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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Early Access Check-in: Abiotic Factor is already one of my favorite games of 2024

Hands-on impressions with Abiotic Factor, our current six-player co-op survival game obsession


Sometimes Early Access can feel like a curse. You get a snippet of something you like, but you know full well the entire product is still quite a ways away. So you play what's there but feel unfulfilled, craving more but having to wait for the development to finish.


But not this time. I find the fact that Abiotic Factor is in Early Access to be a blessing. Not because it needs more time to cook — what they have here in their blend of Half-Life meets survival crafting is incredibly polished. Not because the content is sparse — my crew of five friends and I have spent nearly 35 hours in its world and still haven't reached the end of what's available at launch. And that's after we spent 15 hours in the game's recent demo, too.


No. It's a blessing that Abiotic Factor's in Early Access because if it wasn't, I may not have been able to tear myself away to play much of anything else the rest of the year.


An in-game screenshot of Abiotic Factor. A purple portal sits in the middle of some scientific machinery and purple wispy lights emanate out from it. On catwalks leading up to it, various dead bodies of scientists can be seen. A whiteboard with chaotic scribbles about what awaits the player on the other side of the portal can be seen in front of various consoles.

​Just the Facts

Developer: Deep Field Games

Publisher: Playstack

Platform(s): PC

Price: $24.99

Release Date: May 2, 2024

Review key provided by publisher.

Hello gamer, I'm with the science team!


Abiotic Factor is the latest game from the New Zealand-based Deep Field, a studio focused on providing incredible co-op experiences set in worlds filled with "the kind of details that make players fall in love with them." In 2016, the team released their debut title Unfortunate Spacemen in Early Access, a multiplayer traitor game that sees a ship full of pals tasked with calling for rescue and freeing themselves from the station, while sussing out which of them is actually a shape-shifting alien looking to kill.


Unfortunate Spacemen is full of complexity and character, and Deep Field Games established itself with a reputation of near-constant support for the game through release in 2020 and beyond: a hopeful sign for the future of this latest Early Access project, Abiotic Factor.


Complexity and character may be the best way to define this team, because that's exactly what makes Abiotic Factor such an exciting game. It's deeply complex in the interweaving chaotic systems that make it a dynamic experience every time you play, and it's packed with character in the ways it presents its lore-heavy and nostalgia-ridden world.


In Abiotic Factor, you're a newcomer to the GATE Cascade Research Facility, a Ph.D.-toting scientist ready for their first day on the job in a scientific facility deep underground. You've got your usual first day orientation tasks: getting your security clearance, meeting some coworkers, helping to shut down the alien invasion that your coworkers inadvertently started deep underground that attracted the attention of a militant group that also raided your offices. Normal stuff.


As you navigate the GATE facilities, making your way through office spaces, labs, and factories, you'll uncover exactly what's been happening through your cowering surviving coworkers and a series of emails discovered across multiple terminals. It manages to strike an even balance between the genuinely alarming and horrifying sci-fi flavors of the likes of Half-Life and Control with a cheeky dorkiness that makes the darker elements all the more powerful. One moment you'll be reading an email about a scientist feeling haunted by one of the isolated beings they've got locked up in containment, and the next you'll be opening a bit-crunched photo attachment of Macho Man Randy Savage as two geniuses in their fields debate whether wrestling is real or not.


It manages to strike an even balance between the genuinely alarming and horrifying sci-fi flavors of the likes of Half-Life and Control with a cheeky dorkiness that makes the darker elements all the more powerful.

One thing I really appreciate about Abiotic Factor is how much it wears its inspirations on its sleeve. From the early PC first-person shooter aesthetic of its stiffly animated white-coated scientists to the pitch-perfect voice work that both pays homage to the iconic styles of Half-Life's scientist actors and provides its own spin on them, Abiotic Factor doesn't shy away from the kinds of things that made its inspirations so great. My group was so charmed by the voice work that lines like "This heat's got me distinctly deliquescent" and "We've all got larva to feed" have started to sneak into our everyday banter.


In this Early Access launch, Deep Field has given players access to the first three sectors of the facility: the offices, the manufacturing sector, and the labs. Each one has a unique identity and tells its own story about what happened to cause this chaos while pushing the greater story of escape forward. It's more than we're used to in the genre and it helps to sell Deep Field's unique blend of survival crafting and narrative FPS.


But the most enjoyable stories in Abiotic Factor are the ones that come out of its dynamic systems-driven gameplay, which emphasizes practicality and celebrates the complexity and character that Deep Field has brought into all of its works to date.


An in-game screenshot of Abiotic Factor. Sitting in front of an array of security monitors, a man kicks up his feet on the desk ahead of him in a dinky office. He wears a security cap and vest. He's telling the player: "Bit of a kerfuffle down there this morning."

SCIENCE RULES!


What makes Abiotic Factor immediately so appealing is how it celebrates the dorks of the world. The smarties. The scientists.


The minute you hop in and start building your character, which is more RPG-like than you'd expect, you aren't selecting a class or build. You're choosing which Ph.D. you have, each loaded with its own specializations and skill boosts. You aren't picking perks like Strong Back to increase carry weight, you're giving your scientist a fanny pack to have more carrying capability. Everything is plausible and intentional.


Crafting isn't just some random guy somehow learning how to make an entire house out of a few twigs, either. It's a scientist breaking down a desk, grabbing a rubber band ball and a stapler, and making a haphazard crossbow out of that; making soup bowls out of coffee carafes; turning an office gym into a thriving home made up of the same kind of DIY goodies.


Even the way you learn recipes embodies the scientific method, as your scientist hypothesizes new crafting recipes whenever you pick up resources in the world and you have to puzzle out which of these resources are needed for the recipe to fully learn it in a fun little minigame. It makes you feel more involved in every step in the process and less like you need to look up the Wiki every time you craft.


It's refreshing.


Then you've got your skills. Broken out across three categories — fitness, combat, and crafting — you have 14 different skills to level up to unlock new perks and generally help with your survival in the facility. Deep Field keeps things as engaging as possible here too, as you aren't assigning skill points after gaining enough experience points or anything. You simply level up by doing, Elder Scrolls style. Want to get more strength? Fill up your inventory with heavy things and walk around to weight train. Want to be a sharpshooter? Use that crossbow whenever you can.


This system really allows for a wide variety of viable play styles and the ability to truly specialize in a few fields — especially when you consider the head start each Ph.D. might provide. In a multiplayer setting, this kind of system helps to make every player feel like a valuable member of the team, something that others in the genre suffer with sometimes. We wonder how much room for growth there is, as my crew has nearly maxed out several skills already and the full game promises tons more to do, so we hope Deep Field has answers for that down the line.


An in-game screenshot of Abiotic Factor. It showcases a base built out of what used to be some sort of office. There are a handful of potted plants scattered about, three arcade cabinets line the wall, a fridge and a giant chest can be seen just outside the entrance to another room, and a line of beds can be seen lining a metallic balcony. Blue glowing pads line the path to the door. A whiteboard sign can be seen and it reads: "Live, laugh, love."
Our little home sweet home.

Spinning scientific plates


Abiotic Factor's survival systems may seem so overwhelming at first. They're almost more The Sims than your usual survival game because of how many different things you need to manage in any given moment. You've got the basics: hunger and thirst. You've got the somewhat expected: sleep needs and radiation levels. And you've got the surprising: bathroom needs and general cleanliness. As you explore the facility, all of these things are constantly ticking down and you're constantly aware of them through the various status bubbles that take up the bottom left corner of your screen and the voice lines that alert you when these needs are getting dire.


You're juggling these bodily functions with your general progression, pushing out into the world for fun little excursions of resource gathering or exploration, but making sure all your needs are covered in the process.


How your character build factors into that experience layers in an extra level of intrigue and chaos, as your particular build changes your personal play experience in interesting ways. For example, my main build started with the Archotechnic Consultant Ph.D. that gave me a head start in strength, construction, and crafting. With that in mind, I took the positive perks of Wrinkly Brainmeat (boost to overall XP for all skills) and the aforementioned fanny pack to amplify what I was already best at. To afford these with the limited perk point pool I had, I had to balance out with a few negative traits. I grabbed Narcoleptic and Weak Bladder, which made me both a constantly sleepy and constantly shitty (literal) little scientist.


I thought that'd be fine at first, because I figured I'd always be near a bed or bathroom. But suddenly I found myself carrying a military cot with me everywhere I went to make sure I could grab some Z's on the go, and making sure I didn't drink too much coffee — because, while it helped with the sleep, it certainly didn't help with how many bathroom breaks I needed to take.


Each person in my party had their own unique quirks that colored their time with the game in a similar way. And when all of your needs start to collide into each other, amidst the chaos of trying to survive a slowly decaying facility full of dangers that are out to get you, it can produce some of the most chaotic (and hilarious) moments. Moments like these.



Video features cartoonish amounts of vomit.


More and more, I find myself gravitating toward games that are built to surprise you. It's why Lethal Company captivated me for so long, and it's why Abiotic Factor has taken over my mind. Where else can you find a game that has a friend tossing a slushie bomb that accidentally freezes your entire group, only to watch your frozen friend vomit all over the enemy you're fighting against and then need escorting to the bathroom?


Abiotic Factor is one of the most dynamic and clever survival crafting games I've played in a very long time.

An in-game screenshot of Abiotic Factor. The player holds a flashlight out to a darkened library. Shelves have been knocked over and in the darkness ahead a strange skeletal beast can be seen approaching.

A few miscalculations


I know I've been gushing, but we did have some hang-ups with our time in the facility.


Combat feels wonky at times, which is partially that way because these are scientists who are suddenly forced into a fight to survive scenario. But melee feels a little too simplified and the purposefully jittery ranged combat (meant to emulate these scientists not being familiar with this kind of weaponry) can take a little getting used to. We did enjoy the wide variety of weaponry — a handful of clever traps, grenades crafted from slushies and coffee mugs, and pistols made of pipes — but it's still one of the weaker parts of the experience at this point.


While Abiotic Factor's Early Access launch is a generally polished experience, there are certainly some technical issues that need ironing out, particularly when playing with friends. I heard mentions of items and enemies floating away from the players connecting to my multiplayer server, player models flying in empty space when we rode on the tram system, and we even found ourselves having to restart the server a few times to get overall performance to smooth out. But none of it was game-breaking for any of us, and, even across our few days of pre-release play, we saw a handful of such issues start to get patched out.


What was probably most disappointing, however, was some of the game's momentum halting quests in the back half of what's currently available. Despite about 35 hours of play, my group has yet to finish all that Abiotic Factor currently has to offer. And that's not just because it has so much going on, but in part because we spent several hours caught up by two quests in particular.


One relied on backtracking to an older location to find a particular resource despite there being no obvious hints that that was needed. The other saw us having to bait out and wait for a rare enemy type to spawn to be able to gather its unique resource. The former could be chalked up to us racing against embargo and simply missing something we should have gathered earlier in the game, but the latter genuinely felt like a bug. We tried for hours to get this alien to spawn and only managed to do it through turning the server off and on several times to gather enough of its resource to progress.


It's a shame, because so much of the rest of the game is easily understood and its quests are rewarding in the ways that they celebrate exploration. But again, these are the kinds of things that get ironed out in Early Access and we're hopeful Deep Field adds a few clearer steps in to make the experience smoother.


An in-game screenshot of Abiotic Factor. A collection of scientists in different types of clothing sit on a tram car. One wears a construction helmet and a lead vest, one wears a full hazmat suit, one wears a welding helmet, and another wears a karate helmet and a high-vis construction vest. It's an odd scene. The player character looks on, wielding a homemade crossbow.

I'm not sure if it's obvious, but Abiotic Factor has its hooks in me. It has its hooks in all of VGG, and we're already eagerly awaiting the next big content drop. And the next one... and the next one. Deep Field expects to be in Early Access for anywhere between eight to 12 months, delivering big new content drops every two to three months — new sections of the facility, new alien worlds to explore, and new gameplay systems introduced each and every time. It's already such a fulfilling experience, I can only imagine what this game multiplied by three looks like by the end of Early Access.


Abiotic Factor is one of the most dynamic and clever survival crafting games I've played in a very long time and it's not even finished. Barring a scientist opening a portal to an alien world-style game development disaster, Deep Field Games have a game worth investing in from day one here.


I wholeheartedly recommend it and hope to see you in the facility someday soon. I could clearly talk about this game all day... and I didn't even touch on the alien portal worlds you explore... so go out and play it already!


The key art for Abiotic Factor. It depicts a chaotic scene where three scientists with hand crafted weaponry and armor stand scared in the middle of chaos on both sides. To their left, a giant skeletal monster pokes out of a portal and spiny aliens gather just outside of the portal. On the right, a giant robot and soldiers on a balcony above target the scientists. The building they are in is in shambles.

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