Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GRAV - A First Look

GRAV, by BitMonster, is a science fiction shooter/sandbox with procedural planets, dungeons, building, crafting and more. It's currently available as an early access title on Steam. I was bored Sunday night, so I decided to check it out. Before we begin, you should take a look at the game's original trailer, right here.

Yes, dancing is a thing, we'll get to that.

According to Steam, I've put about five hours into the game, all in solo mode, so what follows is based on limited play time. The game also has PvE and PvP servers available (looks like 32 players per server), and you're supposed to be able to host private servers too. GRAV is an early access game, which means that it's in active development, and there are bugs. I won't hold that against the developers. Aside from occasional stuck-in-geometry issues and a dungeon I can't get out of without logging out, the game has been very stable.

All Red All the Time

My GRAV adventure begins on a very red planet. Trees, plants and soil: it's all red. You start out with a survival knife for defense, and a multi-tool that you can use to harvest materials. The game uses WASD movement, mouse buttons for shooting/tool use, and a single button bar for hotkeys; it's all pretty straightforward. There are a few predefined hotkeys for other functions, like B for building, but they can all be remapped.

Rotten Wood Armor - The Latest Thing (TM)
So what do you do? Well, there's a bit of a tutorial that guides you through obtaining some basic materials and building an armory and a science station. These give you access to some health and combat boosters and some better weapons: a wooden club and a pistol (rusty). You can also build some fashionable rotten wood armor!

Once you've gotten some basic gear, you can head out to explore. The game's HUD keeps you up to date on the area you're in, including compass headings, recent finds, and information on difficulty, so you don't get killed instantly. What are you looking for?  You can just explore and gather, which is pretty peaceful. There are hostile monsters around, but they're few and far between on the surface during the day. You can also steal from supply crates using your multi-tool. Of course crates have guards, so be prepared to fight. There are also dungeons. Dungeons in a space game? Sure, why not?

Dungeon Entrance - Night
So far, the dungeons I've found have all been natural caves with very similar features. They seem to have more and better resources than the surface world, and more aggressive foes too. Each dungeon is guaranteed to have a supply crate, which is the dungeon prize. Get too close to the box and it spawns guardians, which can be pretty nasty. We won't talk about my first three deaths to crate guardians, will we?

Speaking of death, when you die, you drop most of your gear at the site of your death and respawn at your uplink (a player-built spawn point) or a random location. You have to run back to your gear to recover it or use an expensive consumable to teleport it to you. Luckily you keep your primary equipment (like monocycles), so you don't have to walk. It seems like dropping an uplink and ammo station inside the dungeon is a good strategy, but monsters can destroy the things you built (I think).

Combat will feel familiar to FPS players. Circle-strafing to shoot/stab foes and double-tap dodging to avoid incoming fire. I only have basic weapons, a pistol and a wooden sword, but so far melee seems more effective than ranged combat.

Given this is early access, I'm hoping the GRAV developers add a little more depth to the combat system. It's not bad, just a bit too simple. Fighting same-level foes is deadly, since a couple of hits can kill you (even with armor). There isn't a huge variety of monsters yet, three or four humanoids, a couple kinds of bugs and a few slimes. The creature designs aren't boring, and there are multiple versions of each creature type. There are also roaming NPCs and vendor bots out there. The NPCs don't do anything (yet), but you can buy blueprints from the bots.

And since I said I'd talk about dancing... Eventually, you'll get hurt. You can use a stim pack, or you can settle in by a nice campfire and dance! Yes, dancing restores health and stamina, and there are many different dances available. Amusingly, the roaming NPCs will wander over to your fire and join the party if they're close enough.

There are several travel options in-game, and I've found two: glider wings, and the monocycle. Glider wings are fun and easy; just press and hold the jump button to deploy them. The monocycle is nice and fast, but it does burn wood for fuel (as do other active devices).


What can you build? Well, bases with turrets, fences and mines for one thing. I haven't delved into this part of GRAV (see: just played five hours). Figuring out what you can build is a bit confusing at first. To make more advanced items you need a few things. First you need a blueprint, which you can get from supply crates, bosses, or some random monsters. You also need the right kind of workstation: factory, science station, and so on. You also need to level up your workstations appropriately, by spending resources. Finally, there are skills involved. I haven't figured out this part yet.

Hmm. I probably missed some stuff: invasions, which are wave attacks that happen every few nights, or the giant sphere-like structures that don't seem to do anything yet. As I said, I'm just getting started.

Overall, I think the game shows some great potential. Because it's procedural, people are comparing it to the upcoming No Man's Sky, but I don't believe GRAV is aiming for the eight-kajillion worlds of that ambitious game. If there are only a few dozen planets, that's a lot of space.

Even though it's early access, I found it more engaging than Skyforge's disappointing open beta. There are plenty of rough edges, but I'm looking forward to playing more. The tutorial tells me I need to build a stargate to get to the nearest moon, so I guess I get to see some new terrain soon!

So that wraps up this quick look at the early access game, GRAV. I'll leave you with their most recent trailer. Pull up a fire, hit play, and dance!

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