PC, Mac, Linux

It’s testament to Lumencraft that I keep making up excuses to carry on playing it, instead of getting on and writing about it. As you can tell, I’ve finally broken myself away, but it’s reluctantly. Stupid typing out words. Can’t you all just learn to read my mind? Cuh, you’re all just lazy.

Right, so here we have a twin-stick mining shooter that’s actually a real-time strategy game. And if there’s anything I know about me, it’s that I absolutely cannot stand real-time strategy games. All that fiddle and faff, all those graphs and units. But hurrah, forget all that guff, because this is RTS for the rest of us, reminding me of that peculiar moment when I found myself loving Ground Control over 340 years ago.

Primarily this is a game about mining. Your main tool is your drill, which you use to blast through rock, metal and lumen – the game’s pink, glowy mineral that powers everything you build. But you’ll also need a weapon, since the mines you’re in are just jam-packed with spidery-things, hell-bent on destroying your main base and you in the process. Then with your mined materials, you can build new turrets, factories and equipment to better defend yourself against the incoming waves of enemies. So it’s part mining game, part twin-stick shooter, part RTS, and part tower defence, which is an awful lot of parts to so successfully bring together.

Levels are self-contained missions, in which you have a goal, and a differing set of circumstances in which to complete them. Think RTS-like scenarios, where one time you might need to defend yourself against a total of ten waves of enemies, but another you might need to find four keys hidden around a lava-filled map in order to open a door to recover a vital piece of equipment. Often the two are combined, with specific goals to complete in between defending against a series of waves. But played well, such waves can be left to your constructed defences, while you’re off on the other side of the map mining enough lumen to build the unit that’ll allow you to upgrade the drill to reach the goal.

This is the sort of game I usually baulk at, so it’s quite the thing that it’s engaged me so totally. I wonder if this means RTS stalwarts will find the whole thing too simple or too easy, but good heavens, they already have plenty of games impenetrable to everyone else. Sometimes it’s a very splendid thing to have a more arcadey, less intricate version of the form.

There are issues within all this. Firstly, the translation is not great at all, leading to a lot of nonsense sentences where clear explanation is needed. This is then exacerbated by an overall lack of good guidance as to what is achievable in any situation. I spent a frustrating amount of time trying to work out how to build a Lumen Farm, so I could upgrade my drill another level, only to eventually discover reading in grumpy forum threads that the Lumen Farm doesn’t unlock until near the end of the game. That’s annoying but made far worse by loading tips suggesting I build a Lumen Farm long before I can.

What’s not made at all clear is that the only things you have access to in any given mission are the things you have unlocked in the hub area. So if you are frustrated at not being able to upgrade your drill, despite this being possible in a previous mission via a pre-existing building, you need to know you won’t be able to until you’ve completed the mission that unlocks it in the hub. Gah.

It would have been so much better if the game had allowed you to choose which buildings and factories to unlock as you progressed, letting you further shape your approach to tasks. (Within reason, of course – you could spam earlier levels with access to later equipment.) Also, just a huge amount more information about what’s going on, what’s possible, and when other things will become possible, would help a lot.

Most of all, Lumencraft makes busywork feel fun, the core drilling always satisfying, especially as it speeds up with more powerful drills, and it’s sweet to sit back and watch as your constructed defences take care of a wave of enemies. Or even, watch as your base just survives until the final wave is complete, and you scrape that success.

I love an RTS for the rest of us, stripped down and then given more life with twin-stick combat and mining. For the next week (until 14 March) it’s discounted to an excellent £12, and given just how large the game is, that’s a great deal.

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