Factorio (Early Access)
If you've heard about Factorio, it's finally available over at Steam Early Access! And if you haven't, this very stable and well-developed sandbox crafting game from Prague-based Wube Software has been years in development and boy does it show! Fans of Minecraft will feel right at home with this one, complete with extremely active ongoing game development, a well-used forum with a community of thousands of avid players, and even a plethora of supported third-party mods for added functionality to customize your game just as you like it. Stranded on a hostile alien world, it's up to you to go from harvesting basic resources to crafting a sophisticated production chain of manufacturing machinery that will process those resources into ever-more-advanced components to build what you need to succeed on the planet — and even make it home successfully. Once you research them transport belts, construction bots and automated trains carrying cargo cross-country become yours to build and use to advance from basic stone and metal mining all the way to manufacturing things like circuit boards, laser turrets and sci-fi personal defense arsenals! You'll even manage energy requirements to keep your sprawling production facilities operating smoothly, but they also emit byproducts which the native life instinctively scent as a threat to its entire way of life and it will respond. When that happens, will you be ready?
Keyboard combinations are fully-customizable from the menu, with [WASD] for movement, [E] to access your inventory, [M] for a handy map and [R] to pick or re-pick an area of research at any time. You'll start off placing a miner for coal, copper or iron, and need to make the rounds picking up the resources it produces while keeping it supplied with wood or coal. That'll get you started but is obviously less than ideal — you'll want to research a steam engine and mining facilities that can use the electricity it provides, and then it's just a matter of keeping the steam engines supplied from just a single location. Research facilities will generate new advances automatically, provided you can keep them topped up with the specialized research resources they need; if you've amassed the raw materials you can craft them yourself to start, but this quickly gets out of hand and you'll need to establish a more automated system for churning them out. And that's where Factorio shines: you're building a system to get the raw materials to the processing facilities, and the finished products to wherever they're needed. You'll have to generate enough energy to keep the lights on, refine the most effective methods of getting resources to where they're needed without either having faciltiies inconveniently spread out all over the map or making other supply routes inaccessible, and optimize supply bottlenecks to keep everything flowing fast enough and proportionately enough to keep the finished products coming out at something like a sane rate. The more efficiently you plan it all, the better the rate at which the higher-end products are assembled.
And Factorio provides you with plenty of these. Copper and iron refine into things like gears and plate. Throw in some oil refining to manufacture plastics and you can build circuit boards. Some careful chemistry with the byproducts and you've got batteries, explosives and rocketry. Automated rail systems are no problem at all, and will enable you to sort out your supplyline crimps by nabbing resources from across the map, but you'll need to plan the routes out carefully — and then find a way to shunt them exactly where they're needed in an increasingly elaborate and compact frenzy of processing facilities, transport belts and other supply feeds. Flying construction bots can snag resources you've already accumulated and build to spec from blueprints you can design, and even make autorepairs to any damaged facilities or equipment in their range. Automotive tech has been implemented; build your own car — or even a tank! Factorio masterfully provides a game-ified version of corporate manufacturing and production systems over the last century or so, but here you're the one-man band, doing it all and determining just where and how every system ought to work. Whether you interpret your position as making effective and worthwhile use of an otherwise primitive planet, or behaving like a one-man invader and lousing up the entire ecosystem for your own personal agenda will likely depend on your perspective, but there's probably some truth to both takes. Through it all Factorio is eminently playable and complex enough to retain its audience's interest level. Recent improvements have also given each facility its own high-resolution animation and sound effects, so the sense of accomplishment as you breeze through the complex of systems you've designed so carefully is only intensified by the sense of realism Factorio presents. In extremely active development for years and likely for years more to come, so all you builders, crafters, and tinkerers: Factorio is definitely one you'll want to nab.