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Oxygen Not Included: The Review

Alvin, Jack and Vivien were stranded in the middle of a pretty inhospitable asteroid. Nothing to eat short of a few nutrient bars shoved through the same portal that they had fallen through. They had a long list of stuff to do. Dig tunnels through the rock, find mushrooms and plants to farm, and figure out a way not to suffocate to death. Maybe even build a bed and toilets if they were up to it. But first, stop Alvin from pissing on the food.

Oxygen Not Included is the latest game from Klei entertainment, makers of Invisible Inc and Mark of the Ninja, both games I’m a big fan of. But the game it resembles the most is probably Don’t Starve, Klei’s most popular horror-buildy-survival game. While Oxygen Not Included’s chipper, cutesy aesthetic and sci-fi genre is a wild departure from Don’t Starve’s Tim Burtonesque style, the general idea of both Don’t Starve and Oxygen Not Included are pretty similar.

The balancing act in Oxygen Not Included, just as in Don’t Starve, is pretty complex. You start with three duplicants which you can name, and who have a randomized set of traits and flaws. Unlike Don’t Starve, you can get more duplicants, but you can’t command them directly. Instead you can set a series of tasks (dig, build, fight, store, etc), and set it to a specific priority. Based on the priority and preferences, they might decide to listen to your instructions and dig that tunnel. Or they might decide that cleaning up the room next door is a better idea.

The most immediate threat is the game’s namesake of course. To prevent suffocation, oxygen can to be found and degassed off rocks, made by splitting water in an electrolyzer, or obtained through other methods. The next two needs, food and water, also must be met, either by finding a source like a geyser, farming, or the like.

What really sets it apart from Don’t Starve however, is how closely Oxygen Not Included hews to real life. One kilogram of water splits itself into 8 parts (by mass) of oxygen and 1 part of hydrogen, and the gases roughly obey the laws of density, with the lighter hydrogen separating above the oxygen. Similarly, carbon dioxide is a byproduct of breathing and burning of fossil fuels, and sinks down. Be sure to figure out how to pump it outside your base, or it will start collecting at the bottom, and duplicants start suffocating. Heat and thermal conductivity is also amazingly part of the game. Machines can produce heat, and too much heat can overheat machines, stop your plants from growing, or even cause your duplicants to get heat stroke. Which you can mitigate by pumping liquid around your machines (like an actual heat sink and cooling loop), but too much heat and even that liquid might boil off and cause nasty burns.

And yes, if someone pees into your food or water, imbibing that food or water can lead to food poisoning. We haven’t even talked about stress reactions and allergies yet.

As your colony grows, you can start researching and automating tasks, figure out how to get renewable energy (pouring water onto magma generates a crap ton of steam), and eventually, even launch a rocket to explore other worlds. This series of cause and effect where you start taming the asteroid, but where the next disaster may just be looming around the corner is the main drive of the ‘one more day’ syndrome, which is what I get when I’m playing any good builder or strategy game, be it Civilization VI, XCOM 2, Two-Point Hospital or the like. And I’d like to say that I get the same thing from Oxygen Not Included. Which is why I’ve played about 100+ hours already in the past few months.

It is HARD though. While you can have multiple save points, the game’s lethality and high learning curve means that Oxygen Not Included really resembles roguelikes, like Dwarf Fortress. Heck, I’m playing on easy and I’ve barely even managed to launch a rocket yet. Which I suppose is one reason that a certain subset of gamers find it attractive.

While Oxygen Not Included has been on Early Access for about two years, it has just been officially released (on 30 July) after a LOT of polish. I’ve been playing the last build for quite a while now, but haven’t played the latest (launch) version yet, and am looking forward to try it out.

Hopefully, Alvin will stop peeing on the food.

Oxygen Not Included is available on PC and Mac now.


Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

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