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Hydroneer Review: mining simulation at a granular level

Hydroneer is an indie simulation game where you take on the role of an upcoming mining mogul. You play the game from a first-person perspective and this really simulates a hands-on experience as you work to expand your mining operations. In our Hydroneer review we will look at the strong and weak points of the game and help you decide if you should spend your cash on this title. 

Hydroneer review

Developer Foulball Hangover released Hydroneer to the world on the 8th of May 2020 and it was met with a very positive response from gamers on Steam. At the time of writing Hydroneer has received over 1300 reviews and these reviews reflect that players have had an excellent time playing the game. The game retails for $9.99 which is on par and perhaps a little cheaper than the average indie release. We bought Hydroneer on release and played around 25 hours to bring you this review. With that said, let’s explore what the game offers based on our Hydroneer review.

Hands-on simulation

One of the most striking differences between Hydroneer and other simulation games is undoubtedly the first-person perspective. The majority of simulation games are played from an isometric or overhead perspective and the player isn’t necessarily tied to a particular character. In Hydroneer you do everything from mining to building your house in a first-person perspective with exception of a third-person camera when you drive a vehicle. 

During our time with Hydroneer to write this review, we honestly had a magnificent experience with the first-person perspective. This perspective places you close to the action and does a fantastic job of simulating the humble beginnings of your mining empire. At the start of the game you only have a few tools at your disposal, and these include a bucket, pan, brush and shovel. These four items form the basis for what will eventually become an automated mining operation. There was a deep, almost cathartic satisfaction in the basic process of digging up some dirt and washing it in your pan to reveal a few small pieces of ore.

Hydroneer review
Humble beginnings [Image: Foulball Hangover]

The next, just as satisfying step was physically carrying your spoils to the closest merchant and selling them for some coin. The experience of starting your mining empire was akin to what you read in every second startup founder’s biography. Instead of starting out in a garage you start out on a patch of dirt but the initial steps in building your mining empire is intimately simulated and you are the most important cog in the machine.

Moving up the ladder (and sometimes falling down)

After the initial phase of building your mining operation, Hydroneer opens up and allows the player some more freedom. Once you have some cash from selling your ore, you can decide on the next steps for your mining operation. Do you want to move your mine to one of the other sites for purchase or will the starting area be your base of operations? Will you keep mining by hand for the time being and purchase a furnace, mold and anvil to create items from your ore or will you automate your mining operation and sell the raw ore? These are some questions you will have to answer as you grow your operation. 

Crafting station
Crafting came before automation [Image: Foulball Hangover]

As Hydroneer opens up it also reveals some flaws inherent in its world. The environment of Hydroneer is beautiful and includes four different plots of land you can use for your mining operations. There are a bunch of villages littering the map, meaning every location is close to shops where you can buy and sell what you need to continue your journey. It’s just a shame that this beautiful world is empty and absolutely devoid of life. 

You are literally the only living thing in the game and as you expand your operations, you can’t help but feel alone in your endeavors. NPCs and animals are probably unnecessary to simulate a mining experience, but based on our time with Hydroneer we felt the game lost some of its charm by being so alone. The stock market was one place that amplified the emptiness of the world. Why would the prices change if I am the only one selling things?

The age of automation

The game starts out at a granular level, simulating the very essence of your mining operation. It then moves on to an in-between phase where the world opens up in a beautiful but lonely way and ultimately culminates in the automation of your mine. 

The method of automation is revealed in the title of the game “Hydroneer”. You automate your mining operations by using water. After the anticlimax of the empty world, the game redeems itself by introducing you to the endgame and the satisfying building mechanics that come with it. To make the big bucks, you need to install drills at your mine that automatically gathers dirt from your plot. You then use conveyor belts to transport the dirt to be refined into ore and then ensure the ore gets sorted and stored in a place where you can easily use it to craft items or sell it at the market. 

All the machinery mentioned above is powered by using water that you route to the machines using pipelines from your closest source of water. There is a catch though, machines work better with higher water pressure. The longer your pipelines are, the lower the pressure in them and therefore your machines work much slower. So, the trick is to plan your pipelines and the machines they should power to be as efficient as possible. We had lots of fun trying to find optimal ways to automate our mines and this resulted in some fantastic, ludicrous and creative solutions. Apart from the hands-on granular level mining found at the start of the game, this was the most fun we had in Hydroneer. 

Automated mining
My first (correctly) functioning automated mining rig [Image: Foulball Hangover]

Once you have reached this stage of Hydroneer, you are in the endgame. From here you can either try to build the most effective mine you can imagine or start over at a different location. Sadly, the satisfaction of making tons of cash needs to be enough as there is not much to spend it on. There are a few cosmetic items that have insane prices, but other than buying them you have nothing to do with your cash.

Final thoughts for our Hydroneer review

Hydroneer is a fascinating take on the simulation genre and provides a thoroughly engaging, albeit lonesome, experience. The game scales up well, rewarding your blood, sweat and tears at the start with a boatload of coins at the end when you have an automated solution to your mining problems. This entire experience is unfortunately wrapped in a very buggy package. 

Hydroneer review bugs
This me flying, except that I didn’t want to fly. [Image: Foulball Hangover]

Part of the fun of simulation games is the grind, or at least conquering the grind. If the grind lasts too long players lose interest and if the grind is not challenging enough players don’t feel rewarded. Hydroneer does not falter in any of these scenarios but commits a far greater sin. It invalidates the grind with some persistent bugs. There were many times when my ore would fall through the ground or disappear if I hurried to the shop and this really killed my motivation to pick up the shovel and repeat what I just did. Other times the truck would fly into the air, and while it was amusing at first the novelty quickly changed into frustration. 

Probably the worst of all was the excavator. One of my first purchases was the excavator, and that meant I had to physically shovel a lot of dirt to get enough cash to buy it. Proud of my new purchase I drove it back to my mine and started to imagine the epic tunnels I will dig with my new set of wheels. Trying to use the excavator in my mine was so buggy that I had to buy a new plot of land and start over as the excavator wrecked my other site. 

At the end of the day Hydroneer is a worthy entry into the indie simulation genre and offers players a unique experience in a beautiful setting. It is unfortunate that this experience is marred by a slew of bugs and a lack of content. Hydroneer completely nails its core gameplay idea, and that alone makes it worth our time to play. Time will tell if the core gameplay idea will find support from the world and denizens of Hydroneer and some much-needed bug squashing.

Get your shovels!

We hope you found our Hydroneer review helpful. If you buy the game (which is pretty cheap) we hope that you have many hours of fun and lots of stories to tell of your mining adventures.

If you enjoyed our Hydroneer review feel free to check out some of our other reviews in our review category.

Hydroneer

$9.99
6.5

Hydroneer rating

6.5/10

Pros

  • Beautiful game world
  • Great hands-on mining experience
  • Automation is satisfying

Cons

  • Very buggy
  • Empty world
  • Lack of things to spend cash on in the endgame