Creative games always have the aspect of letting you do whatever you want in order to be as creative as possible in the game. Minecraft is one of the most popular sandbox titles out there that give players the option to be fully creative and build giant masterpieces with freedom of movement and plenty of supplies while also giving the option to test players skill in the more realistic survival mode.
Eco by Strange Loop Games is a sandbox game with more of a purpose than just surviving and create. Adding an endgame objective to sandbox style gameplay and creative freedom makes Eco stand out from the rest of the genre. There's a reason this game was a top choice for me when I was looking at what indie games are launching in February.
Starting the game off you will be guided with a series of tutorials. These have to be followed in order to get your starter tools so that you can start cutting down trees, collecting stone, and working on the beginning of your civilization. The first thing you will be forced to notice is the meteor which is orbiting the world. Literally being told to find the meteor that is circling your planet, you will find that there is a countdown on it of 30 real-life days. This is how long you have to build your civilization up to the point that you are able to fend off the impending doom.
As you continue to build, you will gain skill points that can be used to build your stats. You will need to build these attributes up in order to build better items that will help you destroy the meteor. Step by step, this is a process that will get you from only being able to build a wood home to building an entire factory and downtown styled area.
One of the aspects I enjoyed was that when you cut down trees, they actually fell over and then you had to break them up. This is the same process for digging dirt, collecting stone, and finding iron where the resources fall and react due to the gravity.
The game is more entertaining with a group of friends or a small community of players. Not only the group be able to work together to build up your collective civilization and destroy the meteor, but there are also various laws that can be put into place. Basically, someone suggests a law be enacted and then the community gets to vote on whether they want that law to be enforced or not. This is a nice touch to the game that gives off the civilization experience that Eco is based on.
Now for the obvious feature of the game: the ecosystem. Everything that you do actually affects what is going on in the ecosystem of your world. You can destroy the ecosystem a lot easier than maintaining a thriving one. Even from the start, simply foraging too much food and you could end up finding the occasional dead plant. The ecosystem becomes harder to maintain, even with the graph system that shows your worlds stats, once you reach the point that you have factories and are pumping out a constant stream of smoke. This may prove to be the more difficult than it sounds but is a great challenge when it comes to keeping a balanced world while reaching a fully functioning civilization.
Graphics and Sounds
While Eco still maintains the classic blocky, grid-like look, the game has a cartoon-style design that gives the world a cleaner and more natural look. The meteor itself has a crazy awesome design which looks threatening even from the start of the game when it is at its furthest point from you.
The music is very subtle, staying in the background while you focus on the world around you without distraction match well with all the different actions that you will go through while trying to build up your civilization. The mixture of the graphics and subtle sounds really let you feel like you are really building up in your own little world.
You can always restart or join other servers online, continue to build solo and with people. There are thousands of different pieces to use, buildings to create, laws to make, and different styled civilizations to build from the ground up; literally. Plenty of reasons to play this game time and time again.
What Could Be Better
Until you create wheel barrels and other devices to help you out, it feels like a chore to collect supplies. Only being able to care twenty logs or stones at a time made the trips needed to build up your first home takes quite some time. You also can't begin to farm food from the beginning unless you set up the skill for it, which means you are stuck foraging all over the place. Sure, finding food is easy, but there should be an option to create at least a small garden of tomatoes or berries so that I have some kind of food nearby at all times.
Eco is an interesting take on the sandbox styled gaming that includes creativity and depth. I enjoyed playing it once you got a good set up going. I enjoyed playing Eco and think it is easily a competitor against games like Minecraft. Any fan of the creative sandbox survival gaming will find themselves enjoying the time spent building and maintaining their own civilization.