zombies, skeletons , spiders and the dreaded creeper – a slow moving green man that explodes if it brushes within your vicinity. While they rarely cause frustration to the player’s progress, it becomes a balancing act of exploring and building during the day cycles and fighting (if you choose) during the night. This perpetually propels gameplay forward, there is always something to do and many afternoons have disappeared building and destroying, exploring and escaping. Alongside the bread and butter game mode of survival, there is an additional option to play God; a playbox in which you have unlimited supplies.
With the improved processing power offered from both the Xbox One and the PS4, Minecraft is now able to accommodate up to eight players on a map, thus exponentially increasing the ability to create even grander projects. The maps that you explore are even larger creating that epic, vast experience that console gamers was enviously looking over at high end PCs for. Other than that, the changers are largely unnoticed and if you have already have a copy of the game on one of the other consoles/pc, it doesn’t offer much of an incentive to get another copy.
Overall, it is the game that many people have fallen in love with. A few tweaks here and there have refined the console experience and will surely win over new admirors.