I first got wind of Habitat some time ago as I was perusing the interweb for space-y simulation games (I had gone on an X3: Albion Prelude binge putting in just under 150 hours) and it caught my interest. "I like space, Habitat looks like it has a lot of space," I had said to myself. I also said "Man, I like simulation games, Habitat is like a sim game" so I added it to my wish list and kept my eye on it over time. So now that Habitat has reached Early Access on Steam I hopped and jumped and skipped to get into it and play around and get a feel for what Habitat is all about.
Habitat puts you in the role of a commander that is in charge of building and maintaining habitats in Earth's orbit, as well as fighting off clouds of nanomachines and rogue space stations. You see, there is this mass exodus to space as roaming bands of nanomachines are pretty much slaughtering the world's population and it is up to you to ensure the survival of the human race. In order to building, maintain, and protect your habitats, you will need to use all of the space junk that we as humans have been leaving in orbit. This hodge-podge mess of junk can lead to extremely unique and creative ships as you continue to attach items from tanks to railway cars to giant boxing gloves.
To protect your hastily-built habitats from the roaming bands of extraordinarily deadly nanomachines (only a few hits can destroy a habitat) you can arm your ships with varying sizes of booster rockets; from small easy-to-maneuver but slow tug boosters to these giant rockets that can blast you across the planet as you work to get away. As I mentioned previously, you can arm yourself (literally) with a boxing glove or a weaponized T-Rex head or you can choose more practical items like replica tanks, laser beams (pew pew pew!) rocket launchers and explosive scrap modules.
One of my favorite, but wasteful tactics is to strap two big boosters to a couple of connected explosive scrap modules and kamikaze into a space station. It works. Most of the time. While it is an obvious choice (come on, that is like a rocket-super-grenade ...), the freedom to think out of the box is all there with Habitat. If you want to strap a boxing glove to a giant rocket, go right ahead; you want to use that yacht as a core for your habitat but want to give it eight rockets to watch it streak through space? You can.
While the explosive aspects of the game are certainly exciting and enjoyable at its core Habitat is a challenging simulator where you are fighting against time and a lack of resources to try to save the human race. It is difficult. Brutally realistic space physics (except for the whole sound in space thing; you have to have sound in a game) make turning a mini-game all of its own. There were plenty of times where I would start all but one or two of my thrusters and I would be rocketed into a careening spin that is extremely difficult to break out of. Fortunately there is an emergency stop button (the space bar) however, hitting the space bar will cost you valuable Omni. It is difficult to explain what Omni really is. Not only is it your "money" it is the singular resource that you will spend in order to move (some thrusters cost Omni to be used), stop, fire weapons or build connectors to bring your habitat together.
Since there are no shops in space the only way to gain Omni is to go through and to continue moving. The more habitats that you move the more Omni you will make as long as you keep them moving. There were a few times where I was trying to juggle 4 small habitats and it was nearly impossible. Not because of poor mechanics or no access to hotkeys that bring you right to your units, but because of the brutality of both the nanomachines and the physics engine. It gets difficult but I was eventually able to route two of the habitats together to make a single larger habitat. That same single habitat was destroyed spectacularly moments later as it drifted too close to a rogue space station and a nanomachine cloud. Needless to say the explosion was grand.
Graphically I am still up in the air on Habitat; there is no pop in, no drop in FPS (I ran at a solid 60FPS) but some of the textures are left a bit wanting. Beyond that though, camera controls are easy to work once you get used to the keymapping and when you zoom in on some of the more obvious items (like the yacht or the space shuttles) you will see an inordinate amount of detail that really helps put everything into perspective. As you zoom in and look at the burned out husk of a subway train you get a sense of loneliness and desperation and it is all brought together by casual corporate lounge music that is soft and easy on the ears, even after hours of gaming. Ambient audio is decent though it is space so it is limited primarily to the radio chatter as the observers are spotting obstacles or nanomachines. The overall ascetic wraps Habitat up in some decent graphics and audio and I can only hope that higher quality textures and more audio will make it into the final builds.
Freedom of choice and creativity are some of the primary points that Habitat is trying to make and so far it is on the right track. Out of the dozens of space simulation games that I have played, none of them offer quite the experience that Habitat provides you. As I continued to build habitats I was struck with a wonderful feeling of nostalgia as snapping the hodge-podge constructions together was very similar to how I would play with my Lego's as a child. With the spectacular premise, easy on the eyes graphics, and witty humor, mixed together with what is essentially the exodus of the human race and the heavy over tones of loneliness and the weight of responsibility, Habitat is shaping up to be one of my top indie hits of 2014.
Preview by Robert