Review: SpaceChem

I bloody well hate SpaceChem. A game of about synthesising chemicals, it may not require that the player have a working knowledge of chemistry to play it, but it will force them to focus all of their energies working out how in the sodding hell they’re going to go about splitting and fusing the necessary elements to successfully complete each level.

The puzzles are all about arranging logical circuits for two waldos (which is to say, grabbers. Not American variants of a red and white bobble-hatted man) to follow, getting them to call in, pick up, split and/or merge elements before releasing them to a new source. Which sounds simple, until you realise that they’re working in an enclosed space, that elements must never collide with one another, and that any cross-sections in the circuit with instructions on will lead to that instruction being called both times the waldo crosses it.

The addition of missions spanning several reactors (which involve not only watching the timings and placement of the two waldos, but also making sure that a source reactor doesn’t massively outpace a receiver reactor, leading to an overflow of elements), of conditional gates, of missions where there more is of a certain element than is required, soon make the game wildly complicated. My circuits soon resemble nothing more than crazed piles of spaghetti, and become just as indecipherable to me as they would to anybody else faced with a massive tangle of lines and symbols. I regularly find myself crowded out of the reactor, incapable of getting my timings right, and generally ending up in what seem to be impossible situations. I spend hours trying to develop a solution following a certain theory, only to realise that said idea is untenable, and have to delete everything and start again.

Lovely, lovely lines.

My god, but this game frustrates me. It makes my head hurt, tires me out and generally leaves me feeling like a complete idiot. I hate it.

And I love it. All the challenges, all the struggles, are the result of my own feeble mind. Every inch of progress I make feels like a huge achievement – screw climbing Everest, I just took oxygen, titanium and zinc and turned them into titanium dioxide and zinc oxide without a single error! A perfectly synchronised circuit is genuinely balletic to watch, as it transports elements, twirls them around, pauses and waits for other elements to pass, splits and joins elements together, and finally deposits them at their destination. It’s the same sort of satisfaction that might be derived from watching a well organised railway set running, only with the added pride that you’ve had to solve genuinely difficult puzzles to get your system to work.

SpaceChem will make you feel like a moron. It will also make you feel like a champion. Buy it already.

Twelve Magnesium out of Carbon


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July 2011
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