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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Early Access Check-in: Lightyear Frontier's great prelude to more farming mech sim action to come

In my humble opinion, there aren't many things that couldn't be made better with giant mechs. Dating sims? Add giant mechs and you've got a whole lot more to love. Battle royales? Imagine the scale of a map built to hold 100 giant mechs duking it out and you're imagining a good game. Detective games? Picture the final confrontation between detective and killer but with a giant metallic accusatory finger pointing out the killer instead of the weak fleshy ones we're stuck with.

The folks at FRAME BREAK get this fundamental concept and jumped into the game dev mines to deliver the one thing the gaming world has been waiting for: the giant mech farming sim.

Released in Early Access in March 2024, let's uncover how Lightyear Frontier's extreme polish and well-packaged introductory experience make for a special kind of early access launch.

An in-game screenshot of Lightyear Frontier. A giant red mech walks forward towards a farm's homestead. A giant house and a gazebo are lined with string lights and hedges. It's a beautiful sunny day and up on a hill behind the scene another mech can be seen.

​Just the Facts

Developer: FRAME BREAK, Amplifier Game Invest

Publisher: FRAME BREAK, Amplifier Game Invest

Platform(s): PC*, Xbox Series S and X *denotes platformed played on

Price: $24.99

Release Date: March 19, 2024

Review key provided by developer.

Get in the robot, farmer

We've been following Lightyear Frontier's development through the years, from its reveal at an Xbox Showcase two years ago to its BitSummit appearance later that summer — and every time, our excitement only grew.

This genuinely unique take on the farming sim comes to us from Swedish game developers FRAME BREAK. And it's their dedication to the details takes the mech-based farming concept from a fun gimmick all the way to a genuine standout in one of our favorite genres.

With its Early Access launch, Lightyear Frontier gives you a solid 8-10 hours of playtime (for up to four players) in what the studio is calling the "the beginning of the first act of the game." In this intro to the frontier, your space-faring farmer lands on the surprisingly lush fields of a planet long abandoned by the colonists who left it behind for Mars. It's a stunning place to explore, teeming with strange creatures, lush trees, glittering crystals, and skies overflowing with stars and huge, looming neighboring planets. But it's clearly in disrepair. Noxious weeds and slime prevent the landscape from reaching its prime, and ancient ruins hint at a story of abandonment or extinction.

Supported by PIP-3R — a nearby satellite with the voice of a kind Southern grandma who watches and comments on your progress on the planet below — your goal is to restore the abandoned planet's natural ecosystem, make it a viable place to live, and uncover the secrets of the ancient structures left behind by whoever lived here before you.

It's a simple narrative, one rooted in the same kind of conservation messages that farming sims have been built off of for years. Where it really stands out from the crowd is in the one thing it provides you from the very start: structure.

So many folks who take issue with farming sims say they find themselves overwhelmed by the breadth of activities you can do every day and the freedom in how you approach them. Lightyear Frontier has tons to do and doesn't force you to do any one thing at any time. But the clear quest-driven structure of its narrative keeps the momentum strong from start to end and gives you a comprehensible path of objectives to follow.

You've got to restore each region by cleaning out toxic weeds and goo. Once clean, they'll be able to return to life, becoming habitable for wildlife and producing minerals and plants: resources you can use to upgrade your mech and further establish your developing homestead. Making these upgrades then allow you to clear new regions —and so the loop goes.

You've always got a clear goal ahead of you from start to finish. You also get regular reminders of the impact of things you've done and what kinds of things you can do from PIP-3R (to the chagrin of some who have already derided her chattiness), and it all makes for one of the better paced farming sims I've played in quite a while. Across our first 10 hours playing together in a multiplayer world, we never felt lost or confused.

In this stage of early access, we weren't surprised to find the actual characters of the world lacking and a more meek connection to the world and its (few) people than we're used to. But we'd sacrifice that for the sake of playability this early on. There are some intriguing bits of mystery as you find yourself crawling through alien ruins and trying to piece together what was there before you, but it's nothing new for sci-fi. At least not yet.

So, if there's no narrative investment at this point — nobody to date, no community center to rebuild or neighbors to gift goodies to — what is there? Well, in a first for me in writing about the farming sim genre, I want to talk about the joy of actually playing Lightyear Frontier.

Dedication to the details takes the mech-based farming concept from a fun gimmick all the way to a genuine standout in one of our favorite genres.

An in-game screenshot of Lightyear Frontier. From the first-person view of the mech's cockpit, you can see a giant purple mech watering a plot of crops while the player's perspective we're locked to waits to vacuum up crops ready for harvest. In the background, various bits of a homestead can be seen. A house. A windmill. A gazebo. In the far distance, a giant stone dam can be seen as well.

What that mech do?

When I think about farming sims, I think about the soothing routine of daily farm maintenance. I think about the slow upgrading of my tools and farm. I think about anything other than the actual moment-to-moment hands-on gameplay.

When I think about Lightyear Frontier, that's the only thing that comes to mind. The purposeful weighty clumsiness and rigidity of maneuvering in the mech, which brings to mind long lost memories of wandering around confused in the likes of mech classics like MechWarrior as a child. Using jump jets to find shortcuts in the world that get you from one region to the next in a blink of an eye. The feeling of climbing out of the mech to find myself suddenly humbled by the scale of the trees and alien architecture around me — surrounded by a world made for something much bigger than me. The satisfying nature of using the mech's farming tools: a seed planter, a watering hose that both waters my plants and cleans up noxious slime, a saw tool that crushes rocks and cuts down trees with an impact unlike anything I've used in a farming sim before.

It cannot be overstated how different the experience of the usual farming sim loop is because of the mech and how refreshing it is when it's all scaled up to mech size, like planting in a giant raised bed by locking on to a dozen plots with your seed gun and spraying a mass of seeds at once.

Lightyear Frontier promotes a "hands-on" mentality, too, as upgrading and customizing your mech requires you to hop out and literally rip the pieces off and attach the new ones. You've got to hang up your mech and walk over to a monitor to initiate upgrades. It's all got this tactile feeling.

It has its downsides too, of course. If you aren't a fan of the back-and-forth of running to and from from various machines that refine resources, that process does feel even clunkier when you're forced to do all that in a big stomping mech.

In its current state, Lightyear Frontier doesn't offer many reasons to ever get out of your mech, which feels like a missed opportunity. You are forced out when searching through hidden caves and most alien ruins — the tight nooks and crannies of these rundown facilities, too tight a squeeze for your mech, require some lil' guy scurrying action. But beyond those rare moments and the instances where you're customizing your mech, there aren't really other reasons for it. Mechs are cool, but adding incentives, risky or not, to get out of the ship more could be fun.

Another thing that this game accomplishes is a genuine conflict-free pacifist experience like the grandfather of the genre, Harvest Moon, set up at the start. Popular indie farming sims like Stardew Valley and Coral Island feature mines full of monsters to combat, and you wouldn't be shocked to see a mech-based one toss in some tools for destruction and creatures to blast away with laser swords or missiles. But instead, FRAME BREAK rejects that concept and has you focusing on feeding the local fauna, restoring the natural ecosystem, and bringing life back to the land.

Paired with the lack of time pressure, its purposeful nonviolence embodies the cozy vibes and makes for a more tranquil and planet-friendly farming sim experience on the whole.

An in-game screenshot taken using Lightyear Frontier's in-game photo mode. A sun is setting on a vast forested canyon while a small farmer with a pickaxe looks on.
Taken with Lightyear Frontier's in-game photo mode.

The mecha devil's in the mecha details

If there was one last thing I wanted to shoutout about FRAME BREAK's early access launch, about the early state of Lightyear Frontier's experience, it's the polish on display here and the "complete" nature of what it offers at this point.

Lightyear Frontier does a ton of little things that tell me this game is going to be special in the years to come. Things like:

  • Customizations actually reflecting on your in-game perspective and genuinely affecting gameplay. Change out your mech's windshield and watch as the metal struts holding the glass together vanish when you put on the bubble-like vintage windshield that frees up your view, for example.

  • Contextual cutscenes — like your first-time mech start-up where your character flips switches and triggers various systems on its control panel — animate for everyone in your multiplayer world rather than being instanced for each player. As Julie and I got started in our playthrough together, I was shocked to actually see their farmer's motions from my outside perspective.

  • Audio cues react to your in-game perspective. For example, rain that sounds like it's hitting the cover of your mech's windshield just overhead when playing in first person gives way to a more natural, open-landscape rainfall noise when in third person.

  • A glitch-free multiplayer experience that is easy to drop in and out of for up to four players per farm and features server-wide progression. The amount of farming sims that have come out in the last few years either completely missing multiplayer or having an incredibly confusing and glitchy multiplayer system is painful, and FRAME BREAK clearly worked hard to make these systems work well.

  • An incredible photo mode that works even in multiplayer and allows for beautiful shots like the one above.

These small details combined with the satisfying mecha systems and the usual farming sim trappings make for an Early Access launch that feels well-rounded. Obviously, there is so much more to come and it isn't a complete experience right now, but if you want to invest early, you can get a solid 10-hour experience right now with a beginning, middle, and end, that you can play with friends — all with the knowledge that more is on the horizon.

Where most early access launches lock off key systems or are just entirely missing parts of the world, Lightyear Frontier presents a meaty world to dig into and enjoy.

An in-game screenshot of Lightyear Frontier. A giant yellow mech is hooked to a stabilizing pole and a giant purple mech looks on from the side. A person works at a monitor, seemingly upgrading the yellow mech, on the other end of the platform. In the background, bits of a homestead can be seen. Hedges, string lights, a gazebo, and more.

FRAME BREAK has affirmed they'll be adding tons of content in the planned 1.5 years of Early Access, with their first two major updates looking to add a friendship system, animal husbandry, and new regions and crops. The team is actively engaging with the community, patching things on the fly, and taking in all feedback from players as they go. They're doing it right, and even in this very early stage, Lightyear Frontier already has given me some of my favorite gameplay moments in a farming sim.

If you want to experience that classic bond between a farmer and their mech, check out Lightyear Frontier on Steam.

The key art of Lightyear Frontier. A giant bulky mecha robot with an engine resembling a farm machine's, stands pointing a seed gun at the "camera". A human farmer stands on the mech's leg, held in place by the mech's arm stabilizing them. An alien landscape with strange beasts and colorful flora can be seen in the background. The game's logo sits off to the right.


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