Have you ever watched Guardians of the Galaxy and looked at the little mining ships and thought “I want to do that”? Or maybe you played a lot of eve online and got a thrill from mining and not fighting? Then GEO might be for you.
GEO from Windybeard games places the player in charge of a new start up Intergalactic Mining Business where you are tasked with getting huge amounts of cash by mining asteroids and other celestial bodies. It’s in the same vein as Steamworld Dig but instead you are in space and instead of a robot, it’s a slightly different robot. Games like this always follow a similar pattern, you go out into area X, you collect resource Y and then you start rolling in cash, but then you need to upgrade to get more cash and then the cycle continues but with shiner gear and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lots of games are built around that formula and do it well but it’s a very hard thing to maintain and struggles to keep up with the weight of its own mechanics.
You start out looking at your new HQ where you can enjoy the quirky faux 16-bit art style which complements the style of game quite nicely, the tutorial helper explains how the HQ works, you build rooms and then staff those rooms which will provide bonuses to the dig. Each staff member is of a certain type so only strong characters can work in rooms that require strong characters and it’s nice to see each one has little backstories behind them to build atmosphere. These characters will then help when you start digging and you level them up over time so they give better bonuses. If you wanted to buy a new room then you’d have to hire appropriate staff, if you don’t have them already then you need to make some money.
This means it’s time to find a dig site and get drilling! When you start a dig you appear on the surface of the asteroid or planet, lying below you is a grid of tile shaped rocks and you are to dig down and try and get to the core of that location. This is a click and go kind of deal and the controls are extremely simple. I was able to write things down about the game and play it with my other hand at the same time. Other things you can do while playing this game include reading a book, writing a book, reading the book you have just written and other similar activities and being able to do this gives me two thoughts.
The first being this is so easy to control, but the second thought was that it feels like a mobile game, change the click to a tap in the development engine and you’ve got a mobile game ready for the market. This also explained the games downfalls as well but I’ll get to that later. Now while you are digging down you’ll encounter chests and crates that provide power ups and money alongside the huge number of different tiles which will give a varying amount of currency and research points. These are the main ways of progressing as you need money to buy new things you’ve researched and upgrade everything, you dig and dig until you hit the core, add it to your collection and then start digging again either in the same place or somewhere new.
Each new dig site has its own hazards which are mostly environmental but it does feel like everything in the game is out to get you. The starting hazards are the environments as some dig sites have heat issues or maybe toxic (which I don’t know why that would affect a drill drone but let’s go with it) which will damage you over time. The resources have their own durability and the longer it takes to get through that block, the more damage it does to the drill and those wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the pacing of the game.
To get better drills, you have to get research medals and the way to get those medals is to drill X amount of a tile and then convert that but the first one you have to get is 20 tokens and I’ve played the game for at least 8 hours and I’m nowhere near that target. The game isn’t difficult but more frustrating because it’s designed in a way that you must really grind out the research to get a new drill and when you have to get several hundreds of the same material you start to think about playing something else because the cycle is too drawn out. Clicker games have enthralled the populace because you get lots of rewards quickly and if you are just shy of getting that next upgrade then all you have to do is wait and GEO tries to do this but instead of waiting you have to work for it and that upgrade is always just out of reach. A lot of the time when playing I was drilling the same area a lot, and after each run I thought maybe I’m actually closer to getting the next drill so this will become easier and I can go to other dig sites but when I go back to the HQ and see the tiny amount of progress I’ve made after grinding I just wanted to stop playing because it didn’t seem worth it. Then the aliens turned up.
After getting a couple of cores I decided to upgrade my HQ to the point where a new sector of space was reachable and I could explore. The tutorial helper said that I could get this region for free as each new region is expensive and my first thought was “awesome! I’ll unlock it then come back to it later when I’m ready”. So, I go back to the tutorial area to try and get the new drill, and then I get swarmed by aliens on the starting dig sites. These aliens will hunt you down and I was confused because this was the starting area and now it’s filled with aliens so I can’t even get through the easiest dig site, I’m having to dodge enemies that destroy tiles quicker than I can drill and I can’t do anything to fight back because they don’t take any damage even from explosions. That was the point when I stopped playing GEO.
Games that are labelled as frustrating are done so for a couple of reasons. First, they are designed that way, Dark souls is designed to be frustrating but the mechanics come together in a way that allows the player to learn and get around the problem so the frustration goes down with the player improving. Or secondly they fall into the trap of being frustrating because the game’s mechanics collapse in on themselves and creates a mess which unfortunately is what has happened to GEO. It’s not really a bad game, it’s got an okay concept but the design decisions behind that concept have overlapped in a way that makes the game annoying. Clicker games and mobile games aren’t normally built to be played for long amounts of time like console games or PC games but this is a mobile game wearing an “I’m a PC game” shirt. The progression is so slow that most people picking it up on steam will get bored of it quickly or leave in frustration like I did. My advice from one dev to another would be to look back and tinker with the numbers, scale the distance between rewards down and make sure aliens stay out of the tutorial area where the players can come to terms with the new threats and then that might redeem it but currently that isn’t the case. It’s a hard asteroid to mine through but if you get to the other side you may have a good time but that may be a lot to ask for.
G.E.O – Gather. Explore. Observe was reviewed on PC via Steam