Bringing a new vibe to the factory-building automation genre, Techtonica's neon alien caverns and synthwave soundtrack are a lot of fun to explore and excavate in. Releasing just this week on Steam and Game Pass, Fire Hose Games' debut release is a first-person factory game that follows in the footsteps of Factorio or Satisfactory, but adds literal depth to the formula by setting everything inside a network of subterranean caves on a strange, rogue exoplanet.
The terrain is a big draw here. Not only are the caves really beautiful, but the space constraints and networks of tunnels are a nice twist on what you expect. Exploring the world around your factory is complicated by the twisting nature of variously connected caverns. You've got a crunchy drilling tool to prospect for ore veins and enlarge tunnels, and that's a lot of the fun. Should I repurpose another chamber for this new part of my assembly, or should I enlarge an existing one? A 3D map, the echosketch, helps you wayfind the caverns as you explore.
Since it's in Early Access, the factory-building itself isn't too detailed. That said it has promise, with a complexity that uses Factorio's inserter system alongside Satisfactory's first-person perspective. Figuring out where your conveyor belts should diverge and where they should merge again is as delightful as you might want, and multi-stage productions often have unwanted byproducts to reuse in other industrial processes—you gotta grow a lot of glowing flowers for fuel, but what are you gonna do with all that salt?
There are also hints of a story that draws from the kind of environmental exploration we all loved so much in Subnautica. The game takes place on a rogue planet, Calyx, the subject of a human expedition to gather resources. You're not sure why you've been woken up from your sleep, only that a lot of time has passed and the exploration facilities around you are in profound decay. That's when the weird, alien stuff starts happening.
Worth noting again that this is an Early Access game, so the story isn't finished and there's a lot of quality-of-life yet to be added now that it has had contact with players. The early tiers have a somewhat annoying power system for your buildings, and there are a couple complexity jumps for those who have never played an automation game—but it's not too brutal to figure out.