Minecraft: Strength in Complete Freedom

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Upon first glance, you will almost certainly think that gaming has gone backwards. With the polished style and intensity in graphics to which we have now become so accustomed, it’s hard to see what would grab your attention about the blocky pixels of Minecraft. But if you dig deeper (quite literally), you will find a game with its strength in almost total customisation, gameplay freedom, and an almost primal desire to build.

Minecraft is essentially a pure sandbox game; even more so than in other games, because there really is no set aim. For some, myself included, this was really a detrimental affair; with nothing to aim for, what exactly was the point I asked myself? Yet this is the culture that the game thrives on — the ability to edit the space around you to an almost an infinite level is still a very novel concept. To give you a basic story, you spawn in a randomly generated world full of water, wood, sand, coal, cows, diamonds and so on. You can dig and collect everything in the world, crafting a home and items during the day while exploring the world, and in the night stay safe at night from the monsters or ‘creepers’, and try to fight them off while delving deeper into the environment.

Crafting really is exceptionally expansive. Annoyingly you get no immediate tutorials, so you’ll have to take some initiative and look online where, thankfully, there is a plethora of resources to help you out. But this lack of a starting point could really turn people off, as they are plunged straight in at the deep end. The craft ability ranges from the very simple axes and shovels to the more advanced, in terms of items that combines multiple materials like diamonds, minerals, doors, and torches, and you can even kill innocent animals to develop dye for a striking new colour for your accommodation. There really is far too much to say in just a simple summary, and you’ll find things through prior planning or just sheer luck that will really amaze you.

Building is the other major element in the game, and here is a prior warning to those with an addictive personality (or just a tendency to procrastinate) — you could lose quite some time immersed in this environment. Again, the possibilities are endless and it’s hard to explain completely, but anything from your modern home, a traditional castle, an underground bunker, a transport network or a volcano built of functional lava is open, should you have the will and know-how to make it. This process is so effortlessly simple, however the game’s mechanics will trick you, giving you a greater desire to build higher, explore further and fight faster, and before long the ideology of ‘just one more block…’ will have you ensnared.

What’s more, this game wasn’t developed by a big team full of technical experts, which is almost certainly a good thing; it’s quite probable this concept would have been thrown away at the initial stage with its lack of marketability and practically non-existent graphics. Instead it is a pure indie game marvel by designer Marcus “Notch” Persson, who has been obsessed with programming since a very young age. Even so, the work over the past two years is close to what some would consider genius. Even though the full game was released on November 18th, the ‘alpha’ stage was released in 2009 followed by the ‘beta’ last December, which has allowed ample time for people to get engaged, and the game now boasts just over four million units. This full release does involve an end-game, which solves some of the problems of a lack of a solid aim, but does sort of work against the concept as a whole. There’s also a revamped multiplayer mode, allowing groups to challenge each other either in terms of building, fighting, or trying to destroy one another’s creations. Primarily though, it’s all about developing your own world in your own time.

Minecraft, then, is a truly unique game, and it’s hard to build a conventional review of such a game; if it was, we’d probably give the graphics a big fat zero. But the game is what you make of it, and although like all things the endless building will become tedious, the wonder of a non-linear approach and the innovative nature will keep most people hooked for a long time to come.

Rating: 90%

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