Autonauts is a crafting indie game that tasks players with establishing and growing a colony on a procedurally generated planet. Players are not alone, however, as they can build a fleet of up to 300 robots that can be programmed through a simple scratch-based language to carry out tasks for the player.
This makes up the core of Autonauts‘ gameplay loop as players try to optimize their processes, expand their colony, experiment with their robots, and move things around to beautify their colony. And I loved it. Welcome to an Autonauts Xbox Review.
Key Info Up Front
- Developer: Denki
- Publisher: Curve Games
- Genre: Automation Colony Management
- Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
- Price: $29.99
What Is Autonauts?
Autonauts is an indie colony management game that drops players onto a flat map covered with trees, stones, berries, and a few other scattered resources. Then, the player must build a colony to advance through stages from a small tribal village to a bustling metropolis.
This requires the player to learn new technologies, build structures, set up farms, satisfy colonists and set up sustainable harvesting loops. But you’ll also have to optimize these processes to be as efficient as possible, including storing all the resources you harvest.
So, if you’re looking for a more survival-driven experience that requires you to manage your character’s needs like hunger and thirst, you’ll want to look elsewhere. There is nothing like that at all in Autonauts. Players can cook different foods to feed colonists, but their character has no needs, and there is no real loss-state. Instead, players are free to take things at their own pace and focus their efforts on whatever part of their colony they want to at any given time.
This was one of my favorite parts of Autonauts, as it helped it be a very relaxing game to plug away at. There is always something to do, and it is very easy for the hours to fly by as you focus on improving the individual aspects of your colony.
As for your colony, however, there is not much additional story surrounding it. Autonauts is a game that focuses entirely on its gameplay. It is a little disappointing just how little story there is in Autonauts, as players don’t even get any information about why they’re colonizing the planet, who sent them there, or anything else.
Most survival games have at least some story to give players more context for where they are and their goals, but this is almost absent in Autonauts. I didn’t find it to detract too much from the game, but it could slightly impact other players’ enjoyment.
A World of Robots and Automation
I’ve seen some people who think that Autonauts is a survival game, but it is very far from that. Players have no needs at all, and the game is focused on creating supply lines and automated systems to build a steady flow of supplies. To do so, players have to build a fleet of robots to do their bidding. This is done through simple scratch-based programming. Autonauts‘ automation system was my favorite part of the game.
Throughout a playthrough of Autonauts, you have to set up dozens of supply systems and production lines only to tweak and optimize them time and time again. Seeing your small army of robots zipping around the map and carrying out their orders smoothly is extremely satisfying and a testament to the player’s ability to solve production pipelines and programming logic.
My enjoyment of these systems was also greatly helped by the lack of a failure state, which allows you to take your time solving these issues and focus on whatever goals capture your attention at any given time. This helps make it a wonderfully relaxing game that is very easy to spend hours playing at a time with no stress and minimal frustrations.
All of this automation serves to gather various resources like crops, wood, and wool. Every resource is harvested in different ways, whether using a particular tool, having to grow them, or setting up systems to replenish sources like trees to maintain your resource line.
Those resources can then be refined into numerous other resources, such as turning wood into planks and poles. This is where much of the automation comes into play, as you’ll have to refine every resource and store the variations multiple times for the various recipes it is used in. The multiple resources and their derivatives do a lot to help bring a lot of variation to the challenges players face in Autonauts.
Apart from crafting tools and workstations, players can also build paths, walls, and decorations across their island colony. However, these building options are primarily used for organization and speeding up your bots by making them travel over paths. You can’t even put roofs on the buildings you build, so the structures in Autonauts are not an emphasis at all.
The lack of decoration options was a little disappointing since you can’t customize your island with fun cosmetics beyond placing trees, flowers, and small gnome statues around. This makes sense, however, as having more decorations would likely get in the way of all the bots racing around constantly.
As players progress through evolving and upgrading their colony, they can improve things by researching new technologies and crafting upgrades for their bots. This allows players to unlock new systems, upgrade their existing supply lines, and further customize their approach to building their colony.
I liked how these systems worked to dole out the progression for the player, as they allowed me to unlock more parts of the game in my own time and order. Nothing strictly guides the player to follow a particular route, allowing you to freely define your way through the game, which is excellent quality for a sandbox title like Autonauts to have.
Storybook Visuals That Go Too Far
Like many indie titles of this type, Autonauts uses voxel graphics with a cartoony style akin to storybooks. Various menu elements look like they were torn out of paper, and in-game assets are comprised of bright, flat colors, smiling faces, and cute details. Most of the in-game assets are very well designed. Their visual design matches the laidback and approachable tone of the game while still being easily identified and feeling cohesive with one another.
However, some elements don’t look nearly as strong as others. The largest that stuck out to me were the colonists. Colonists are small humans that can be grown from seeds and fed with food to produce wuv, a resource used for researching technology. Depending on the colonist’s level, their size and appearance changed, and at their lowest level, when you first get them, they were weirdly creepy to me.
Their small size and blocky features made them look like strange monkey-ish babies that just writhed around on the ground until they were fed. Once they got bigger, it became clear that they were meant to be humans, but when I first got one, I was really confused about what it was.
Another aspect of the visuals that stands out as subpar is how the game handles alert notifications. These appear whenever the player unlocks a new option that can be selected at certain workstations or a new structure that can be built. Having these notifications, in theory, is a great idea, as without them, it would be not very pleasant to figure out where you can make the new resource you just unlocked since you’ll end up with multiple types of workstations spread throughout your island.
However, how these notifications are handled is where the issue comes in. The design of the notifications resembles a flashing alarm, with a red spiked speech bubble and an exclamation point repeatedly flashing until the player goes and checks it out.
These notifications then flash repeatedly and on every one of the workstations with the new option, so it is common to have a crowd of five or more constantly flashing until you go and clear them, and each one looks like something terrible is going to happen if it isn’t addressed immediately.
These notifications are also particularly annoying in the menu where you find structures to build, as they aren’t removed until you build the new structure. This can be quite annoying when it comes to having structures unlocked that you don’t need yet or aren’t interested in. For example, there is a wardrobe where the player can store their character’s cosmetics and swap between them, but I didn’t want to change my character’s clothes ever, so I never built it.
This meant that every time I went to look at structures, I had to look at the aggressive notification that there was a new recipe, even though it was one I had checked a dozen times and decided I did not want.
The Story, or The Lack of One
There isn’t one when it comes to the narrative of Autonauts. When starting a new game, the player is informed that they are an Autonaut responsible for attempting to colonize a new procedurally generated planet. With that, players are dropped on the planet and given a short tutorial by their dropship that stays with them. It is also implied that the player is an Autonaut in training, as the player has Academy Certificates to earn that guide them on the next steps they can take in developing their colony.
Whenever you complete one of these certificates, you are given rewards stacked under your dropship, serving as a sort of totem pole of your achievements, so there must be some organization out in the world sending them to you.
Just what that organization is, what it means to be an Autonaut, or what the larger goal of your colony is, however, is absent. There is not even a light story or worldbuilding or end goal for players to strive for. Instead, Autonauts is concerned solely with its gameplay experience and how rewarding it is to progress through it to motivate its players.
The lack of a narrative may be a huge detraction for some players. I normally love games with deep worlds, libraries of lore, and intricately built stories, but in the case of Autonauts, I found myself not minding their absence. I honestly don’t think that adding a narrative of any sort could have added much to the game’s experience or improved it significantly. Instead, the game allows the player to focus on building and improving their colony, just as the game itself focuses on.
In fact, I think that there not being a story of any kind works in favor of the game, as it allows the game’s progression to be as open and freeform as it is. If players had to work toward a goal like ending an evil threat, terraforming their planet, or any other possible story hook, it would likely take railroad players more than the game currently does. I believe this would severely detract from the sense of discovery and organic growth that is currently so integral to the game’s enjoyment.
An Alien UI
Since I reviewed the Xbox version, the game that I played is a port of the original 2019 PC title. The game ran exceptionally well on my Xbox Series X, but it has some clunkiness due to the translation. Namely, the game’s controls and UI seem to be directly carried over from the PC version, which does not transfer very smoothly to playing solely with a gamepad.
One large part of these issues is that the game is played entirely with a cursor controlled with the left analog stick. This feels really slow to use, and I kept wishing that I could directly control my character and walk around the world with the cursor only being used situationally. Some controls seem like odd choices, such as using B to place resources on benches or that you can’t walk around while carrying a shovel without digging up the ground at your destination.
The UI is also split into three separate menus, one for programming robots, one for crafting structures, and one for checking your current certificates. These menus look nice, but they also run into some issues. For one, I found it difficult sometimes to know exactly where I was in a menu because they offer multiple layers that aren’t clearly defined, making it easy to select the wrong option or get lost accidentally.
The menus also have some odd control bugs that can make navigating them much more annoying than any menu should be. I think these issues are particularly exacerbated because of how constantly you have to interact with the menus while playing, meaning that players are confronted with these problems almost always while playing.
An Experience You May Want to Repeat
I completely understand why many players care about the replayability of a title and being able to get their money’s worth out of each purchase. With a $30 price tag that is a bit on the higher side for an indie title, I also expect this concern to come up for players interested in Autonauts. Being able to play through the game multiple times helps make that price tag seem much more worth paying, but I think whether or not you want to go through multiple worlds will depend highly on your personal experience.
Personally, I was left very satisfied with reaching the final colony level in my one playthrough and being done there. I would have liked to continue expanding on the supply chains and systems I had already set up if there was more content available, but the prospect of restarting does not really interest me since reaching that point took a few dozen hours.
However, thanks to the game’s procedural generation of maps, there is a ton of replayability here for the right type of player. I can definitely see players who really love the game’s programming systems wanting to make multiple colonies to be pushed to problem solve in different ways or with increasingly complicated setups.
I can also imagine players reaching the end of the game and then wanting to go through a second time with the knowledge gained to make the perfectly efficient colony from the ground up or to make one with a particular theme in mind, such as building it around a railway system.
Those possibilities didn’t make me want to play through the game a second time personally, but I would have been more than happy paying $30 for the experience I had with the game, and can definitely see fans wanting to go through the game multiple times.
If you end up playing Autonauts and enjoy it, or like how it sounds but want a slightly different experience, there are some great alternative titles that I can recommend to you. One automation management game that I can’t recommend enough is Factorio. While it does not feature a bot system like Autonauts, it still emphasizes a similar resource collection, refinement, and crafting process to build complicated intertwining systems.
If Autonauts sounds fun to you, but you want a more first-person experience, I cannot recommend Satisfactory enough. Not only is the game relatively cheap, but it also is still in early access with frequent updates, expanding the game for fans. Satisfactory also features a beautiful science fiction setting that can be entirely explored with a first-person camera that showcases everything’s impressive scale.
Finally, if you’re a fan of Autonauts and are playing on Xbox, I highly suggest checking out the backward-compatible A Kingdom for Keflings and A World of Keflings. Both games are Xbox 360 titles that have similar structures as Autonauts. The games task players with harvesting and refining resources to build different structures and homes for a small race known as Keflings.
These processes can then be automated by teaching the Keflings what you want them to do, however, the system is not nearly as complicated as what is present in Autonauts.
Question: What platforms are Autonauts on?
Answer: Autonauts is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Question: What is Autonauts vs. Piratebots?
Answer: Autonauts vs. Piratebots is the sequel to Autonauts that is expected to release in Summer 2022 and adds tower defense mechanics to the colony-building systems of Autonauts.
Question: Does Autonauts have multiplayer?
Answer: No, Autonauts is a single-player game, and the developers have said they don’t see adding multiplayer as being feasible in the near future.
Final Thoughts 8/10
Autonauts is not a game for everybody. Its gameplay systems have a particular vision and goal that won’t work for every gamer out there. However, for players interested in this type of game, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better, more accessible, or more generally enjoyable.
Apart from some tweaks to the controls when playing with a gamepad and visual oddities, it is hard to think of anything I would change about this game. I wish there was more of it to continue playing through and improving my supply chains with.
Pros and Cons
- Great and approachable automation systems that can become more complex with mastery.
- Fun visual style.
- An open progression allows you to approach expanding your colony how you want.
- The lack of a fail state makes the game very relaxing and laidback to play through.
- Easy to learn but has a high skill ceiling for players looking to master its many systems.
- Has procedural generation that allows for multiple playthroughs.
- Wonky controls don’t translate well to playing with a controller.
- General lack of customization or cosmetic options when it comes to building your colony.
- UI can be difficult to learn when first starting and buggy to control.