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story.lead_photo.caption Oxygen Not Included is a survival simulation video game developed and published by Klei Entertainment. (Klei Entertainment)

Title: Oxygen Not Included

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux

Cost: $24.99

Rating: Some crude humor but OK for ages 10 and up

Score: 8 out of 10

Continuing with the space exploration theme from my July 29 review, Oxygen Not Included is a space-colony simulation and survival game developed by Klei Entertainment.

In ONI, players manage colonists and help them dig, build and maintain a subterranean asteroid base.

The completed version of the game was officially released July 30, after spending two years in Steam's "Early Access."

The setup is that you're in charge of three "replicants" who arrive by a teleportation mistake in the center of an asteroid (filled with organic material, plants and even alien critters) with only a few pockets of breathable air. The asteroid is hurtling through space.

With the help of a handy Star Trek-like cloning device called a Printing Pod, it's your job to help them survive, then thrive, inside the asteroid, establishing a colony and then eventually digging your way to the surface to build a rocket and escape.

ONI is part science, part science-fiction. Your colonists use a mystical multipurpose laser tool to dig raw materials and convert them into finished products like stairs, storage units, pipes, electric generators and more. At first, the needs of your group are fairly simple. Food, water and shelter. But as the game progresses, the complexity does too.

First, you're in an asteroid and while you start the game in a breathable pocket of air, it won't last forever. You'll have to build a generator to power an oxygen diffuser that runs on algae. You'll need a toilet and a place to wash your hands to reduce germs and the risk of illnesses. You'll need a pit to dump waste liquids.

As your colonists breathe, they expel carbon dioxide which, being heavier than oxygen, sinks to the bottom and can create layers of unbreathable atmosphere. So an early step will be to build a pit to accumulate the CO2. Eventually, you'll learn the technology to start recycling these waste products to build a truly self-sustaining colony.

As the game progresses, the Printing Pod will activate, letting you clone more colonists and rare resources. Your replicants will level up, gaining new skills, and your colony will research new technologies.

The more replicants, the more work can be done, but it also means more oxygen and resources will be used, more waste expelled. And replicants are people too, sort of. To do a good job they need to be happy, and that means making the base look pretty, decorating with lights, potted plants and artistic works.

ONI has great replay value. There are only two main difficulties, but every game starts on a randomly generated asteroid, each of which has vastly different properties. Some will have ample resources and present a base experience. Other asteroids will be filled with salty ocean water, volcanoes or simply be mostly barren.

Survival also includes regulating temperatures (for colonists, crops and critters) and making sure that your recycling capabilities get up to maximum efficiency before your colonists run out of vital resources, such as water or breathable air.

The game never rests on its laurels by letting you just plunk down some equipment and move on. Unexpected realism crops up continually. Pipes must be kept at certain temperatures, unwanted gases must be filtered out, plagues and cave-ins can happen, and your colonists could go insane.

The game plays in a side-scrolling, ant-farm view, and the characters are cute and hand-drawn, similar to Klei Entertainment's other popular survival games, such as Don't Starve. It's a very cleverly done game that gets more elaborate as it goes along, making failure almost as rewarding as success.

The scientific concepts are accurate enough that some knowledge of math and science can help make the game quite a bit easier. A lot of learning happens just through experimentation, but looking up online wikis and YouTube tutorials will improve your ability to survive in the late game. I definitely had to look at online guides to figure out how to keep colonists alive in my first game, as my pocket of air increasingly filled up with unbreathable gases and my supply of water got lower and lower.

Oxygen Not Included is a polished gem of a game, and with its infinite replayability and community modding support, well worth picking up.

Watch a sample HERE.

Style on 08/12/2019

Print Headline: Game On

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