[Review] Phoning Home – Survival with Story
Developer: Ion Lands
Release: 7th February 2017
Price 19,99 (Steam)
Review Code was provided by developer
At first glance Phoning Home looks like normal Indie Survival game but this time with two Wall-E inspired Robots! But can Ion Lands deliver more than just cute robots and generic indie Survival with their debut game? Let´s find out!
In Phoning Home you play as the little exploration unit ION who crashed into an unknown planet. Now he and his his ship, which stays in touch with him over audio channels, have to find a way to phone home somehow. Shortly after this incident ION encounters a female unit named ANI who and her ship will join their attempts to get rescued.
But is this planet really that lifeless? Why is it so full of ressources, why is ANI called an oxie and who built ION?
These and more questions will be asked and explored throughout the game but as may guessed the story remains quite predictable and only offers either superficial or predictable answers and left me disappointed at the end.
Nontheless it´s still a good story for a survival game considering that you normally won´t even have a basic story and kept me interested in the game and it´s story at the beginning and middle part of the game.
As you might have expected from a Survival game you have to collect various resources, craft items, collect more resources, craft more items and fuel etc. I think you know how these work.
Phoning Home especially does a good job hiding it´s “traditional” stats like hunger that just became very generic. A robot can´t starve, doesn´t have to sleep or has health, so instead you will have to watch your fuel that will be used during movement, your battery for “special” actions like teleporting and your hull for your health. Everyone of these stats will go down from time to time and needs to be “refilled” by crafting items like fuel.
In case you did never play a Survival game and got blown away by the amount of things you have to monitor, don´t worry, Phoning Home is a very slow paced game, meaning that it will teach you it´s mechanics and features over a long period of time. The first two hours for example a mainly a tutorial for ION and ANI, teaching you how to craft basic or often needed items, how to use your boost, fight etc.
The main problem however is that this slow pacing often interrupts the game´s progress if you have to craft an item needed to progress in the story but can´t find the needed resources. Since the areas you have to explore to find them are often really big you can easily get lost, especially because the game doesn´t provide clear information concerning your resources. So you don´t really know what you´re searching for, even if it´s right in front of you.
To prevent this from happening for even the basic items Phoning Home implemented a very interesting mechanic: Once you found and scanned a resource for the first time near locations of it will be shown on your radar and you can just follow it and collect them.While this is an effective way to limit your searching time it also prevents the game from establishing a “real” survival feeling. A big part of these games, at least for me, is the feeling of having no resources or just barely enough to survive. Due to the fact that you constantly see all items near you, you won´t have that feeling often since you´re in control of the situation all the time. Only during other areas like the desert Phoning Home slowly tries to establish this feeling.
Additionally to this problem caused by the “radar mechanic”, how I like to call it, there´s another bad side of it: The search for resources evolve into a “waypoint hunt” because you only follow your radar and don´t pay much attention to your surroundings, especially if you found all resources in the area. The fact that the open world is huge but doesn´t offer much except the same assets in each area, except some cool moments like an awakening giant, which are only reserved for the story, don´t help avoiding this.
So, let´s talk a bit about ANI, since there are quite some things that I need to talk about: While ANI is a real cute companion and offers some fresh air in the story due to her background and personality he can be quite annoying too. Due to the attempt to make him more than just a walking weapon gameplay-wise ANI got his own stat too, his hull. Unlike your own hull ANI´s will go down not only when he gets attacked but in bad weather too. You see the problem there, right? Again, it forces us to hunt the resource waypoints more often, slowing down the already slow game even more. On top of that ANI´s AI isn´t the best thing ive ever seen, while it can manuveur in flat terrain it begins to trouble at edges or slim paths which can be quite annoying.
The only change offered by Phoning Home are the different areas which I hinted earlier. These are mainly different weather systems like a desert, which come with their own resources and problems for your robots. While the first area the forest is very easy and full of resources the desert offers a good mix of difficulty and resource richness making it my yet favourite place due to its balanced gameplay. The snow area however has a very steep difficulty curve due to the fact that ANI´s hull goes down faster, even less resources are placed and you have to fight harder circumstances making it a really hard area unlike the others and breaking the balance.
Okay, enough of the gameplay now. I think you got my critic about it, while it tries to be an easier Survival game various decisions often transform it into a repetitive resource hunt with bad instrunctions paired with a strange difficutly curve.
Last but not least, let´s talk about the general technic of this game and it´s presentation, let´s give it some love after this sometimes harsh critic.
First of all, the graphics are absolutely stunning for an indie game, just look at the shadows, the smooth day night cycle or the textures! While many indie games tried themselves on photorealistic graphics only a few succeeded and Phoning Home is one of them, especially if you consider that it´s their first game but I´m sure you already saw that in the screenshots.
However the production value can be seen/heard at the fantastic Soundtrack too, I wouldn´t consider it as groundbreaking but it offers chilled and fitting music for the different areas and encounters, I even got to remember the melody of the song that´s played when you encounter the stone giants for the first time! But it doesn´t end there! Believe it or not, this game has voice acting and it´s not horrible! To be honest, it´s actually quite good, especially the voice actor of ION´s ship really nails the personality of the sarcastic AI while ANI´s ship etc. couldn´t convince me that much they all delivered a really solid performance.
However it´s not as smooth as you might think, during my playtime some weeks and days before release I encountered some collision bugs that let me move in rocks etc. Additionally the hardware requirements are quite high for this game, my GTX1070 could only deliver 60fps on high presets on FullHD and ended up with 30fps on 4k, even Witcher 3 runs better, as an example, so be aware of it before you consider buying it.
What else can I say, despite some bugs and a way to huge hardware hunger this game can´t be matched by many other many indie games, if it comes to production value.
Yes, Phoning Home has some flaws in all categories, especially the Gameplay could be improved a lot but do I recommend it or not?
Despite it flaws it offers something that no other Survival game delivered till now, a story that got me interested and kept me playing and a presentation that I´ve not seen from many indie games.
I can´t really give you a general recommendation because it has it´s flaws, some bigger than others that hold this game back but I still think that it´s worth a try, maybe not for all people but for a lot if they are aware what to expect from this game and don´t get to high hopes.
Phoning Home looks and sounds like a Survival dream and is definetly more than a generic Survival game but it decided to trade it´s gameplay-potential for a story and an amazing presentation which makes it ideal for Survival newcomers and even veterans if they know what to expect.
What do you think about this game? Leave a Comment below!
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