‘SpaceChem is an obscenely addictive, design-based puzzle game about building machines and fighting monsters in the name of science!‘
Puzzle games have a fine line to walk. Often they’re so frustrating that you’re more annoyed with yourself rather than pleased when you actually solve the puzzle, but just as often your hand is held so much that you don’t really feel like you’ve accomplished anything in solving the puzzle. SpaceChem is a fantastic puzzler that manages to walk on the harder side of the line, but not frustratingly so.
After hearing several people raving about this game I decided to pick it up during the recent Steam sale and I’ve been hooked ever since. The concept behind the game isn’t all that complicated, you have a reactor with certain types of molecules coming in, and through various means of manipulation, you have to get different molecules going out. Things start out fairly simple, but the difficulty starts climbing rapidly as you start working with multiple reactors at the same time and need to use sensors to even know what molecules you’re working with.
The beauty of the puzzles in SpaceChem is that there isn’t only one solution to every puzzle. You can solve it in whatever way you like, it will just take longer for the process to finish. This means that you can go back later and try to figure out more efficient ways to solve each puzzle. The game will display statistics on how other people did on the same puzzle in a variety of different measurements, which will encourage OCD players to go back again and again. The difficulty climbs steadily with new concepts introduced fairly regularly, and you will probably hit a wall at some point that will take you a long time to get past while you try and wrap your brain around the puzzle.
The visual and audio design of SpaceChem is fantastic. The interface is nice and easy to use, and everything is presented very clearly without cluttering up the screen (except in some cases where you are applying reminder notes to the screen). The visual aesthetic is the simple, but attractive look that so many indie games are going for these days (that’s not a complaint). The ambient music is very appropriate for the setting of the game, and fades nicely into the background when you are solving puzzles. If you’re paying attention to the music it can get a little repetitive sometimes, but that’s not uncommon with a limited soundtrack.
The game even has a nice little story put in to make things a little more interesting. Most of the story is told through text between levels, but occasionally challenges will be thrown in your way that directly tie in to the story. SpaceChem is all about the puzzles, which is as it should be, but the story adds an extra layer of immersion and ties everything together.
My main complaint about SpaceChem is that the tutorial system doesn’t really help you much at all. The game explains a few basic concepts and then dumps you into the proper game. I left the tutorial very confused and without the knowledge required to solve some of the early puzzles. Once I went online and found a few more instructions I didn’t have many problems, but the tutorial needs to be far more comprehensive. If you’re going to play this I would recommend looking in the forums for some advice.
I haven’t tested any of the online components (apart from stats tracking) so I can’t really comment on that.
Overall, this is one of the best puzzle games I’ve played in a long time. If you haven’t played many puzzle games before this probably isn’t the best place to start given the difficulty, but experienced players will find a lot to enjoy.
What I Liked – Puzzles felt rewarding. Great visual and sound design. Nice story.
What I Didn’t Like – The tutorials need some work.
Rating – 4 out of 5 (Really Enjoyable)