Stormworks: Build and Rescue's free beta is a sim sandbox of heroics (plus a bit of horror)

I'm pretty good at rescuing, but building is another matter. I've been doing a bit of both in Stormworks: Build and Rescue, a sandbox sim where you build your own boats, helicopters, and planes and use them for open sea rescue missions and other tasks. Stormworks is currently in Early Access on Steam, and in free open beta. Yep, you can download the free demo (which is currently the entire game) and play, and I suggest you do because I've been having a lot of fun with it. The trailer above demonstrates the building and rescuing far better than I am about to.

The world of Stormworks is an open sea dotted with small islands. You begin with one island unlocked, which comes with a pre-built boat (plus a cute little house for you to sleep in). As the day passes, timed missions begin to appear in the world: deliver cargo from one island to another, bring inspectors from the airport to an oil rig, collect an injured or stranded worker and deliver him to a hospital. In the meantime, you can use your workshop to modify your boat or build a new one. Building is accomplished by sticking together various cubes and wedges, and adding pre-made items like engines, rudders, roters, seats, and lights. Then you connect the engine to the motor and starter button, hook up steering to your dashboard, connect lights to switches, and so on.

Like I said, I haven't had much success with building things yet. My attempt to build a jetski didn't go so well, though if I had been trying to build an endlessly spinning submarine I'd give myself high marks.

I did much better with modifying, first adding extra passenger seats to the starter boat, then elongating it for cargo space and adding a few lights for night missions. I acted as a water taxi, delivered equipment, and even pulled someone out of the ocean and took them to an island for medical care, earning money along the way.

Things got more fun when I purchased a second island, which came with a hangar and helicopter. Now the rescue missions could really kick off: a large tanker ship was sinking and six crew members needed to be transported to the safety of a hospital. Since I only had three spare seats on my chopper, it required two trips. Flying takes a little time to get the hang of, so it wasn't the speediest rescue ever, but I managed it safely (except for accidentally landing on top of the hospital instead of beside it.

Even better, and what I consider my shining moment so far: I received a call about a runaway speedboat that needed to be stopped and returned to its owner, who was treading water in the open sea. I lifted off in my chopper and flew through the dark night, located the runaway watercraft, brought my helicopter down over it, and jumped into the speeding boat. It was like a blocky little action movie.

How did I retrieve my hovering chopper afterwards? I'd love to say it was another daring mission, but I just fast-traveled back to my island and recalled it by clicking an icon on my map that delivered it back to my workshop. Look, not everything calls for white-knuckle heroism.

Stormworks is also charmingly goofy at times. When rescuing people, they tend to be quite helpless, standing stock still when you land nearby instead of running for the chopper themselves. You can tell them to follow you, but you literally need to pick them up and place them in their seats when you get there, which is kind of amusing, especially when doing it in third-person perspective. Maybe they're paralyzed with fear, or perhaps just overcome with for by my heroics and red beanie cap.

That's not their only quirk. With many of the missions beginning during the day, completing them tends to happen after nightfall, and the residents of the Stormworks world have the odd habit of not turning on their own lights. There's something a little creepy about entering a building and finding people just standing around in the dark:

On another mission I had to deliver four technicians to a wind turbine. We all crowded into the elevator, and it was more than a bit creepy waiting to reach the top. 

Tell me Stormworks isn't the ideal framework for a horror game:

Mostly though, it's a great sandbox to play around in, a nice mix of relaxing delivery missions and enjoyable heroic rescues, plus plenty of workshop tinkering in between. 

If you're a poor builder like myself, Stormworks is supported by the Steam Workshop, so not only can you upload your creations, but you can download the work of others while you're in the game, and the 'shop is already packed with cool planes, choppers, and boats of all sizes and shapes. Until I get better at building, I'll trust everyone else to craft my boats and just focus on the heroics.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.