Games you have to play: Minecraft

Minecraft Review

In light of the recent movie leak we take a look at the blocktastic world of Minecraft and what makes it such a great game.

The uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking Minecraft is just another one of those games rendered in retro pixel graphics in an attempt to be cool. Get into the game however and it’s really not. The cuboid inhabitants of the Minecraft world do have a certain charm but the game is so deep and immersive you find yourself sucked into it irrespective of the appearance.

Having largely moved away from PC gaming to the PS3 I had to wait until just before Christmas last year to get my hands on Minecraft. it was originally a present to my eldest who wished to gain passage to the playground Minecraft cognoscenti, and now seasoned with tales of discovery, ingenuity and how to fashion a monstrous servant from a snowman, holds court there.

But Minecraft isn’t just a game for children. You just have to take a look at the scores of Youtube videos to realise this. 

I was keen to play it myself, I’d already read a lot on Minecraft and there is an awful lot of commentary to be found; educational, creative, co-operative - here’s a game that gives you the escapism of an alternate world without people badgering you to do quests for them or tank down a load of bad guys. OK, so there is a hack-and-slash element to Minecraft if you want it but the game doesn’t rely on it at all.

Encounters with the nasties that path around the MInecraft world are a confusing combination of annoying and hilarious. You might on occasion actively seek a few to hunt for the loot they drop and completionists will need to kill a selection of creatures including the not-very-hard-to-kill Ender Dragon, but you can play the game without them and not be bothered by their absence.

It’s interesting to hear a Minecraft film is planned. It will doubtlessly flesh out the game fluff - the good old portals opening up to other worlds scenario, of which Minecraft’s cast of blocky monsters play a part. How true to the original graphical rendering will the film dare to stay?

The thing that makes Minecraft truly ground-breaking is the sheer size of the sand box and not just on the horizontal. You can travel through all the space below ground and build upwards in all the space above it.. The block, the universal Minecraft measurement, is a true 3D object each one destructible and replaceable and the entire world is made out of blocks.

In this way all space in Minecraft is inhabitable. Have you ever had the experience playing in a sand box game the likes of GTA for example and seen a building and thought, ‘I’d like to go in there’ only to find you can’t. What Minecraft has done is create an engine where all objects in an environment can be interacted with. Imagine GTA where you could enter every building in Vice City and also blow them all up. Graphics can now be objects as opposed to just graphics.

I’m sure many more games will come out that will work like Minecraft. it’s already happening with Sony Online Entertainment’s latest beta darling Everquest Next Landmark. You can join up and literally help make the world for the final MMORPG release, which will also continue the mechanics of destructible environments - proposing for instance a situation where you might reveal a hitherto hidden dungeon by mining down. 

It’s the creative mode on Minecraft that really makes it shine. It’s like having an infinite supply of epic-scale Lego. Whatever structure you can drum up in your imagination can be realised, the physics of how that structure then reacts to the elements is also considered. The only challenge being that which you set yourself.

Play on your own and there’s a tangible sense the game world is wholly yours, as opposed to you assuming a role in somebody else’s fantasy. The experience can be a bit ‘existential’ such is the size of the game world your sprite is running around in, this is accentuated by the contemplative Erik Satie-esque piano-flavoured soundtrack.

Buddying up, whether split-screen or online is great fun for coordinating the current building project. On the issue of the educational aspects of Minecraft I’ve noticed through playing with my kids that it teaches communication both verbal and visual and helps develop an understanding of 3D objects in space, my eldest’s drawing skills have improved of late and I like to put this down to him playing Minecraft.

Whilst mods are available for Minecraft to add new textures, sprites, mechanics and materials there’s a sense that Minecraft is a game that doesn’t need a sequel. As long as you have the creative ambition Minecraft has all you need to see it through.

This is perhaps the aspect that most of all makes Minecraft such a good game, it’s open ended, it doesn’t rely on plot devices, new content or a curve of skill-tests to keep you playing - just you, your imagination and some spare time.

I’ve often seen the word addictive used to describe Minecraft. Personally I find this a difficult adjective to parse as addictive insinuates you can’t put the game down, you can, you may be preoccupied with how to finish off your project for a while after but then you’re faced with the outside world which isn’t stylized into huge block structures and looks a whole lot more real.

image: © Notch Development AB

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