Minecraft - Review

By Gordon Bryant, November 22, 2011
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Have you ever played with Legos, built a tree fort, or made a castle in the sand? Are you the kind of person who plays The Sims just to build your house? Were you the kind of student who was more interested in building molecules out of marshmallows and toothpicks than learning math? If you are the kind of person who has any creative tendencies, then Minecraft is the game for you. That said, there's no denying that it's not for everyone, due to the fact that the game opts to force you to create your own quest, rather than give it to you. Minecraft isn't really much of a game in the traditional sense, yet in some ways it's the very purest form of adventure. For those who are not familiar with Minecraft, the best way to explain what's so special about it is to force you to experience it for yourself; no other way will allow you to understand the scope of the game.

Blocky Beauty

When you start a new save file, you're plopped into the middle of a randomly generated, block-based world; what you do from here is entirely up to you and therein lies its greatest strength. The game gives you plenty of materials to work with, dozens of tools and items to craft, and a seemingly infinite amount of things to make. It doesn't matter if you're in a desert, forest, swamp, or tundra, there's always something to harvest. Punch at that tree until wood pops out, use that wood in your inventory menu to make a workbench where you can make a pickaxe, use that pickaxe to dig into the rock of the ground below you and make a stronger pickaxe to make a stronger fort! It may sound kind of complicated, but once you get used to the system, it's not so bad. Later, however, the crafting recipes and requirements can get pretty complicated and the game never tells you what to do or how to do it. Under normal circumstances you'd have to figure this very deep system out all on your own, but I recommend looking up an FAQ online, nobody will think poorly of you for doing it. In fact, that's the one thing I really wish Minecraft had: an in-game tutorial. That's arguably the one biggest flaw that it suffers from.

Once you've figured out the labyrinthine crafting system and set up shop, gaining a foothold of this world that is uniquely yours, you can start experimenting with the different materials. While you start with only a 2x2 grid to craft items, you can make a stationary workbench that expands your work area to 3x3, unlocking all the space you're going to need for your time in Minecraft. You can also use ovens to bake items like clay into bricks and sand into glass, and in the future alchemy will be added, allowing you to finally use all those useless items in your inventory for something! Once you have your stronghold protected from the elements, all you need to make tools or items is the ingredients and the knowledge of how to make them!

Build a Town

Again, crafting items sounds kind of challenging, and admittedly it's very deep and nuanced, but once you figure it out, it's actually pretty simple. What matters, however, is how you use it! If you want to craft yourself a suit of armour and go slaying enemies and animals, you can. If you want to build yourself a massive castle with a dungeon, you can. If you want to be a farmer, growing crops and defending your farm, you can do that, too. Perhaps you want to be a miner, searching for rare metals and dust, or maybe you just want to go spelunking or exploring. What you do with Minecraft is entirely up to you, and that's why it is a true adventure game; most of the fun comes from discovery and the sense of accomplishment that comes from creating something unique. Unlike most games that tell you where to go and what to do, Minecraft opts to simply be a tool for the creative mind, allowing them to basically do anything they want. I know it sounds redundant to remind people about the freedom offered here, but it's Minecraft's key defining feature, and no amount of repetition can dull its effectiveness.

In fact, there's no plausible way I could tell you about everything in the game without writing a mini-encyclopedia. All the things you can create, the biomes, caves, and settlements to explore, the items to find and refine, or the physics to experiment with would just be too much a task for anyone to explain without ruining it. From here on out, assume I'm only giving you the very basics of the game, hoping you'll want to explore and discover the rest for yourself.

While you're given plenty things to do, the one unifying theme in Minecraft is survival. While you're encouraged to explore, build, and prepare yourself during the day, night is when the monsters come out, and they will appear everywhere that darkness lies such as caves or undeveloped land. There may not be a great variety of enemies on hand at the moment, but Notch is always updating the game so there could be more in future updates. As it stands, you have your basic, slow-moving zombies that shamble towards you, skeleton warriors that shoot arrows at you, ravenous monster spiders that will climb up walls to poison and kill you, and the infamous creepers that will let out a menacing hiss before exploding, killing you and any of your creations within their blast radius. There are also rarer enemies that will be encountered, such as the subterranean slimes and the deadly Endermen, who will ignore you unless you look directly at them. For those not looking for a challenge, or aren't keen on the idea of enemies ruining their exploration or meticulously designed architecture, you can at any time change the difficulty to peaceful, and all mobs will disappear until you raise the difficulty again. Otherwise, bring torches and remember: mobs won't spawn where the light has conquered.

Inhabited Mountainside

But on the flipside, if the relative tameness of the primary world isn't enough for you, you can create a portal to the Nether: a nightmarish land where the lava flows freely, fires rage, and the land is made up of red-hot rock and a mysterious substance known as soul sand. Here you will find no shelter (unless you turn to peaceful mode) and you will be pursued by fire-breathing Ghasts and the Zombie Pig-men. It adds a nice dichotomy to the lush land of the primary world. And the latest update to the game (the full release), we also get to go to the land of the Endermen, the final tableau where you will face off against those elusive enemies and their dangerous leader: the Ender Dragon. If you are able to make it there and slay the dragon, then you will be gifted with the end credits; congratulations, you've beaten the game, but your quest is far from over!

And your game will never be over as long as you wish to continue to play. No matter how much land you develop or how many zombies you slay, there's always something new to do or a new area to discover. You can build a new house, mine for more materials, tame wolves, plant crops, invite friends to your home, or hop onto a server and play in someone else's world. While I personally found setting up or joining a friend's server to be a bit of a pain in the neck, more proficient PC enthusiasts should know all about playing online, and if you're in a crowd of friends who enjoys Minecraft, it's almost guaranteed at least one of them knows how to set up a server.

While Minecraft is certainly the kind of game you could spend hundreds or thousands of hours on, should your creativity and drive not run out, there's no denying it has its shortcomings, such as the lack of direction for the less creatively motivated (which will be remedied in a later update). I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a flaw, but the graphics are pretty ugly. Some might say it's an affront to their senses, but I say it fits the motif very well; a game about harvesting and placing blocks of material having a very blocky aesthetic just seems to work, and I'm not sure it would have the same charm otherwise. For those interested in prettier graphics, better light effects, and a different visual appeal, the modding community is there for your perusal; feel free to alter your game as you see fit. Personally, I'm happy with the basic graphics as blocky or not, it still looks good enough for me.

Sprawling Creations

The graphics may be hit-or-miss depending on the user, but I would be hard pressed to find someone who could fault the audio fidelity. The soundtrack is amazingly atmospheric if simple, the sound effects are all pitch perfect, and I don't know a single person who doesn't flinch at the sound of the muted moans of the zombies or get flat out scared when they hear the telltale warning hiss of a Creeper. All in all, the audio helps Minecraft to transcend what its simplicity would imply it's capable of.

In the end, Minecraft is the kind of adventure game that can be infinitely enjoyable in the hands of the right person. While not everyone is going to be keen on a game that is seemingly aimless, others will bask in the glory of utter freedom and create some truly wonderful things within its world. I'm sure most will never evolve beyond making cool skull fortresses, but that doesn't stop some from making complete working computers in-game or others from cultivating entire communities and metropolises online. Minecraft is only as good as the work you put into it, and if you're the kind who loves to create then it will always be a great tool and a potentially endless source of fun and adventure. As long as you're willing to put some of yourself into it, Minecraft will always give back; in a way it's like reliving your childhood playing with Lego for the first time, only this time it's digital.

gamrReview Verdict

MineCraft - PC

Presentation - 7.0
Gameplay - 9.0
Value - 9.5

8.8

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