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I fell in love with Abiotic Factor the minute I strapped a couch cushion to my chest and called it armor—there’s no other survival game like it

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Three years ago, I got swept up in all the Valheim hype and pressed the big green purchase button. I made my viking, basked in the pretty forests, and then immediately got bored by chopping trees and crafting wood logs. I should’ve listened to the part of my brain that’s known for years that I’m exhausted with this kind of game. I’ve bounced on and subsequently off nearly every well-reviewed “tree puncher” in recent years—Valheim lost me, Nightingale never had me, and not even Lego Fortnite’s charming brick laying could hold my attention.

The survival-crafting brain fog had gotten so bad that I genuinely thought I was just done surviving and crafting. Then last night a buddy and I checked out Abiotic Factor, just released in early access, and the fog was lifted in minutes.

Abiotic Factor’s brilliance begins with its conceit: You play as a pencil-pushing scientist trapped in a secret underground laboratory during a Half-Life-style alien disaster. Presumably while some guy in glasses is out there saving the world in power armor, you and up to five friends are left to fend for yourselves, crafting chest plates out of couch cushions and scrounging for snacks in vending machines.

abiotic factor

(Image credit: Deep Field Games)

Much of our fun in Abiotic Factor so far has come from discovering just how deep and smart its systems are. After character creation (where you select between a wide variety of tie fabrics and pocket protectors), you also choose a job within the lab that determines your starting stats. I chose Lab Assistant, a versatile role that gives me an edge in sprinting and sneaking, while my friend chose a Gastronomy speciality that lets him cook better food quickly.

Interestingly, you also pick from a long list of positive and negative traits. This is a really cool system—by default you only have enough points for a few positive traits, but the more negative traits you take on, the more positive ones you can afford. I chose to have a weak bladder (I have to relieve myself 20% more often) so I could afford the Decathlon Competitor trait (sprint a lot longer). 

abiotic factor

(Image credit: Deep Field Games)

A few other touches I love so far:

🥼When you pick up a new object, you have a chance of gaining a new “idea” (crafting recipe) that uses it
🧠To turn an idea into a permanent recipe, you have to fill in the blanks in your mind about which materials you’d use to build it. It’s an easy process of elimination you can’t lose, but I love it as an interactive representation of invention
⚔Combat is surprisingly fun: We only have melee weapons so far, but the alien pests we’re facing put up a good fight, and there’s decent feedback on attacks and blocking
🖊By the way, we’re “blocking” with shields crafted from cafeteria trays and “attacking” with shivs made out of pens
🔌Crafting stations and other electronics have to be plugged into power sources like wall sockets that are only in certain places. Otherwise, you have to craft batteries.
🌎The lab is immaculate: Every department and room is distinct in layout, looks, and the kind of gear we find there. As I explore, I’m reminded of Prey 2017’s Talos 1 station (one of the best videogame worlds ever crafted).
🛌When you sleep, you play a minigame in your dreams: You need to rest every once in a while by finding a comfy bed (or more likely, couch), and while knocked out, you play a jumping minigame to boost your rested buff.
🏃‍♂️There’s a story, and presumably an end: There are voiced characters, audio logs, and an ultimate quest to  escape the facility alive. Since it’s in early access, I’m not sure if the story is complete yet.
⚡Every night, the power goes out in the whole lab, forcing players to rely on flashlights and contend with security bots that patrol the halls.

abiotic factor

(Image credit: Deep Field Games)

I’m realizing that it’s not survival-crafting that I was tired of all along, it’s the homogeneity of trees, cabins, furnaces, and caves that wore me down. I’ve yet to punch a single tree in Abiotic Factor or smelt a stack of ingots, and that’s so refreshing. Instead, developer Deep Field Games asked itself how a collective of nerds with PhDs and male pattern baldness would survive a disaster. Of course they’d invent ridiculous machines, tape together sharp objects, and conduct experiments on unknown alien lifeforms. Skill lists and recipes we can’t craft yet suggest there is a lot more to this game than we’ve seen—agriculture, chemistry, vehicles, and maybe guns?

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