The name ‘Minecraft’ is a familiar name to all gamers, myself included. I’ve seen the elaborate constructs, the beautifully simplistic architectural marvels, and the word ‘Creeper’ has taken on a whole new meaning thanks to the game. Having never played the original versions on both PC and iOS, I was a bit skeptical about the whole idea behind this ‘game’. Looking more like a bland chore or a lumberjack simulator, I just wasn’t interested. However after spending some quality time with the Xbox 360 version I can safely say, Minecraft is something you should experience for yourself, and I haven’t been so surprised with a game in ages.
Welcome to the world of cubes, where everything can be made, destroyed, and rebuilt. Minecraft presented me with a vast open world with landscapes ranging from sandy desert wastelands to snow covered mountains. Given the ability to create almost everything I could imagine, from simple sticks and shovels, to complex electrical circuitry, I felt a bit overwhelmed, and to be honest, hopelessly lost. I decided to start out by playing the tutorial. A new addition to the Xbox version, the tutorial helps newcomers jump right into the mechanics of the game, and after following a few simple text bubbles I was creating cobblestone furnaces and cozy red beds to lay my block-shaped head down after a long day of mining.
Visually the game is simple, but stylish. While not flaunting the sharp and vibrant pixel art of games such as ‘Fez’, the blocky models and colour pallets offer a unique and interesting look that works perfectly with the game's mechanics. One downside of the game's style is getting easily lost in the massive world. The draw distance causes large structures to ‘pop-in’ at times, and when mixed with the similar appearance of most of the textures, getting lost may happen frequently.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in the world, but luckily the music is a great blend of slow and peaceful melodies when the sun is out, mixed with deep lumbering scores once night falls. I found the music to remain enjoyable even after hearing the arrangements a number of times.
The controls flow well with the gameplay, with right trigger being use to swing your hand, whatever you may have in it, and the left trigger for placing objects, mostly used for building whatever shape or structure you can think of. Moving around the world, checking your inventory and crafting all work well with how the game is designed; only feeling a bit jumbled when dealing with a mass amount of items, which can happen frequently. I solved this problem by crafting different chests to contain different types of items and ingredients.
After learning the ropes I decided to go out into the wild. After naming my world I found myself slapped down in a clearing with various strange block-shaped animals scurrying around making noises that sounded not of this world. Eager to explore, I ran through the world looking for an adventure. I found a few caves, saw some large mountains, but overall, I seemed to be wandering. Suddenly it became darker, as I looked towards the sunset I realised things were about to change. Nearly pitch black, the sounds of strange animals change into the sounds of moans, groans, and growls. I saw shadowy figures surrounding me, before I knew what happened I was dead. I selected respawn, and went back into the trenches, this time with one goal: get as high as possible. After climbing a tree I destroyed every block around me in a feeble attempt to isolate myself from the terrors below. I felt safe, but unprepared.
After daylight came, my initial instinct was to assault everything moving, afterwards I realised I had collected a plethora of items; cotton, leather, a few pork chops and feathers. What were these used for? I decided to do things differently this time; to prepare. I started by creating a craft table as the tutorial had taught me and before long, I had crafted a bed. A tree had given its life and a sheep its wool, but now I had a place to sleep. Next up was a shelter, originally being made from dirt, I tweaked and upgraded. After a few nights had past, I wasn’t just surviving; I was thriving. Each day I learned more and more. Covering my home with torches and secret trap door escape routes, I felt a strange feeling; a feeling of satisfaction.
There’s something about going from dirt huts to large castles with furnishings; I found myself trying to perfect every aspect of my shelter. Crafting iron doors, digging large water-filled moats, and even crafting glass from sand, creating a large skylight above my bed. After I felt happy with my dwelling, I decided to venture further into the world. Feeling less vulnerable now that I had a sword and armour I began looking for trouble. Not fearing the night, but rather preparing to attack the creatures in hopes of finding new ingredients and materials. As each new day came I found myself with an entirely new list of things I wanted to try. That’s the beauty of Minecraft, the ‘what if’.
There is no 'Game Over' in Minecraft, no ‘Mission Complete’; the game lasts as long as you want it to. With limitless creative possibilities and the promise of a steady stream of updates, the game could last forever, if you want it to. While I can't really see myself mining and crafting for years to come (unless new content is added), the game does have a somewhat lasting appeal, especially when playing with friends, or if you are a more creative type than myself.
I will say however, while playing alone it can feel a bit like a chore over time. Multiplayer however, changes everything. Playing with friends makes the game all the more magical. With online multiplayer and local split-screen, you can craft any world you’d like with up to 8 of your friends. Sadly unlike the PC version, created worlds are only available while the original creator is playing. But when playing with close friends, this shouldn’t offer too much of a problem. With a bit of team work you can find you and your friends creating things that would have normally taken ages to create, making the final product all the more gratifying.
Along with the lack of dedicated servers, and of course user created mods and skins, the Xbox 360 version also lacks the NPC villages and abandoned mine tunnels that are currently seen in the PC version. While a promise has been made to keep the Xbox version up-to-date with the PC, no dates or details have been given. With that said, at times the world can feel a bit empty, which would easily be remedied with these removed features. While the absence of these features do not ruin the game, having never had a chance to play with these features, I can’t help but feel a bit let down.
The game also offers various difficulty settings. ‘Peaceful’ removes all monsters and adds regenerative health, which allows for a stress-free experience, leaving you with nothing to worry about while you let your imagination loose. The harder settings add more monsters and raise damage dealt and received. If surviving the night is your sort of thrill, these are perfect for you.
In the end, Minecraft is a simple game that is only as deep as the player decides to make it. With strangely addictive and fun gameplay, made even more enjoyable when shared with friends, Minecraft is a game that every gamer should experience. With the lack of the customisation and overall support of the PC version, veterans may find the game a tad gimped, at least for the time being. But for newcomers, or strictly console gamers, The Xbox 360 version is the perfect time to jump in.