Survival games are nothing new, but even within this genre are several sub-genres. There's zombie survival, PvP survival, wilderness survival (I'm looking at you, The Long Dark), and the one that applies to our topic at hand - space survival. Rokh (Developed by Nvizzio Creations & Darewise Entertainment and published by Darewise Entertainment) is a survival game set on Mars, one of many recent releases that drop you on another planet with just enough oxygen and materials to get started.
It's inevitable that one would compare a game to others within its genre. Within the last few years, we've had a cornucopia of space survival games released, most notably No Man's Sky. There are plenty of other strong contenders like Space Engineers as well as some lesser-known indies like Lacuna Passage. Each game usually has at least one really good thing about it and its fair share of challenges. Rokh does indeed have that good thing about it, but it also has an awful lot that's gone sideways.
Let's start with the performance issues. Rokh is an Early Access game, and it's reasonable to expect that it's not in the best possible state. Crashes aren't great, but that does happen sometimes with Early Access products. However, when it comes to areas like performance, a reasonable level of the game working well should be expected. I've got a GeForce GTX 1070 so my rig shouldn't have problems running the game at a stable framerate. Nonetheless, intermittent stutters and lag persisted, which leads me to believe that it's possibly tied into netcode rather than graphics. The problems became more severe as I ventured onto servers with higher ping.
There's no PvP in Rokh as of yet, and that's where lag usually hurts the most. However, this is a survival game. You'll sustain an injury if you fall down a cliff or get struck by a falling meteorite. There's a rechargeable jetpack in the game which allows you to either boost yourself to greater heights or slow yourself during a fall. I had one such instance where a bit of lag messed with the timing of my jetpack activating during such a fall, crippling my legs while I was in-between two locations on a journey. I would have been fine at either destination, but being out in the middle of the Martian wilderness is another story. I am 99% confident that I would not have sustained any injury had my jetpack timing not been thrown off. The jetpack in Rokh is wildly inconsistent, and I wonder if this too was related to latency issues. I had often found myself frustrated with attempting to get up on a low roof because the jetpack failed to engage several times.
Despite the issues, when the jetpack did work it was fantastic. I was able to work out a sort of bunny-hopping system where I would sprint and jetpack in a fashion that optimized my movement and it felt great. Sure, a buggy would have been better, but it might not have been as much fun in the same way.
I've front-loaded the bad because, well, a lot of what's in Rokh isn't in the best state right now. I had put the game down for a few days at a time because I was dreading moving on. Thing is, I'm stubborn. It's not the first time I played a game with some technical or design issues and it probably won't be the last. I buckled down and more or less played for an entire day (and then some), and after a few hours, I had some lightbulbs go off in my head.
The crafting system in the game feels like a three-wheeled car. It's a great experience, but there's just a bit of room for improvement. In short, you can gather one of the multiple types of materials from various deposits. Those materials can be used to craft tools or building tiles. That's pretty standard.
What is not standard and what impressed me a great deal was the elements of chemistry and geology applied to the gameplay. Every different substance has stats like hardness, electrical conductivity, heat transfer, etc. You wouldn't want to make a wire out of a material that doesn't conduct electricity well. You certainly wouldn't want to make a furnace out of a substance that would melt the first time you turned it on. Even then, there are ranges - furnaces can be tuned to varying degrees (literally, in this case), and the capabilities are dictated by the materials.
After you have your baseline tools created, you have to work your way up through a tech tree of sorts. Each tool can only build certain things. The crafting system leaves a bit to be desired, and it is in this area where I feel there is a good deal of room for improvement. I've found myself juggling six or seven different tools, each of which can make their own unique things. The sensible thing would be to have a unified crafting menu that simply checks if you have the needed tools on hand, but that doesn't apply here. I think I get what they were trying to do, but it feels unintuitive and unnecessarily clunky to me. Even so, progressing through the tech tree was fun and I enjoyed working towards unlocking the next tool. Further stages had tougher requirements and I found myself having to mix in materials of different densities or with different properties to keep the weight low and still be able to do the job.
Building structures feels like a bit of a chore, but in fairness, it's probably also a pain in the butt to swing a hammer in an EVA suit on another planet with meteorites crashing all around you. It will take several hours to make even a basic structure, and that was after I had the system down pat. It's just time-consuming. Thankfully, you don't need an awful lot of room to get the important stuff done.
Rokh is an online game. It has baked-in single player servers (as well as a more complex option executed through a .bat file), but I wasn't able to get either working for comparison's sake so I stuck online. Ultimately, it proved to be beneficial. I had the help of some fine gentlemen on my server who taught me the ropes of the game in a true show of community spirit. I learned things such as how to progress through the tech tree (refine materials to make stronger stuff, repeat, all the way up to the best materials), how to get un-craftable goods like food and anti-rad pills (they respawn at abandoned bases), and how to protect myself from radiation (a roof, seriously just build a roof).
This feels like one of those games that's way better in a group. Until you get automated systems online, you'll spend a good degree of your time manually creating water through electrolysis or hunting for supplies to stay alive. If you had a team of a handful of people (even just two or three people total) and divided up the work, I think you would go much faster overall.
That need for other people is best emphasized in the server goals, something that I feel is a fantastic idea. In essence, the story is that you have no contact with Earth. A server-wide goal exists to build a bunch of deep space transmission arrays. One person could make one over about a week or two if they really dedicated themselves and pushed hard, but it's obviously meant to be a community project. There are hints of faction reputation systems and eventual quests buried in the menu, and these things lead me to believe that Rokh will, in the future, likely be best enjoyed as a community experience.
Graphically, Rokh is fine. There are some placeholder bits, and the effects on the placed pieces in the game, player models, and the environment look nice. That said, it's definitely an indie project - it's a far cry from truly stunning visuals. And that's okay - the better a survival game looks, the more difficult it would be to allow for a world that you can truly shape.
Sound is a tricky one. After all, Mars doesn't have much in the way of atmosphere and that's a pretty important part for sound to actually function. There were no particularly outstanding bad points with the sound save for one - it feels like it could serve to be a bit muffled in some ways. I think hearing distant machines as I did feels a bit unrealistic, and it took me out of the experience a bit.
I have a love/hate relationship with Rokh. I love the premise, I love the idea behind the crafting system (although not the execution), and I'm a sucker for games that let me colonize another planet. The bugs and design issues almost lost me at the beginning, but I stuck it out and I enjoyed my time with the game. I had just under 20 hours of actual game time and three or four hours of reading and research about all of the systems. (And boy, is there a lot to wrap your head around.)
At the moment, the developers have had the sense to recognize the problems and are at work doing a serious QA pass in an attempt to overhaul all of the problems. This is a difficult challenge to pull off - Rust is one of a handful of notable successes that comes to mind - but they're going for it nonetheless. Rokh may have been released a bit too early for prime time, but the cat's out of the bag now. It's up to the developers to get the right people to fix the game and it seems like they're headed down that path. I truly hope they do, because if they can nail down the issues that hampered my enjoyment and work on building on the things they already have here then I think it will make for a truly wonderful game.
Rokh was previewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.
What do you think of Rokh? What's your favorite survival game set in space? Let us know in the comments below!