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Minecraft, Xbox One Edition: A Review
Minecraft was originally released on Windows, Mac and Linux on November 18th 2011. It has since seen releases on Android, iOS, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Playstation 4 version was released on September 4th 2014. The Xbox One version was released on September 5th 2014.
Can you dig it?
When Indie gaming first came to the Xbox 360 there was nothing but a dumping ground of avatar-based games and titles that even the most clueless of game design students in their first year would be embarrassed of, and it's been a hard stigma to shake off. The Indie scene has had its fair share of controversies involving early access, shameless scams and characters like Phil Fish doing a badness, but I'm so glad that gems like Minecraft shrug off those things and say "I'm Indie and proud". Starting off with humble origins, Minecraft didn't take long to gain the attention of many veteran and new gamers alike as well as expanding its origins of just one man with a short list of inspirations. It's delightful to hear stories where from a small acorn grew a gigantic oak tree, which I quickly cut down because I needed the wood to make a crafting table.
I've stated my thoughts on Minecraft many times (mostly out of frustration) but upon coming across the port on console I felt as though it was worth covering. Little has changed from the actual gameplay, but the bump up in framerate and increase to the vibrancy in colour makes this version of the game stand out if you can't run it to the best of its abilities on computers.
Minecraft is what I think most Indie games want to be: the game where anything is possible, as well as a hybrid of genres that works. It's hard to say if it's an RPG with sandbox crafting elements, or a survival horror crafting sim, or an adventure game with destructible environments? It's a game that cannot be labelled and even now it's hard to call it an Indie title because Notch and his team have reached heights like no other in this industry. Yet with Minecraft comes along other games and developers clinging to it like wet toilet paper on someone's shoe - it's embarrassing, and it smells rancid. It inspired a lot of people to develop their own games and it proves that you don't need a deep combat system, huge levels of progression and a subliminal message about the human condition to make an experience that passes time and passes for a good form of entertainment. It even makes me wonder why it hadn't been done long ago.
The most uninformed people will simply assume that "you just dig" and "build stuff", but playing the console version has proven that this could not be further from the truth. I say this because I only really played the PC version for Creative Mode where building structures without the fear of everything was my only means of enjoying the game. I was too easily frustrated with dying and waiting for daylight that I just wanted to play the game at my own pace. The option to do that is still here on the Xbox One but I still wanted to test my mettle against the hordes of cubic undead. I made a point to myself about playing the game how it was intended. I'm hugely interested in the ideas behind survival and the only rewards being that you get to continue, so going into this title I wanted to prove to myself everything was going to be alright.
Because I'd been playing the intoxicatingly fun (and more to the point, easy) Rayman Legends, I hadn't quite switched my brain on and found myself making some rather "derpy" mistakes, such as not reacting to the kamekaze-esque Creepers or trying to fight a single zombie with a block of dirt at hand. Things weren't going in my favour and at that point I'd normally lay the game off as a swindle.... but not this time. I knew I could do better, and I did.
So thus began a new adventure on a new world, where the gallant hero began smacking trees with his bare fist until chunks of wood popped out. This is how every adventure begins, and demonstrates perfectly the tier system of everything within the game. You start out with nothing, mere flesh and blood, before moving onto wood. Once you have wood you can begin the creation of a crafting table. After which you move onto tools like axes, pickaxes, swords and shovels, using them on other natural resources only to discover more and more. What makes this so enchanting is that the game doesn't necessarily tell you this unless you play the tutorial, and finding this stuff out for yourself is far better than letting the game help you. Heck, even having a friend guide you through it all as you assume control allows for a much easier learning curve. I'd recommend that anyone playing the game turn off hints and tooltips so that each item that pops out of the newly destroyed block adds more to the feeling of discovery. Because they're on by default, you may have to do this yourself.
As much as I complain about trial and error in a multitude of games, especially platformers, Minecraft does it in a way that doesn't feel cumbersome. You'll find out how to use the crafting table, how to make tools and and furniture as well as the dangers of falling and nighttime fairly quickly. Sir Johnbonne had some experience in the game before, so our now-bloody knuckled hero knew what to expect after he'd broken his hand making a house.
The game isn't going to hold your hand even if you have the tutorials on; it won't bring down the wrath of Notch, exploding enemies at nighttime for a few days to help you ease into the game. You have to learn how to fight, with what to fight and no in-game hints are going to prepare you for the feeling of losing your hard work. If you die the game is not going to forgive you because you're new - your inventory and hotbar items will be lost on death, and when you respawn you'll have to hope that you're near all that dirt and wooden tools you'd lost in a fistfight. Death matters in Minecraft and the slightest misstep on a hillside or miscalculation when building your fort will lead to loss of progress, or at least anything that isn't nailed down.
Minecraft isn't just about buiding houses and waiting for night to end, but also exploring and coming across the wonders of the virtual world. Mojang's randomly generated content will always provide a wealth of dungeons containing all kinds of horrors (especially at night) as well as treasures, and thanks to this generation of console's hardware the worlds are over 30 times larger than before. The game doesn't neglect its RPG elements as armour, weapons and health are meaningful - when you go from leather to iron armour, you'll notice that difference between life and death. The same applies to your tools which can cut through blocks faster and last longer, and the crafting system is robust yet simple. It won't take you longer than four hours to go from cowering behind tall wooden walls to making stone fortresses and tackling dynamic world dungeons. Where many survival crafting games fail to do either, Minecraft has it nailed down. Sure, there's no need to drink water but you will have to hunt daily or at least keep well stocked containers or face a rapidly depleting health bar. Survival mode always has you doing something, be it building or - in the words of the Bee Gees - stayin' alive, even when your well of ideas has run dry. And if just surviving isn't your idea of fun, how about crafting all diamond gear? How about trying to reach the Nether? How about defeating the Ender dragon? There's stuff in here that makes the main quest chains of million-dollar RPGs look like a casual saunter to the bathroom.
If this doesn't sound like your thing and you just want to build, Creative Mode has you covered. Minecraft can provide you with unlimited supplies and access to all items without needing to craft them, so you can make pretty structures and shape the world to the way you want it to be. As I said earlier I'm primarily a CM player and I often like to roleplay as the narrator for two factions who were once at war (now extinct). Call it child-like if you must but as of late June 2014, it's been proven that 54 million people still have a locked away love for Lego bricks and Mega Bloks from many years ago; it's great to have even more bricks to play with and even greater scales.
Minecraft proves a number of things in the Indie market, but I'd like to believe it proves something else: Art style absolutely tops resolution in this console generation. The game opts for the low-res look of the Atari days but in a wholly 3D world, standing out amongst your Titanfalls and your Bound in Flames, and even on a 720p TV as opposed to the few-inch screen of my laptop it looks terrific. I'm not one to support the overuse of such retro art styles, and the missing black outlines of blocks when hovering over them doesn't help on the console version, but it's tolerable for long enough to not get tired of it even after logging out. The animation could be a bit better and I've notice it spike on NPCs whereas the player character and environment framerate often remains the same, but I've no complaints outside of that when it comes to its visuals.
Usually I can't bare to play Minecraft on my laptop without something like the A-Team playing in the background, but here I took the time to appreciate the game's beautifully composed music by Daniel Rosenfeld. Mostly soft piano tracks, there's some gentle orchestral songs playing from time to time that blend in nicely to the serene and sometimes creepy world that the players occupy. That doesn't mean that I miss the churlish ravings of B.A Baracus calling someone a fool or a sucker, but whenever the music played and I caught a hint of it under the sounds of carbine fire, everything on my laptop paused for those few seconds of paradise.
Final Verdict: Recommended
The issues I have with this game are minimal; more character skins for multiplayer would be welcome, as would more texture packs outside of Halo, Mass Effect and Skyrim, but I would assume they'll be added later as downloadable content. My only real problem was the control and how the user interface took me hours to adapt to - I would strongly discourage people playing the Xbox One version unless they've more friends playing it than on PC, and even then it's superior in almost every way. However because the sandbox title runs at such a gorgeous framerate and the colour has been given the Sunset Overdrive touch, Minecraft is worth considering if you can't run it on your computer at the same level.
Whether you're reading my review because you're looking for a sandbox game, an RPG or a survival crafting game Minecraft will have you covered. The Xbox One version isn't the best due to its lasting controller issues and fewer graphical options, but it's worth picking up if you want to meet some new people for the console online and a game that will last you months - if not years - down the line.
Thanks for reading, have a pleasant day and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!