GAME NAME: Minecraft
PLATFORM(S): PC, Mac
RELEASE DATE(S): 18th November 2011
Imagine a game with an epic, sprawling world populated entirely by monsters, farmyard animals and dragons. A world in which you are fundamentally alone and your sword is your only true ally.
Which game are you imagining? Is it Skyrim, released last week to critical acclaim? Well forget Skyrim. It’s over. Minecraft comes out today, and it’s a Skyrim beater.
“But Minecraft was released ages ago” I hear you wail at your computer monitors, wishing for your frustration to reach my ears through the wonder of the internet. Well calm down, angry reader, and I’ll explain.
The Minecraft we know and love is a beta. A playable test. Today is the day it finally comes out of beta and into full release.
And it’s come out of beta in spectacular fashion. Notch, everyone’s favourite indie games designer, is currently hosting a launch party called Minecon in Las Vegas. We’re sure our press passes got lost in the post. It’s OK Notch, we understand.
So while every other games website is in Vegas, partying it up and gambling away the money they squirreled away for the Steam Christmas sale, we’ll be playing Minecraft inside, away from the British rain that never stops pouring.
Not that we’ll notice the rain, or even the outdoors, because Minecraft is more addictive and immersive than any other game we’ve played.
Your world in Minecraft is a dangerous but wonderful place. Much like my experiences in the real world, everything wants to kill you and you’ll have to hunt to survive.
Also like my experiences in the real world, harvesting volcanic rocks and making a doorway out of it makes a portal to Hell.
When you first start playing the game, you’re dropped into this strange, unforgiving world and left to your own devices to punch trees.
Punch trees?! What is this, Gardening Simulator 2012? Well, dear reader, please stop shouting. You’re making me sad. I’ll explain: To survive in Minecraft, you’ll need to build a shelter to escape the elements and monsters. And another thing: if you’re punching trees in your garden, you’re not gardening correctly.
The best way to build said shelter, at first, is out of wood, which you get by…punching trees by holding down the left mouse button. You can also use this wood to make a crafting table, which is where the game gets really interesting.
From the crafting table you can make the tools that allow you to progress is the games and explore the mines that give the game its name. From the wood you’ve just punched, you can make a pickaxe which allows you to get through stone. And just like that, the game opens up to a multitude of possibilities.
But as a wise man once said, ‘don’t get cocky, kid’. Even with your new tools, you’ll die come night-time without some light to keep the things that go ‘sssss’ in the night away.
It doesn’t make me any less of a man to say that Minecraft is the scariest game I’ve ever played. When the sun goes down and the moon rules the skies, the land stops being yours and becomes the domain of a selection of creepy creatures.
These foul foes are made up of spiders, zombies and skeletons, who are relatively easy to avoid and kill. Topping off the monsters are the two most iconic Minecraft baddies, the Creepers and the Endermen.
Creepers hunt you down and try to kill you the only way they know how. They creep up on you and explode. Sometimes they run straight at you. Other times they hide round the corner of your crudely built shack and jump you when you leave to spend a day down the mine.
Many a tear has been shed after a creeper has blown up a building that took hours to put together. But creepers, annoying though they may be, are easy when you get used to them. Run, fight, shoot them, whatever it takes. At least you can escape, which is more than to be said about the Endermen.
A mash-up of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who and internet horror sensation Slenderman, Endermen just stand around not doing much, just taking blocks out of the scenery and all round being friendly guys.
However, much like the psychopath in the night club, do not make eye contact. The minute your reticule hovers over an Enderman, they go into full on attack mode. And running away won’t work with Endermen, because they can teleport to catch you. And when they catch you, they won’t stop beating you until you are dead.
I don’t make a secret out of the fact that Endermen terrify me. In fact, I have a recurring nightmare about them. It’s the idea, I think, of being responsible for them turning on you and killing you. By looking at them, even by accident, you’ve effectively sealed your own death warrant.
Of course the Endermen aren’t as overpowered as I’ve just made them sound: you can avoid their anger by wearing a pumpkin on your head as a makeshift mask, or you can defeat them by using water or attacking them with a weapon. But I don’t think that negates the terror of realising the massive mistake you made the minute you lock eyes with one, and it looks back at you angrily. Staring. Waiting. Then you turn to run and it’s…still in front of you. No escape. Sends shivers down my spine.
So building a shelter is amazingly important, but it doesn’t need to be a wooden shack on a beach, as idyllic as that may be. What you build in Minecraft is limited only by your imagination, although in Survival mode you’re limited by which resources you have, which makes that flying castle or your underwater fortress that much more satisfying.
One of the things Minecraft has become most well known for is the sheer resourcefulness and creativity of the fanbase. From pixel art recreations of gaming heroes to basic computers made out of Redstone. There’s even a Pong emulator. It won’t be long before you can play Minecraft in Minecraft.
If you’re looking at the screenshots on this page with a mild disbelief that a game with such crude graphics could be so good at creating such a sense of place, then I don’t blame you. The default graphics are functional at best.
Luckily, this is where the community that Minecraft is famed for comes in. The look of Minecraft can change depending on what you feel like, from a dark, gothic style to clean, bright, cartoony colours. My personal favourite is Piehole, a nice, clean, friendly looking texture pack. You can also get HD texture packs, but they require a bit more fiddling.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Minecraft is a virtual Lego set with monsters. Games like LittleBigPlanet spent a lot of time and money researching the perfect formula for a game with a heavy focus on user-generated content. How annoyed the delightful chaps at Media Molecule must be that a game developed by a Norwegian man with a hat has managed to make a game that so encourages freedom, and he did it all without making the player sit through a tutorial.
Online is also dealt with amazingly. In true PC gaming style, there are a multitude of dedicated servers available, each with its own unique take on how to build a collaborative world.
In many ways the online mode in Minecraft is the perfect online game, for me at least. There’s no competitive mode and the sense of pride you get from finishing an awesome build on a server where you know people will see it is amazing. I once spent a week in my room making a hotel overlooking a football field. I never play games for that long, so this game is something special.
There’s no story to Minecraft but what the player wants. Ask any player for their favourite experience, and they’ll all tell you about a different time.
The time they logged on to their favourite online server for the first time and saw the buildings that others had the idea and ambition to build. The time a creeper almost caught them, but a lucky accident involving a skeleton misfiring its bow saved them. The time they climbed to the top of a mountain and looked at the world before them. Their world, with their experiences. I could list literally hundreds of stories here. Please, regale us with them in the comments section!
We don’t take giving perfect 10′s easy here at Gamer Nation. There’s been sleepless nights and heated arguments. But here it is; our first 10. Because this is a game that is a triumph of users and creators collaborating to make something special, a game which inspires great things from even the most mediocre of us, a game that can genuinely be enjoyed by people from all ages (because you never truly grow out of Lego). If that game doesn’t deserve a 10, then frankly nothing does. Nothing.