Minecraft has finally left the beta stage, and has been given a full release. A game about absolutely nothing, or a game about just about everything?
It's not easy to define Minecraft. If you say it's a game, what kind of game is it? A hard question to answer. Minecraft is what you make of it, and you're in control of your experience. You can choose whether to play alone or with others, and the main character isn't the quiet and blocky Steve, but rather the massive game world that Minecraft offers the player. It can be randomly generated, or you can opt to code a world of your own.
Depending on what game mode you choose you get two entirely different experiences. The Creative mode grants you access to unlimited resources to allow you to build anything you want. Create, build, destroy, tear down or just walk around a have a look. You can soar freely in the air and you don't need to worry about anything. You're given all the tools needed to create anything you want, and by now you've surely seen some of the magnificent creations the community has come up with. Anyone can do it, you just need to invest the time and effort.
The second game mode is called Survival and is more of a traditional gaming experience. You are dropped in to the game world, without tools or resources. If you hit something enough times, it disappears and a cube is created that you can pick up and place anywhere in the world. You better get used to chopping up and places lots of cubes during your adventures in Minecraft. There are plenty of materials, and you're going to have to create tools to spped up the process.
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These tools must be created with raw materials found across the game world. The first simple tools are made with wood, and aren't very useful in all honesty. With these wooden tools you can work on rock and that is the base for some more competent tools. What you need first is an axe, a pick and a shovel for the different materials. But you cannot stay idle for long as the first few minutes in Minecraft's Survival mode are critical. The sun doesn't stay up for long, and once the square source of heat sets a few nasty things appears. Zombies, spiders, skeletons, and other unpleasant elements appear all of a sudden, and you're on top of the menu. The first night is typically spent in an improvised cavity in a rock wall.
My first night was dramatic to say the least as I blocked myself in with a collection of sand cubes on a mountain side. Without any tools I found myself stuck while zombies and other critters flocked outside. When the sun came back out they burst into flames, and I was able to come out of hiding. Lost and lonely in a giant game world I had absolutely no idea what to do next.
After some time of aimless hacking, it dawned on me that there is nothing to tell what to do next or how to do it. In order to learn how to create tools I had to go on to Youtube and search out a guide. And to open up the character screen and place wooden cubes in the building window in order to create planks wasn't all that challenging.
The fact that placing wooden cubes in all four spots in the building window in order to create a work bench was something I found out by coincidence. With the work bench I gain options of building more complicated things. That I had to place certain things in certain spaces within the build window was something that I couldn't quite grasp. Minecraft doesn't explain itself to the player. There are no built-in help systems, and the player is left to his own devices throughout. And given how much stuff you can build, a little help to get going would have been much appreciated.
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Lots of games these days hold you by the hand and leave little for the player to explore on their own, and this is something that often bothers me. However, as Minecraft is the complete opposite it strikes me as quite odd that nothing has been done to aid the player even a tiny bit. I'm not asking to be given all the answers, but some fundamental guidance at the start would have been nice.
It's difficult to overlook the graphics when reviewing Minecraft. While many would discard it has primitive and blocky, it matters little as everything is connected and creates massive and impressive environments. You will find mountain ranges, beaches, hills, natural caves and forests. When your standing on top of the world and gaze down, it's hard to not be impressed by the visuals.
The shapes come across as perfectly natural in spite of their rigid design. Much like in 3D Dot Game Heroes or other pixel based games you can criticise it for looking technically inferior, but personally it speaks volumes to me with its character and unique appeal.
Minecraft is a game where the player makes his own decisions, and I guess Mojang simply opted to give the player a blank canvas, something this isn't very common these days. I can do almost anything to the gaming world. If I want to tear down a mountain I can do so. I can build a large castle or a small little cottage. I can hunt animals or run down a beach (humming the Baywatch theme to myself). You set your own objectives and decide how to achieve these.
While this is something positive, my initial feeling was that Minecraft was very barren and not very compelling. But after watching a handful of Youtube videos I was more up to facing the world and my experience was much better. The strength of the Minecraft community is very evident, and there are lots of guides and helpful players out there. Help is seldom further away than google. I prefer to play the game in Survival mode on the Peaceful difficulty setting. This means that I can die if I'm not careful, but I don't have to deal with enemies and such hardships. I work to gain resources, I can explore the randomly generated world, and if I want to build something I have to earn it.
Creation and exploration, is what excites me about Minecraft and I enjoy finding a natural cavity in the ground and see what it has offer. I may find enormous underground complex filled with lava, water and rare materials. Other times I simply start digging a hole in the ground that grows deeper and deeper until I find something interesting.
Sometimes I just dig out a large area and create a small village, where no one but I reside. It's a cliché, but Minecraft is a game that gets as good as your imagination and lust for exploration allows for. There are no musts, no pointers, and nothing to stop me from doing what I want. At first glance, Minecraft doesn't appear to offer much, but after a while you will find that there is an incredible amount of content to be experienced.
The Survival mode now includes a proper ending where you're faced with a massive dragon you need to defeat. It doesn't really appeal to me, and instead I continue with my projects. The online component is pretty much the same as the offline game, with the difference that you can play it with others. However, there is no server browser or such, so you have to enter a specific IP number in order to connect.
You can create your own server by downloading the official server software, and come up with your own settings. Personally I found this a little less than user friendly, and never quite got it to work. It may come down to my lacking intellect, but I never got any further than to a world where I couldn't chop anything up. I grew tired and jumped on another server instead.
This was much more fun, and we built and built until we tried to take on the final boss in the Creative mode. This wasn't a great deal of fun, and should probably be experienced in the Survival mode. I feel that the online portion of the game could be a bit easier to get into, and it should be easier to use your offline world online. I'm nitpicking here, but the user interface is not very user friendly at times. While Minecraft ranks among the best games I have ever played, it's far from a flawless experience. Even if Minecraft offers the player more than most games, it could have been more accessible.
At times I get frustrated with the lack of guidance, and at the first it just felt overwhelming. With time I got into it more and I was thoroughly entertained. And the developers should be commended for the amount of freedom they offer the players.
In an age where players are given more direction than ever before, Mojang creates something at the opposite end of the spectrum. We're spared streamlined mechanics, predetermined cutscenes, and predictable events in a game that is almost entirely free and open ended. I would like to compare Minecraft to my favourite TV show of all times - Seinfeld. It's a game about nothing. But nothing can also be just about everything, and I love it.
9 / 10
Enormous environments, lots of freedom, infinite possibilities, simple beauty, your imagination is your only limitation.