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In the interest of brevity and my own personal sanity, I'm keeping this review of Minecraft encapsulated to the game itself as you would download straight from Mojang. While recreations of J.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth and The Death Star Trench Run capture our attention and fascination, it's easy to be blinded by the grandeur and forget about the simple mechanics that make it all possible: a 16 pixel texture cube. This shape becomes the quite literal building block for vast and expansive worlds that can be constrained really only to the limit of your imagination. We have, however, collected some of our favorite builds below.
The basic mechanics of Minecraft are dead simple. You can break down material blocks and place them down wherever you like, but it's through elementary premise that the freedom emerges. You'll explore blocks of varying types representing different objects and substances. Once you discover how to create tools, you'll encounter the games crafting system; a dizzying number of items can be created based on some simple logic. For example, torches require you to place coal above a stick in the crafting window, whereas a bucket or bowl can be made by arranging iron or wood in a small V pattern. Using these basic principles, you'll be able to construct things like armor, food, tools and weapons.
Minecraft is a sandbox in almost the purest sense. You're dropped into a world and left to your own devises and musings. Want to see how deep you can tunnel? Or maybe you think that little island is begging to have a mighty fortress built atop it? You can go and do it. If that much freedom would normally cripple you with indecision there are few different modes to tailor the gameplay. Survival may involve the most elements, but it also creates some more specific objectives as you'll need to, well, survive. When the sun sets, all kinds of monsters will come out to dine on your face. When you first start out often the best you'll manage is to hole yourself up until day light, but as you progress you can begin to take on the monsters with better equipment or you can even use the resources available to you to construct traps. On the other end of the spectrum is Creative mode. In Creative mode you can't be hurt, you'll have infinite and open access to nearly every item and you'll be able to fly. This makes it easy to build in scales that would almost impossible if you had to gather all the material in Survival. Combine these two modes with Peaceful and Hardcore settings and the ability to play both on and offline, and Minecraft gives you a lot of freedom to approach the game in a way you find most fun. You could just as easily team up with other players on a creative server to make a landscape of pixel art as you could fend off monsters with just your lonesome self.
This utter and complete freedom is both Minecraft's biggest strength and also one of its weaknesses. If you're not the kind of person who can make their own fun, a lot of Minecraft's appeal is going to be lost on you. The game also suffers from being too arcane with its information. There is a system of achievements that will give you a rough idea of how to create in items and what ones you'll need, but more often than not you're going to have to defer to a wiki in order to divine the proper placement in the crafting window. It's the classic adventure puzzle game logics issue as you keep trying things to discern the one way that the developers intended it.
There are also a few technical issues, I personally encountered an problem where the game's Java client would not get along with my dual monitor set-up, but this never became so much of an issue to get me to give up on my island fortress dreams.
Bottom line:There really isn't that much on the market today that's like Minecraft, an open sandbox for you to play and build in. This simple freedom can lead to some truly complex accomplishments.
Recommendation: If you're the sort of person who prefers a more tightly crafted experience, then Minecraft might not be for you, but if you're able to lose yourself in finding your own fun, there isn't a better game than Minecraft.
Justin Clouse wonders what that hissing noise is.
Available for purchase here.