Don’t be fooled by Autonaut’s colourful conceit and bouncy soundtrack.
Although it’s stuffed with adorable animations and a deceptively simple premise, beating at the heart of Autonauts is a complex, satisfying, and deeply involved colonisation simulator with oodles of opportunities sure to keep you up until the wee hours.
Thankfully, it eases you in gently enough. To build you need wood, and to chop down trees you require an axe. Bind a stick and stone on your workbench, however, and hey presto, you’re a lumberjack. But who wants to spend days working when, like any other lumberjack worth his salt, all you want to do is eat buttered scones instead?
While it’s undoubtedly entertaining to watch your delightful avatar bob around the screen, hammering together workbenches and picking berries, the key to Autonauts lies in automation. For every action your little avatar can do, so too can the robots you create.
The more mechanical men you manufacture, the more you can delegate tasks – from logging to building to cooking – leaving you free to expand your operations with other pursuits, such as arable and pastoral farming. Eventually, you’ll incubate an army of colonists, who replay your generosity with “wuv”, keen to make this once-empty world their new home, too.
Consequently, Autonauts is one of those rare gems that plays out with no sense of peril or perpetual impending doom. Devoid of death and violence, Autonauts unfurls slowly and incrementally, allowing the player to explore, and learn, at their own pace.
Initially, it’s just you and your automated allies toiling day and night which, when all is under control, is just as gentile as it sounds. That said, you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the ruthless efficiency of automation.
Teaching a bot to chop down every mature tree in a specific radius certainly is a timesaver, but unless you automate a fellow robot to clear away the logs – and another to sow tree seeds to sustain your logging business, of course – you’ll find yourself facing a gravity-defying tower of logs.
As the game progresses, you’ll unlock blueprints to help you better manage your army of workers and improve your automated processes. Stackable pallets and storage cubes help keep your resources tidy and organised, for instance, while research stations help you discover new tools and skills.
Eventually, you’ll learn that much of Autonaut’s magic unfurls through organic play and experimentations. An accidental swipe of a stick near a berry bush, for instance, taught us that sticks aren’t only useful for creating crude tools…
In the early game, bots often need their tools replenished, but we ripped through our initial planet’s stone reserves with shocking speed. This meant that until we got into the habit of keeping an instrument in reserve, we sometimes got stuck in a catch-22 in which we needed a pick-axe to bash the boulder and create stones… but couldn’t fashion the new pick-axe as we didn’t have any stone. And while your wind-up pals frequently run out of juice and you can automate that process, too, all is fine until that robot also powers down.
Occasionally, we also encountered issues where robots would cease working, a bubble icon popping up to prompt you to replace its tools. Very rarely – but more than once – no tool, whether it matched the one on the icon or otherwise, would get the thing running again.
It’s frustrating there’s no controller support, too, particularly as Autonauts is one of those sincerely delightful adventures that would be perfect to play with your kids. It’s more a grumble than a major complaint, but it’s a peculiar omission for a game packed with so much educational merit.