Lightyear Frontier is not the kind of game that fits neatly into a 30-minute Gamescom demo. There’s so much to see and do in this laidback farming mech sim that by the time my demo ends, I barely feel like I’ve scratched the surface of it (and that’s even with the assistance of some handy secret dev cheats to show me some of the structures and features they’ve got planned later on in the game). Rather, this is a game that’s designed to unfurl slowly, bit by bit, over the course of several hours, and before we begin, developer Frame Break’s CEO Joakim Hedström tells me they’ve shortened the game’s opening sequence for this particular demo, just so they can get players right into the thick of things as quickly as possible.
But even on this whistlestop tour, there’s plenty to dig into and delight in here – not least its gloriously bright and inviting colour palette (take that, Todd). I got to sample its farming, its wonderfully weighty mech exploration, and even indulge in a little bit of, well, powerwashing. Yep, PowerWash Simulator‘s influence was well and truly felt at this year’s Gamescom, and I’m so very here for it.
After crash landing on a strange alien planet, I begin my journey in Lightyear Frontier in a lush forest grove. A winding column of tall trees and overgrown hedges carefully shield the rest of its landscape from view as it leads me out to a small grassy knoll for the big curtain reveal, and cor, its vivid, cerulean skies and seemingly impossible combination of pink, gold and green treetops sure do make for a great first impression. Importantly, I felt very small and close to the ground as I stepped out onto this enormous plain, and while there’s nothing here that would threaten or hurt me, the desire to find my lost mech and safely ensconce myself inside its protective metal bones starts to become surprisingly urgent.
Luckily, it’s not too far away and after a quick spot of repair, snapping its broken-off legs and arms back into place with ease, ah, yes, this feels better. The world feels more my size now, and I never want to get back out ever again. At this point, Hedström says I’m technically “free to do whatever we want” now, but I take his advice and continue following its light tutorial prompts, if only so I can find the rest of my lost crop of mech tools – handily flagged by telltale plumes of smoke rising up in the sky.
I head over to the two in my immediate vicinity and find a pickaxe and vacuum, which I instantly start using to chop down its very pretty trees and hoover up some strange looking seeds from nearby plants. I feel a slight pang of regret – this world is almost too pretty to instantly mow down in the name of progress, but I’ll be honest – my hunter-gatherer lizard brain is too strong to ignore the lure of a good axe swing, so sorry, alternating blossom and autumnal trees. It’s to the chopping block with you.
Previously, Hedström tells me the game required players to use their vacuum to suck up pretty much everything that fell to the ground, from wood planks and stones to water and crops. Now, though, you can simply walk over most of the resources you’ll pilfer from the environment, saving your vacuum for more specific tasks such as harvesting.
He also tells me that each tool now has its own secondary function as well that’s been added in the last year or so to help give them more variety. The pickaxe, for example, can be swung horizontally – perfect for chopping wood – or stabbed back and forth in front of you, which is better for mining stone and other hard metals. You won’t be penalised for using the wrong action, mind. It will just take a teensy bit longer, and the results are plain to see in the little progress bar that appears above each thing you’re trying to whack – little chunks for regular hits, but big meaty ones if you’re being efficient, and working out the correct method is like getting a drip-feed of dopamine straight into your eyeballs.
With some rudimentary resources gathered, it’s time to build a small farming plot and tent so I can sleep and advance the day (though the world clock will tick over into night naturally if you leave it long enough, Hedström assures me). When you enter into building mode, the full structure of your intended building appears in the world in front of you, making it easy to move around and plonk down where you like, barring it’s on suitable ground. But you can also plan out lots of other structures simultaneously, too, even if you don’t have the resources to build them yet. These appear as ghostly white hologram outlines so you get everything just right before you commit to actually building it, which I’m sure will no doubt please those who’d rather build the perfect ‘just so’ homestead, rather than ad hoc it on the fly. It will also come in handy if you’re playing with friends in co-op, as they’ll be able to see as well where to go and dump their resources to help with construction.
The whole process feels very seamless and intuitive, and it’s clear Frame Break have put a lot of effort into making these early moments as smooth and frictionless as possible – perfect for novice farming bod such as myself. The farming itself is wonderfully tactile, too, and – it feels weird saying this, but the ‘gun feel’ is really very satisfying. After building a basic planter, I can simply ‘shoot’ my seeds into it straight from my mech, use my vacuum to suck up some water from the nearby pond, and then swap over to my Supersoaker-style spray gun to give them a good old dousing. It feels great in the hands, and part of me wishes all FPS games could be this wholesome in their weaponry choices, I’m tellin’ ya now.
Soon, though, the itch to go and explore this colourful world becomes impossible to resist, so I leave my crops soaking and wander up a hill to some nearby ruins. Much to my surprise, however, the place is covered in globs of ominous pink goo, which I’m told I’ll need to wash away with my spray gun to help restore the habitat to its natural state. As a biome’s health starts to recover, the more resources will start to flourish there, Hedström explains, and the more resources at your disposal means more stuff to craft and build back at your farm, so there should be plenty of impetus to go out and explore alongside tilling the fields.
Cleaning up an area fully will “take some doing”, Hedström adds – if only because early on the tiny size of your water tank means you’ll only be able to wash a couple of goo balls away before needing to return to the nearest water source. As a result, you’ll likely be chipping away at this goal over time rather than doing it all in a single pass. Feeding the local wildlife will also have a similar effect on the fecundity of a region as well, he continues, reinforcing that Lightyear Frontier is very much a game about nurturing the world around you, rather than simply stripping it for parts to build your budding farming empire. And if all that wasn’t enough, your planetwide cleanup operation will also start to unravel a wider mystery about the alien ruins you’ll find scattered about the place as well, which sounds like more than enough to chew on when it launches into early access early next year.
Given the emphasis on power, err… washing these new locations, though, I ask Hedström whether the success of FuturLab’s chill cleaning sim made them think differently about their own kind of spray gun.
“Oh yes,” he says, when I ask him if he’s been playing it a lot recently. “It’s hard to compare to a game that’s all about the hose, but after playing it, we were definitely like there’s probably something we can learn here to make it better to use. The handling of it has been changed and improved over the time. I don’t know how much PowerWash the designers have played, but I think some of them might have been,” he chuckles. “We always try and keep up with what other games and what they’re doing. There are always these little tweaks and innovations that are really clever ways to handle inventory, or something like that.”
Skipping forward slightly with some secret dev cheats, Hedström then shows me some of the structures that will be available later on. Chief among them is the landing pad that nearby merchants will occasionally set their stalls out on. It’s a bit of a surprise when they’ll show up, but when they do make an appearance, you’ll be able buy new seeds and wares from them, and sell off your crops to earn a bit of cash. You’ll want to make sure you have a wide and varied harvest as you move through the game, though, as the price and value of your crops will fluctuate over time. Hedström says that there are dynamic systems at play that will make a crop drop in value if you sell lots of it in one go, for example, whereas rarer plants or other market spikes will make others go for more. Finally, there’s the mech customisation station that lets you paint and swap in new (cosmetic-only) parts for your mech to give it a more personal look and flavour.
Alas, that was all we had time for during my demo session, so I’ll have to wait to find out exactly what’s behind the giant locked door in those alien ruins up on the hill when it launches in early access sometime next year. Despite its recent delay, Lightyear Frontier is shaping up very nicely indeed based on what I played, and it’s already showing a level of polish that most blockbuster games would be rightly envious of. I might not have much of it during my Gamescom appointment, but time is definitely on Lightyear Frontier’s side here.
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