Oxygen Not Included seems to have taken what has quickly become one of my favorite genres of PC gaming, colony management, and fused it with one of my biggest nightmares: being buried alive. Colony management games are all about survival, pitting you against the elements as you scrabble around in an attempt to gather as many precious resources as possible to better your odds. However, this is where Oxygen Not Included adds its own unique twist. In a world where oxygen isn’t generated for you, it becomes another resource and it’s running out. Fast.

Upon entering the game, you are given 3 sims (called duplicants here) to manage and care for. For anyone that has played RimWorld, you will feel very familiar with some of the systems that are used here. From the way duplicants are created down to the priority system for jobs, it appears that the studio that developed the game, Klei, was heavily influenced by games that came before it. Initially, your task is to start carving out a living space from the area the game has spawned you in. You start with only your Printing Pod, which ‘prints’ new duplicants for you every so often, and a ration box that includes a bit of food to get you going. From here you have to explore and create a production line for those oh-so-precious resources.

Ideal Gas Laws

For a title that is in Alpha, Oxygen Not Included, feels extremely polished. Whilst the game isn’t feature complete, the features that are in the game feel very well crafted, as well as the game mechanics behind them. Take the air that your duplicants breathe for example.To start, there are many different types of gasses that exist: oxygen, carbon dioxide, chlorine etc. Each of these gasses behaves according to real world physics to a certain extent. In a room full of carbon dioxide and oxygen, for example, the gas would separate with the heavier carbon dioxide falling to the bottom, and oxygen rising to the top. This means that planning your base out becomes extremely important. You need to establish an area for the unbreathable carbon dioxide to sink until you are able to research the technology to pump gas.

Your duplicants will take care of their basic needs themselves such as eating and, yes, pooping. In a game about crafting something out of nothing, even poop has its use. The basic toilet in the game is an outhouse, once full needs to be emptied. It’s not extremely hygienic to leave contaminated dirt, as the game calls it, lying around and if not dealt with will produce contaminated oxygen. Fear not, however, for your duplicants can research and build a handy compost area turning the poop into fertiliser. At the time of writing, fertiliser has no actual use in the game, but it would be fair to expect it to have a use in farming at least in later builds.

Oxygen Not Included, Fun Is

The art style of the game will look instantly familiar to anyone who is a fan of Klei. Their unique style works just as well here as it does in their other games. The quirky movements and expressions the duplicants express, add a wonderful sense of charm to the game. Duplicants will hold onto the outhouse door with their fingertips when using it and, when eating, will sit and fill their cheeks like hamsters as they munch through their ‘mush bar’.

The level of depth and complexity the game offers is astounding for a title so early in development. Handling the production of resources and waste products becomes increasingly taxing. Not only do you need to produce fresh oxygen, but you need to find a way to remove carbon dioxide before the whole place slowly fills with it. When liquid plumbing becomes available, you need to find a way to pump clean water in, but also find somewhere to dump the waste.

A Solid Foundation

Your colony increases in size rapidly as well, as you will receive a new duplicant like clockwork. Preparing ahead for their arrival will be key to ensuring success. Expanding past the beginning area, the biomes will begin to feel more and more extra-terrestrial as you encounter the native fauna. Some of these creatures breathe some of the deadlier gasses and it would be nice to see Klei implement a domestication system at a later point.

Oxygen Not Included is a breath of fresh air (pun intended) in colony management games. Having learnt lessons from its predecessors such as RimWorld and Dwarf Fortress it is an excellent foundation. The game does have a tentative release date of May 2017 on Steam, but this is subject to change. As far as content goes, the game feels like a great value for the money even in Alpha. It is receiving updates and balances in regular doses and for those interested, you can purchase it now for $19.99/£14.99 here.

Jeremy Hetcher

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