TUG review (Early Access)

Emanuel Maiberg at

Alpha and Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future. Read our full review policy for details.

The TUG described in its Kickstarter pitch video is a slight deviation from Minecraft's formula of crafting and surviving in a procedurally generated world. It promises future RPG elements and uses malleable voxels that make for rolling hills and round caves instead of Minecraft's fixed-size boxes. But there's a huge gap between what TUG wants to be and the terrible game you can currently buy on Steam Early Access for $10/£7.

The idea is that you'll enter the world as a young character, a Seed, and if you survive, grow up to become a character who's defined by his or her actions. You’ll be lean if you run around a lot, strong if you fight a lot, fat if you kick back and munch on fruit that grows in the wilderness. It also promises elaborate lore you'll discover by exploring the world and deciphering a language created just for the game. Magic stuff will happen.

TUG's product page is upfront in saying those features aren't in place yet. At the moment, it only includes a limited survival mode and a creative mode. Crafting works a lot like it does in Minecraft, meaning that outside of mind-numbing experimentation, the only way to discover complex recipes is Google. The difference is that wanting to find out how to make a helmet in Minecraft led me down a very deep rabbit hole, where 60 hours later I was in the depths of the earth, leaping over rivers of lava in a hunt for diamonds. In TUG, there's about 20 things to craft, and the materials required can all be found on the surface.

My Seed experiencing an existential crisis. What's the point?

Once I spawn into the world, I'm given no information about where I am, what I should be doing, and why. The only incentive to take even a single step forward is food. Once my stamina runs out my life bar begins dwindling very quickly. If I don't want to die, I need to find some fruit, grow my own, or hunt a goat (currently the only other living creature in the world) and cook it, though I don't think a life in TUG is worth living. Beyond the basic need for sustenance, there's nothing to do.

The jungle biome seems to have more fruit and goats around, so if I don’t happen to spawn into one, it makes sense to find it first, which doesn’t take more than 15 minutes of walking in a straight line.

The different biomes and, TUG in general, look OK. It has a very simple, blocky style, and it’s nice to be able to deduce the function of some items just by looking at them. A long stick, vines, and a sharp stone all read as what they are, so I intuitively deduced how to craft a spear. Put a bigger, rounder rock at the end of it and you get a hammer.

It ain't an alpha until I fall through the world.

However, I did encounter problems because TUG uses voxels with contours as opposed to fixed unit sizes. It does, as Nerd Kingdom says, create a more natural-looking terrain from a distance. Rolling hills, mesas, and caves look more realistic than Minecraft's jagged landscapes. But when you're exploring this world in the first-person and see it up close, the voxels create many geometrical oddities: floating pieces of earth, seams where textures don't connect properly, and plenty of caves that go nowhere or descend in awkward angles.

TUG is filled with these little frustrations, taking the joy out of even the most basic functionality of a Minecraft clone—digging up materials and rearranging them. For example, when you're digging in Minecraft and you run out of room in your inventory, the materials pile up on the ground. The same thing happens in TUG, but the excess materials are solid, meaning you can't just walk through them. It didn't seem like a big deal until I started digging straight down (mostly out of boredom), and found that I couldn't dig my way out because of all the excess dirt piled around me.

Aiming my tool at a tree or a patch of dirt didn't always guarantee I'd hit it, objects I laid down on the ground bounced around unpredictably, and more than once I walked into a hole not knowing I wouldn't be able to climb out. What little mechanics are in place are unreliable at best.

Weird texture stuff happens a lot.

Verdict

Even if Nerd Kingdom sorts out the little grievances—and it's imperative that it does if TUG is to compete on any level let alone against the Minecraft juggernaut—it still has a very long way to go. Right now, all you can do is walk around aimlessly in a boring world and craft a handful of things you don't really need. It's certainly nothing worth paying for yet.

Outlook

Concerned. Nerd Kingdom is promising a lot and so far has very little to show. It says more content should be added every four to six weeks (potions and predators are in the works), but TUG in its current state in no way represents the intention of the final product. Its warning to potential buyers doesn't explain strongly that even with the features currently in place, there isn't much to do—in lieu of that, consider this your warning.

Details

Version reviewed: V 0.6.3
Reviewed on: AMD FX 4200, GTX 660 Ti, 16gb RAM
Recommended: If you're equipped for DirectX 11 you can probably run it.
Price: $10/£7
Publisher / Developer: Nerd Kingdom
Multiplayer: Online multiplayer, but only with direct hosting at the moment.
Link:Steam store page