The biggest problem about writing a review for Minecraft is that it’s impossible to write a review for Minecraft because you’re too busy playing it to find the time.
For newcomers, Minecraft can look overtly simple; a first person `mine ’em-up` where you spend half your time doing the same set of repetitive activities. As a concept alone it’s not something that can be sold to people as appealing. Although once you actually give the game a few moments of you time it quickly becomes apparent that it’s much more; part mining sim, part world management / God game and a final part dungeon crawler.
There are two aspects that work in the games favour at all times. It constantly rewards everything you do and it also provides you with complete and total choice over what you do and how you do it. Minecraft is entirely about getting out what you put in and the more you do, the more addictive it becomes.
Our first day in the game planted us lonely, lost and blinking in the sunlight on a beach overlooked by a mountain. After climbing over its peek, a wide valley opened up before us and we were faced with the ultimate question… what to do first?
After exploring a little, the potential of the landscape started to become apparent. A tree on a little patch of land just over a pool of water could make an excellent start for an underground base. Before having the opportunity to plan properly, darkness fell. Rushing into a mountain cave for cover from the dark, cobbling together some simple torches and a door out of some wood, we had our first encounter.
As if from nowhere; a zombie shambled up to the door of our tiny stronghold. Groaning pathetically at the doorstep, unable to make entry. With a little spare wood we assessed the risk and decided to face it head on. Despite a few hits we manage to dispatch the monster from the world, but before there was a chance to celebrate an explosion marked our sudden and very unexpected death!
Spawning far from home in the dark is suddenly the most terrifying experience we’ve ever had; we got cocky and paid for it in the loss of not only our life, but also the small base we had managed to build for ourselves. Before there was even a chance to think, more monsters shambled over the hill and from around the corner. Zombies, skeleton men, giant spiders and on top of that, silent green monstrosities.
Running for our life we managed to evade most, grabbing a couple of blocks along the way; only to encounter the beasts that slew us before – the silent and terrifying Creepers. Another one exploded and in a moment of luck we just about survive with a couple of hearts left. Despite causing the camera to face the wrong way while we accidentally crouched in a blind panic . Wounded we made our way back to the small base to block ourselves in for the rest of the night.
By morning a new mission was in sight – build a better, safer home to keep out the monsters the next night. From this moment out we mined in nearly every direction; turning the mountain in which we had hidden into a palace.
Over time ideas sprung up, new homes and buildings were constructed and the game made us feel a sense of accomplishment every step of the way, handing out gifts for taking part and making our already personal world even better. Achievements are awarded constantly for every new action; gamer pics and themes and more are handed out like bonus bites of candy, an extra thank you for taking part.
Adding to the personal experience we had in our world we were able to take screenshots while in the pause menu, sharing our creations via posts directly to Facebook, even having the images cleaned up on the fly as they were posted (all the pictures featured in this review were taken in the game).
As an experience it all works because Minecraft does a great job catering to all types of player. If you’re just interested in the building and creation side then the game’s difficulty allows you to remove the monsters completely. If you suddenly find yourself wanting a bit more of a challenge the difficulty can be scaled at any time. Start a world on normal difficulty and decide later on that you just want to build something big is a simply a case of changing the difficulty next time you load up your world. Everything you do is constant and always there, no matter how you play.
If you’re up for a real challenge though the game also has you covered. While normally monsters only come out at night, most worlds will contain actual dungeons to explore and conquer. Filled with masses of enemies and containing rewards only obtained on higher difficulties, they allow you and a group of people to actually play the game like a simple hack and slasher; a Lego Skyrim if you like.
Another area Minecraft excels is its simplicity; at all times creation of games and how you want them set up is easy. Every world is constantly open to anyone on your friends list to join you. Want a private game? It’s one simple box selection as you load up. It’s also a seamless and quick process to join another’s game, both online and locally, almost the very definition of drop in and drop out. The fact your games are only ever open to people you already know allows you some protection from vandals and people looking to spam. That said, you tend to find out more about your `friends` when they suddenly start to run amok through your virtual home.
While multiplayer is a fun experience and arguably the best way to play the game, it’s also where most of the games flaws arise. On times the frame rate and world loading times can slow suddenly, especially if you and another player end up some distance from each other. Draw distances shorten and terrain will appear at a far slower rate, which is jarring when you compare it to soloing through the game where it runs at a stunning rate. In fact the frame rate in single player might actually be one of the strongest reasons for some PC Minecraft players to convert to the Xbox 360 Edition.
Which is why the issues with multiplayer are such a disappointment. While we experienced none ourselves in the game while playing solo, once we had another player in our world they started to rear their heads. Sometimes it was as simple as missing sounds or effects when picking up items, other times there it was Achievements not unlocking despite multiple attempts.
This latter bug has also been known to carry over to the single player game after it’s arisen in multiplayer, making it impossible to claim some achievements without deleting and re-downloading the whole game. While no glitches have made the game totally unplayable, when they did arise they caused a disruptive feeling to an otherwise smooth experience.
The game is also more stripped down then the original Minecraft, containing fewer of the landscapes and wildlife available in the PC original. One nice extra the game does retain from the original it the ability to use “seeds” during world creation. Seeds are a string of numbers, letters and words that, when inputted to the game during your first world creation, actually dictates how that world is formed.
You might delete your world by mistake, or simply want to share your world with a friend. As long as you input the same symbols exactly as is, that world will always be created in the same starting form. This is especially impressive as some seeds actually carry over from the PC game, allowing players to bring over a familiar world with them if they wish. There’s a large number of seeds documented online too, with some amazing vistas available for re-creation, from floating mountains to epic hidden dungeons. Enter the seed 404 for example and you’re faced with the now legendary 404 challenge dungeon hidden in the beach where you start.
We really could talk for hours about Minecraft but to be honest we’d much rather be off playing it and building new things with friends. If that’s not a sign of how fun it is, then we don’t know what is. Addictive, friendly and enjoyable, it’s an experience that’s a pleasure during almost every moment you spend with it. If you overcome some of the niggling bugs, you’ll find it be fulfilling and constantly rewarding.