The past few years have been plentiful hunting grounds for survival fans, from the atrocious design decisions of Rust to the terrible optimisation of Ark Survival Evolved, all the way to the well meaning but misguided efforts of Osiris and the magical submarine brilliance of Subnautica. Nowadays, space survival games seem fixated on the idea of Mars and its colonisation, and the latest contender is Assembly Required’s Rokh, now in Early Access.
Made by an experienced team of developers who worked on high profile titles such as Dishonored, Half-Life 2, and the Assassin’s Creed series, this latest sci-fi survival drops players in the aftermath of a failed colonisation effort on the Red Planet, and tasks them with surviving the unforgiving climate of the arid world. With its claims to be deeply rooted in science, the title’s premise and its developers pedigree sound enticing, yet Rokh’s problems start when the game does. There is no tutorial or single player option, nor an easy way to create your own server -- meaning the lack of an internet connection utterly prevents you from playing the game.
With going multiplayer as the only option, things quickly go downhill. The server browser takes ridiculously long to give you a list of available games, clocking an average of 2 minutes where nothing happens on the screen. After the wait is over and you find a suitable world, you get to pick one square on the map out of ten to land, with the remaining 80% of the map closed off due to “hazardous conditions”. The game loads you in, and you spawn on the surface of the Red Planet.
The complete lack of a tutorial or guidance lends itself to a lengthy session of trial and error upon starting the game, and it’s made orders of magnitude worse by Rokh’s awful and unintuitive interface. The inventory is absolutely abysmal, and the tools in the game lack even the simplest of animation. Every single interaction is contextual, meaning using a tool at any time opens a menu; it is impossible to swing a pickaxe at anything unless the game highlights a specific kind of rock and tells you it’s okay.
Making matters worse is one of the most convoluted, annoying, and tiresome crafting trees I’ve ever experienced in a videogame. Building a storage box means crafting a hammer with an “emergency screwdriver”, then crafting a rod, a spike, wires, and a coil to produce a solder iron. With those in hand, you switch back to the emergency screwdriver to produce the aforementioned solder iron, which in turn needs sheets and bars (made by the hammer) to produce a box. Once you use the solder iron to make said box, you then switch back to the hammer to make a rod and a spike, before switching yet again to the emergency screwdriver in order to build an “assembly tool”. The assembly tool finally lets you combine the box and the rods to produce a simple, foot-sized storage box. All of that is done in similar-looking menus while holding identical looking tools -- most of them a generic screwdriver model -- creating a fantastically unappealing experience that manages to be more sterile than the iron oxide planet that surrounds it.
Besides the abominable crafting interface that has you irrationally dragging and storing eight rocks inside a tiny hammer in order to craft a piece of metal, resource distribution is another serious issue with this Early Access game's user flow. You either get the materials in random boxes that continuously respawn, or have to walk across half the map in order to find a specific mineral. Weirdly, different minerals can often be used to build the same thing, with the only effect being a different colour -- or in storage boxes, inexplicably, inventory sizes -- which only become known after the resource is spent and the item made. There is no information about what you are crafting, and the whole system is obtuse to the point of frustration.
This is yet again made worse by dubious design decisions that further highlights the game’s deficient state. Throughout the landing zone, bases and vehicles are scattered in various states of disrepair. None of it is interactive in any shape or form, meaning perfectly intact rovers can’t be driven, gigantic habitats cannot be explored, and nothing besides one or two “power generators” can be interacted with. These veritable city-sized colonies just sit there as part of the scenery, possessing a completely different art design and being utterly useless, which is extremely off-putting when you’re fighting for survival besides a cache of billions of dollars of technology made to keep you alive. The game’s inability to let you perform an act as simple as swinging a crowbar at something without an interaction prompt and a menu means you can’t even salvage any resources from the myriad of materials around you.
Technically, I experienced a handful of crashes with the game in every single play session, where a catastrophic failure of some kind would give me an error message and send me to the desktop to reboot the application. Assembly Required’s title is powered by Unreal Engine 4, but its graphics are merely okay and miles below the fidelity that another EA titles like Osiris currently achieve. Similarly, Rokh’s audio design is utterly uneventful, with not a single sound or music track standing out in any way.
The end result is a game that is the utter definition of Early Access. It is lacking in every single way, and the initial impressions are, quite frankly, utterly discouraging. I expected more from a team of developers with such credentials, and colonising Mars is a tall proposition to be tackled in this bereft manner. While the game does have an interesting concept and a mild idea of where it wants to go, the current implementation and design decisions do not give me any assurance the title will be anything but disappointing. I recommend you keep an eye on it if you like space survivals, but like going into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit, you definitely shouldn’t hold your breath.