Lightyear Frontier:
Steam Next Fest Preview

Sci-Fi Agriculture That Stands Apart

Feb 14, 2024
Lightyear Frontier Preview.jpg

It takes a lot for a game preview to make me go “oh, this is a day one purchase”. Normally, I let myself read other reviews or hear what my friends have to say first. I try to wait for the first sale, or wait until I know I have a bunch of friends who are all hyped up and want to play together before I finally jump in. There’s just so many games I still have to play that throwing out cash immediately is a big ask these days.

For Lightyear Frontier, it took about 15 minutes of demo for me to wishlist this game and decide I had to buy it. It was either when I upgraded my farming mech to launch seeds out of a cannon to plant them or when they gave me a giant vacuum cleaner to pick up resources easier; I can’t tell you which moment sealed the deal, but both upgrades were just so quirky and fun that I couldn’t help but be delighted and see what this game would do next.

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Let me cut to the chase and say Lightyear Frontier isn’t trying to reinvent a genre. It’s first person Stardew Valley with a gimmick, and that’s it. It’s just that the gimmick is that you use a mech to do the farming, and that this gimmick is really freaking cool.

Farming… In… Space…!

The opening cutscene shows you crash landing on a planet, a local satellite waking up to track your descent. Within ten minutes you are finding pieces of your mech suit, figuring out how it works, and starting to build a base of operations: a small workshop, a tent, and a plot of land. The satellite introduces itself as an AI that was set up to help people start building projects on planets far away from earth, and starts dropping breadcrumbs to what could possibly be an interesting story.

So far, this sounds like the start of many survival games, but this is where the game shows where it deviates. First off, the much dreaded hunger-and-thirst meters simply don’t exist. There isn’t even a fuel gauge for the mech you are piloting! Secondly, there’s no sense of danger, no sense of urgency. It just encourages you to set up that base, start planting berries, and experiment with building things out of the resources you find nearby.

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I haven't yet gotten tired with the idea that I'm shooting seeds to plant them. As an added treat, there are upgrades to unlock to let you shoot batches at a time and more.

At the same time, Lightyear Frontier is not satisfied just being Stardew Valley, nor is it trying to be a realistic farming game like Farming Simulator. First off, the world is absolutely beautiful and alien. Old ruins dot the horizon, brightly colored animals rush about, a beautiful skyline constantly rotating overhead. This is a game that’s absolutely owning its setting and making the most of it, letting you walk around a gorgeous landscape in the first person.

Secondly, the way you farm is just different thanks to doing it via a giant mech. You don’t have to equip a watering can and walk over to each individual plot; you can instead use a water cannon to get your chores done from a distance. Hacking through rocks or chopping through trees feels wonderful as you see the mech’s buzz saw arm go to work. Again, this is a mash up of ‘cozy’ games with some survival game sensibilities that just clicked immediately for me. I want to see where the story goes, I want to get more opportunities to see how they’ll let me build up agriculture in unique ways because of the science fiction setting. The fact that I will be able to play this game with up to three friends is just icing on the cake.

A Stylized Setting Means A Stylized Audience

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While there is no combat in the demo or planned, there does appear to be a quest of sorts to help clean up the planet you've landed on that could unfold in curious ways.

While I am singing the game’s praises, I should take a minute to also talk about parts of the game that might give people some pause. I do firmly believe Lightyear Frontier is going to be worth buying when it releases into early access this March, but I believe that in regard to my own tastes. If there’s anything I’ve learned when it comes to cozy games and niche genres in gaming, one person’s perfect game is another person’s pile of frustration.

First, Lightyear Frontier will be releasing into early access on March 19th, 2024, with a scheduled full release taking place about a year and a half later. Even if you like the concept of the game, this might mean you want to wait a little while longer before jumping in, which is completely understandable. It’ll be releasing with a humble price tag of $25 from what I can tell, with the intent of increasing the price as the game gets closer to full launch. On the positive side, Xbox game pass holders will be able to play the game right away, and Lightyear Frontier will be crossplay. As a side note, my modestly powerful computer definitely had its fans working hard while playing the demo, so some optimization probably needs to be done as the game is worked on in later months.

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The goal is approximately one year to full release. While I definitely am excited for the game, it makes sense to possibly waiting to see a few updates before jumping in with both feet.

Secondly, this is a game that has a very specific niche. According to the developers, they don’t have any plans for combat to be added to the game, and while the first person view might remind you of other survival style games, there is no real focus on hunger and other tropes of that genre. There will be no combat. Lightyear Frontier is going to be a cozy game, first and foremost, and while there appears to be something of a mystery and exploration involved, its going to be relatively lowkey.

When it comes to actual complaints, I know the tutorial/demo took me a little over an hour to get an initial base set up, find various parts, and learn how to clean up a section of the planet in order to advance to the end of the demo. Some parts weren’t entirely clear how they worked, but I can imagine that being worked out for the full game. I did also see a few complaints about the AI satellite, Piper, being a little too chatty. For my game I didn’t run into that problem, but the developers having a slider bar for increasing or decreasing chatter would help with mass appeal of the game.

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Watching basic trailers for the game show off a lot more attachments and tasks that aren't in the basic demo. This could be tantalizing for some and frustrating for others.

Finally, I know there are going to be some people that are going to ask ‘why is there a mech? There are dozens of cozy farming games out there, and you can do all the mech does in them without needing to get in and out of a machine!’. To this complaint… this is where it’s going to be all about vibes and mood. There are many games out on the market that are close to being copies of each other, with their defining features being in aesthetics or style. For me, the sci-fi component really elevates the game, and I adore the fact that I can upgrade and decorate my machine as the game carries on. This is why I love Steam Next Fest for the chance for hands on demos to see if they are a right fit.

A Cozy Experience With Style And Substance

To repeat what I said at the beginning: this game is probably going to be a day one purchase for me. I am a huge fan of Subnautica, Satisfactory, and Stardew Valley, with this game feeling like a weird genre mash up of all of these and more. I was hooked within the first fifteen minutes as Piper casually references that you’re part of an earth relocation project that was shut down 200 years ago, and goes on talking about how to get started out here on the planet. Adding a mystery and world building on top of just a really satisfying farming game? It’s like catnip for me. The fact that I'll be able to play this multiplayer is icing on the cake. It's just going to be fun building together and seeing how we all decorate our mechs differently.

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The game is going into early access on March 19th of this year, and even though I’m getting this article published as the Steam Next Fest is winding down, the demo still appears to be available at time of publication! I highly recommend trying out the game to see if all the disparate elements come together for you as well as they did for me.

Wyatt Krause

Editor-in-chief, Co-founder