Initial thoughts/review are only after two hours of gameplay - but I will come back to comment more in-depth as I get deeper into the available content.
I never buy an Early Access title without following it for awhile first, to feel it out, and get some sense of dev/community interaction. This is no exception.
Let's start here - for what they are charging for Early Access, I was pleasantly surprised. It feels clean, well-executed, and rather than feeling overtly incomplete, rife with "ragged edges", it's actually pretty tidy in terms of how playable it is "right now", and how features that aren't yet ready are addressed, such as the presence of the blue "Early Access" icon that you'll occasionally see as you work thru the UI.
Granted - while that statement in and of itself doesn't speak to the quality of the final product, what it does speak to, for me, is that of a team that cares about the Early Access users' experience along the way; consideration of the ongoing relationship between developers and players - equivalent of that waiter that stops by your table to acknowledge you - even if they can't take your order just in that moment.
In short - it's a nice touch that it would be addressed at all in this manner, and I hope this continues as the title matures and all features become available.
This game won't be for everyone; it's methodical, a "quiet" game, a game for fans of astronomy/exploration, no doubt -and encompassing elements of building, strategy and simulation. Along the way, for those so inclined, there's plenty of science trivia.
I see it as casual, but with purpose and intent, and good in that you can pick it up for hours, or minutes, with the option to "bend time" as needed if you want (or need) to move things along.
I like how the UI manages to be fairly straightforward/intuitive - you can pretty much dive in and figure things out very quickly, and yet what lies ahead clearly points to indepth gameplay/strategy; it's easy to get into it, but you immediately realise - this is not going to "stay" quite so easy as you progress through the research tree - and your available budget.
Speaking of that - the big budget your team have been granted isn't as much money as it may seem - don't spend too much, too soon. The research-based "talent" trees cover everything from soil analysis and robotics to power management, but consider where you invest first, and how much, as you gradually build up funding for the various probes, instruments, protective elements and such that have to be added, tested, paid for, and successfully implemented - and once you do go for launch, don't assume everything will go to plan. Fragile, precise, expensive instruments...limited budget - now let's throw in some insane Martian winds? Hey, what could go wrong?
(...insert a little nod to Kerbal here).
From the initial rough probe that bobs around helplessly on the surface like a lost bowling pin, there's a long road ahead of you to get from aforementioned bowling pin to footprints on the surface of the Red Planet.
That's the ideal formula for me, anyway - in terms of time, and in terms of learning curves - accessible, but challenging - casual, but with clear directives.
I think it's one of the fairer-priced titles in Early Access - fair and modest for what I think is a promising title, especially when I consider what I've seen for far higher prices on Steam.
I hope to loop back to this review once I've logged more hours, and I hope to add equally positive comments.