Space has a lot going for it. What I mean is that there must be something out there. Something we can use, harvest or just blow up for mere trouser wobbling giggles. It sure would be fun to explore a little bit more of it. However, no one is willing to put the effort in these days. Where are the hoards of people willing to go boldly and visit places no one has ever been before? It’s because of these selfish people that we are still left to dream, and instead of actually being there we have to use our imagination, which is exactly what folk were doing in the 1950’s! Is this really progress?
The good thing though with imagination is that it breeds creativity and creativity breeds products and things to distract us from that which we must be doing. Sometimes these are good and sometimes these be bad and sometimes the glittery sky gives us AstroDriller 3020.
In the future, the future being 3020, the hand of earth seems to want to do nothing more than stretch out its mangled claw and drill. Drill inside planet upon planet, plundering away at all the precious resources caked inside each one of these new rocky monoliths that have been discovered. Strangely though in Chronic Logics’ AstroDriller 3020 you will not be doing an ounce of this drilling that is now so high on Earths’ new manifesto for discovering planets. That role is left to a cocky NPC American who apart from a very limited vocabulary and bad motivational skills is happy to come along with you across nearly 90 planets of hardcore drilling action. It might be the story line to the worst porn movie to be set in space but for a simple pick up and play title AD3020 sits unnervingly between charmingly pleasant and boringly difficult.
If you thought that by not being the driller you would be escaping the hard work, then think again you maggot. You have the most thorny job of all: to sort out the drilled parts of rocks that fall from your colleague’s big tool. Whilst he is floating around happily picking apart precious gems, it is your duty to sort them and make sure they fall into the containers. However, because it is the future, everything has to be done as quickly as possible so you will be timed, and consequently graded on your efforts. To get a simple score and pass through easily you can just let rocks fall into their containers, but to really be the best fluffer to the big man’s weapon you need to be able to grind out the hidden gems inside each rock and make sure they fall into the containers of the same colour as the polished gem.
Many of you may have played the strange PC gratis game Ink Ball. Ink Ball is the simple windows game in which you draw lines of ink that when completed end up creating solid lines of deflection and defense, allowing you guide colored balls into holes and therefore win. AD3020 works in similar way but instead of ink you use lasers to help guide rocks into the containers at the bottom of the screen. These lasers – once positioned – last for a limited time but whilst there they will not only deflect a recently drilled rock but also grind away a part of its shabby gray coating. The more you grind the more of the gem inside is revealed and then the more points you get. Grind more, get chains, do it fast and you’ll get along fine.
The simple mechanic of AD3020 is fine. It is a jolly little puzzle game that tests your ability to micro-manage everything that is going on in-between the American and the containers below. As with all games of micro-management you’ll love it when a plan comes together. Grinding away a group of rocks to then deflect them into the right containers is delightful, if a little confusing when you get a bashing from the American and hardly any points on the board. But combinations are king and you must carry on grinding away.
Yes, AD3020 does get a little repetitive, oddly though it tries to combat any repetition in the overall mechanics of the game by ramping up the difficulty very soon and extremely sharply. It is a strange move and if it didn’t happen so early on into the title I might have felt more forgiving. It starts with different colours of rocks being introduced which then need to be put into their corresponding containers, so far so Ink Ball. What is strange is that this is more difficult in AD3020 than it really needs to be and what starts as interesting and unique level design starts to act against their favor. Sometimes lasers are unresponsive in blocking off the direction of a misplaced rock fall, there is no warning when a new rock is going to fall and the screen sometimes becomes so cluttered and badly organized that I couldn’t help but feel those horrible pangs of bother, and why indeed should I be.
Also one of the biggest issues is that the physics in this puzzler are sometimes just all over the place. Some rocks fall faster than others, or bounce off lasers, or just don’t fall into their containers at all, and that is when it gets to be most frustrating. Just when you’re getting the hang of it the game behaves in a way you didn’t expect, consequently unpredictability became my main gripe.
I had a really difficult time with AD3020 even though there were parts of it that I initially really enjoyed. There is a simple upgrade system that means you are encouraged to complete levels at a level a little bit higher than mediocre. Upgrades come in the forms of making laser lines longer, better at grinding or that they’ll hang around long enough to actually be able to do something worthwhile with them. Though again, where Chronic Logic do something attractive and pleasing with one hand, with the other hand they are reaching for the bag of no-no toys! Menus are so simple and basic that I really had a hard time reading them and understanding terms like “schmoints” whereas in game the presentation is clean, smooth and colourful and the addition of a profile tracker was a nice caring touch!
I’m sure that Chronic Logic do care about those that purchase the title, but AD3020 is a mixed bag. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere with it you will really struggle to maintain any feelings that this is a game that you should be enjoying. Whether it is the staunch difficulty or just the unpleasant physics and repetitive mechanics there is not much of a reason to hang around for long. On the other hand though AD3020 is a cheap, cheerful pick up and play title that, when all is going well, plays out graciously. It’s got its inventive moments and even though it’s mouse rubblingly difficult at times, it has a real charm that goes far to make up for some of its other short-comings.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: PC (Mac) Release Date: 11/07/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of AstroDriller 3020 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PC.