The man sat silent, eyes transfixed on the glow of the screen before him. Still, save for the movement of thumb on controller. Beside him a long cold cup of coffee rested, unloved and long forgotten.
A voice wafted through the air gently questioning him……no response.
It came again, sterner this time cutting the atmosphere with an undercurrent of annoyance. Again the response was absent.
He was lost, lost in the game, frozen in time. His own reality a distant memory, now embracing all that this alternative one could offer.
Outside the dull illumination of the streetlights was building, all curtains along the street closed to the night yet his remained open and untouched. The sky had long since danced with a blanket of stars while the moon smiled high over him.
In the game it was morning. The beginning of a new day of adventure and strife, joy and anguish, elation and despair, the dawn of new possiblities and another chance to shine.
He knew it wouldn’t be easy and he knew Death was watching, waiting. By nightfall there’d be monsters but in the light he was safe. He knew this world had him and he knew he may never return from it’s myriad charms.
A smile cracked his lips.
Welcome to Minecraft.
Minecraft is a strange place to dwell. On the surface it looks like a relic of our gaming past, blocky and pixelated, testament to how the world has moved and moved quickly into a new realm of realism and polish. It’s a place where time is changed. Hours feel like minutes and days pass by unnoticed.
Minecraft is a game that on the surface has nothing that immediately makes it stand out as something truly special. But this is Minecraft, and in this universe it’s all about what lies beneath.
If you happen to be one of those players that have never encountered the Minecraft world (I was included in this bracket until a few days ago), then you will probably be wondering what all the fuss is about. I openly admit to being slightly less than enthused myself when initially firing up the game, then four hours had passed by and I was under it’s spell.
The idea driving Minecraft is a basic one, it’s a game of creation and discovery. Create the tools and products you’ll need to survive while continuously discovering new materials, animals, places and surprises. Minecraft is a place littered with surprises.
Let me paint a little scenario that I encountered.
I had my house built, sure, it was a tad patchwork looking with me having used a multitude of different building substances from wood to dirt and stone to, ahem, wool….look I was desperate. But anyway the house was built and I had a safe haven to rest my pickaxe and count some sheep. So the next logical step it seemed was for me to build a mine. A place to harvest a wide variety of solid substances just in case I wanted to add a granny flat to my humble abode.
Having already aquired a number of ladder pieces I began to dig, deeper and deeper I went until the sky was a distant memory. The mine took shape quickly, torches adorned the walls to light my way and I was happy. Then one of Minecraft’s surprises got me.
As I ploughed on through what I presumed was a solid barrier of rock it suddenly opened out into a cavern of epic proportions and my eyes were drawn to an opening going deeper into the abyss. Curiosity kicked in strong, I had to explore this.
Armed with torches, hand crafted swords and more than an ounce of trepidation I ventured forth. Deeper still I went, then the noises came.
The moans of the zombies, the chatter of the creepers the arrows of the skeletons. Here be monsters. It was an exhilerating experience, I fought and snuck my way further and eventually reached lava, and, as The Goonies had done before me, I found ‘the rich stuff!’
The whole event was an unexpected delight, one of many I experienced during my brief time in this world and it also in a way sums up why Minecraft is so good.
From the outside it looks like a slightly mundane stroll through a familiar environment with similar mechanics to a number of other games and graphics from the 90’s. But once inside everything changes. It’s akin to a light going on inside your head, ‘I get it now’ you’ll say, Minecraft is more than the sum of it’s parts, Minecraft is a living, breathing experience. It needs to be explored, relished and devoured by gamers, well, to be fair it already has by millions but now as it reaches out to a whole new console audience we should all do ourselves a favour and take it’s hand.
It isn’t easy to do a straightforward review of this game. Okay it is, but, a straightforward review could never really give the game the credit it warrants, to make the extraordinary seem ordinary would be to do Minecraft a massive injustice.
Having said that there are a couple of points that need to be said in my normal reviewer voice.
Ahem, testing testing…..right then.
First off Minecraft on the Xbox 360 comes with a very helpful tutorial to play through. For a newcomer such as myself this was an absolute Godsend. It puts the basic knowledge for survival into your palms and sets you out on a solid footing even during those early babysteps.
Other stuff that needs mentioning, well, the game has leaderboards showing where you rank on such activities as mining, travelling and kills. The game also has a variety of difficulty settings allowing you to dictate the sort of experience you require.
The Minecraft world is huge and it seems every dotted island and tranquil beach hold many secrets for the worldly traveller.
Death is a total pain in the ****!! At night the monsters surface and whether you meet an untimely end via the eight legs of a giant spider or by being blown to kingdom come by a Creeper one thing is certain, you can kiss goodbye to your inventory. Those 75 rocks mined for future use, that steel pickaxe you’d only just crafted and those delicious looking cooked pork chops, all gone. The lucky ones can retread their route to find those items again but death while in the sea or via plummeting into lava and you won’t be seeing ‘your precious‘ again.
Another point to take on board is I review this game having never sampled another version. My take on this game is based solely on the Xbox 360 version.
The game interface seems a little daunting at first glance but combining materials, using the crafting table to make items and firing things through the furnace soon becomes second nature.
The game allows for co-op play locally and over Xbox LIVE which is a great feature and always welcome. As well as being an excellent way to quickly get things done such as house building and wood collection it also creates some simply great slices of adventure and exploration.
And basically that’s that, but now the big question of how to score it?
For me Minecraft is a slice of pure genius, I entered a sceptic and left a disciple of this beautiful blocky world. It’s been a long time since I sat down and literally became completely taken over by a game, this is even more amazing as we’re talking about the Xbox LIVE Arcade here, a place I’ve generally associated with the quick fix side of gaming. In terms of what we have here it’s not perfect, it’s pricey at 1600MS points and I believe the PC version has more to offer but, with the inclusion of free DLC, I feel confident the Xbox version will be a place of continued growth and enjoyment. As it stands right now I’ve just spent five of the most fun-filled and fulfilling days of gaming in a long, long time.
Part of me feels like I’ve ventured off the review path here and headed out into the waters of writing a love letter to Minecraft. But it’s that good.
In a console gaming world that often faces accusations of lacking invention and innovation we now have Minecraft, a game that can be whatever you choose to make it and that alone is something very, very special indeed.
Lots of Love….erm *cough cough* Just buy it already.