Ever since the runaway success of Minecraft there’s been a rush of games that are trying to become the next digital form of Lego. These sandbox titles often seek to replicate the free form fun of the physical medium; giving you a bunch of basic tools that you then cobble together to solve some challenge or simply do so for your own pleasure. Many of these then become great fodder for the streamer and YouTube crowd as they lend themselves well to interactivity with their community and provide endless potential for shenanigans. However I’ve found, for myself at least, that there’s less and less fun for me to be had in actually playing them, especially after the best bits have been demonstrated by the handful of streamers I follow. So it was somewhat disappointing that, after many years of seeing it do the rounds, Besiege was pretty uninteresting to me. To be sure it was fun the first few times to make a contraption that went completely out of control but it didn’t take long for the fun to disappear and the tedium to set in.
Besiege pits your building skills against an array of challenges that will have you building a wide variety of machines in order to solve the problem du jour. All of the components are available to you right from the get go which makes the first few levels a rather daunting exercise in figuring out just what tools you have in your kit. Once you’ve got the basics down pat the game starts throwing curve balls at you that can’t be solved with simple machines alone, forcing you to construct all sorts of wild and wonderful contraptions in order to progress. There’s no narrative to speak of and, as far as I can tell, no built in competitive mechanics save for the number of blocks taken to solve a particular problem. It really is the definition of a sandbox game; it’ll become whatever you make of it.
The whole thing is built in Unity but the devs have done a great job of skinning it in such a way that’d have you believe it was created by them from the ground up. The graphics are simple which is obviously done in order to keep the frame rate high when you inevitably concoct something that sends the physics engine into a tizzy. It also has Steam Workshop integration which is great if you’re into that sort of thing as I’m sure the community has filled it with period appropriate items that will seamlessly integrate in the medieval aesthetic. At an aesthetic level I quite like what the devs have done with this as it makes things easy to understand and readily discoverable.
However the game underneath all of that is somewhat lacklustre. The levels flit between ridiculously simple and the annoyingly challenging with the majority of them all being solvable with really basic machines. The initial tranche of levels I went through started off as a good tutorial but then quickly became an exercise in frustration as I had to learn the game’s limitations and interpretations on how things should work. For instance I don’t know why basically any machine you build with wheels has to be an uncontrollable nightmare, even if you go as far as to make it an all-wheel drive and all wheel steering machine that should have the best handling you could imagine. I’m sure there’s an easy explanation as to what I was doing wrong but the fact that making a simple, controllable platform was challenging made quite a lot of the game feel a lot more difficult than it needed to be.
Then there’s the fact that the building tools are a little bit of a pain to use. The system has certain limitations which I can tell are there for particular reasons but they run against the conventions I’d become used to in other games. There’s no drag to select, to make fully detached objects you have to build them out from something and then delete the connection (but this makes moving them around afterwards challenging), positioning blocks can be challenging as the camera clips through everything and the physics engine doesn’t react exactly how you’d expect it to. To give an example I had a machine with a rotating platform on top of it which, predictably, made the whole thing flit wildly out of control. I then put a counter-rotating item on top of it, to balance it out, and that only made everything worse. I’m sure there’s a logic to it but honestly after a couple hours I wasn’t getting it and I just wasn’t enjoying my time with it.
Does that mean Besiege is a bad game? I don’t think so; it’s just that this is the kind of game for me that’s probably best left up to others to play and for me to watch. There are times when I feel like fooling around in a builder/simulation type of game and perhaps, in a different time and place, Besiege would’ve been my cup of tea. Today though, after it being out for 5 years and done to death online by every streamer under the sun, I think I saw all the best bits of it before and what’s left for me to enjoy by myself just isn’t enough. At this point in the game’s life though I’m sure that if you wanted to play it you would’ve bought it already and the 1.0 release was probably as meaningful to you as the dozens that came before it. For me though, looking at this as a new game just released, it’s really nothing particularly special.
Besiege is available on PC right now for $21.50. Total play time was approximately 2 hours with 13% of the achievements unlocked.