Review – Factorio (Switch)
Remember when Skyrim first launched on the Nintendo Switch? That was such an unbelievable moment for both Bethesda and Nintendo, and people everywhere seemed to be elated over the news. Yes, of course people were pissed that the fifth Elder Scrolls game was getting YET ANOTHER release, but this was the first time that a game with such a massive reach and huge fanbase was brought to a portable system. For years, until the very recent Steam Deck challenge, it was the only way to comfortably play the game on the go (I know laptops exist, but you see what I mean).
Now, the port wasn’t perfect, and the recent release of Anniversary Edition proves that nothing is ever learned, but the fact remains is that it’s consistently in the top sellers for the Nintendo Switch, particularly when it goes on sale, and people still love holding it in their pocket.
So it makes sense that more and more PC ported titles made splashes: Witcher 3, DOOM, and the Civilization franchise. But, for Wube Software, porting their powerhouse title Factorio to the Switch was a crazy move to make. While some developers are known for multiple titles, Factorio is the solo endeavor of Wube Software, and they’ve put an enormous amount of work into it over the years. Constantly patched, constantly upgraded, never bundled and never heavily discounted, this is the game of lore and legends. The seemingly simple tale of a stranded astronaut on a hostile planet who must use natural resources to craft together a rocket, the fanbase that rallied behind Factorio is, in a word, fanatical. If you let the game get its hooks into you, you’ll join in immediately.
One thing that the developers seem very confident in, is that once you start playing Factorio, you’ll be uninterested in playing anything else. The boot time on this game is incredibly long compared to many other titles, including other crafting games and even in comparison to some 4X titles. However, it becomes immediately apparent that the boot time is worthwhile. The loads going into scenarios and loading up different parts of the tutorial levels (HIGHLY recommended) were flawless, and the ability to maintain a massive number of items on the screen at once never lead to slowdown or crashes. While there are moments of silence as the game appears to be “thinking,” that’s usually when a new, massive, MULTIPLAYER map is being created. It’s very clear that a huge amount of time went into the porting to help make this the best portable experience of Factorio possible.
It really is an incredible title. Working off of the best elements of crafting, design, and survival, Factorio is meant to hook into a player and keep them locked into the progress. You start with nothing, and with time, gradually build back up to a full fledged rocket, while also accommodating for the world around you. Like any good sim, there are plenty of variables to consider: the landscape may have pockets of resources quite spread out, night and day and impede your vision, and there are hostile beings peppered throughout, ready to attack and consume you without hesitation. The result is a balancing act that changes focus at every junction. You first have to do a lot of the work yourself, but, as the game reveals elements to you, you need to figure out how to make the machines do the heavy lifting while you continue to innovate, create, and expand.
Factorio is most definitely a slow burn. It legitimately took me hours just to figure out some simple ideas, like quick panels, alt-mode, blueprints, and even more. Though the tutorial is very robust and is broken down across five different missions, it’s still just a fantastic amount of information to take in, much less remember. Imagine, if you will, that I was reviewing German. Not the country or the food, but the language itself, and to figure it out I was given a German to English dictionary and a couple of fun role-plays to test out my language skills.
After a few hours, I might feel pretty confident in being able to communicate…in those role-play scenarios. But if I suddenly was dropped into haggling over the price of selling my kidney to a former surgeon who now does back alley deals to fuel his miniature pony obsession, I would rightfully feel a bit out of my depth. Factorio most certainly tries to give you plenty to understand in those tutorial levels, but the fact remains is that this is a complex, labyrinthian game, and I don’t just mean in the rules.
Once you begin to work out the mathematics of it all, a sort of Zen-like calm can settle over your factory. A place for everything and everything in its place. Sometimes machines need to be in proximity to fuel each other and form a parasympathetic relationship, sometimes just the act of existing is enough to work out. Mine coal, mine iron, fetch water, chop down trees, build, build, BUILD. When the machines begin to figure it out, you find that you only need to focus on one element of the chain of command and the rest is all done for you. The variables are most likely to affect YOU, not the machines, or at least that was my experience on the easiest difficulty possible. When it all starts to come together and the automation works in earnest, the satisfaction is very, very real.
It should be noted that this experience with Factorio, though absolutely incredible to behold, is also something that needs to be separated from the PC version. For one, a keyboard and mouse cannot be used. Let me modify that: a keyboard cannot be used, a mouse can kind of, sort of be used but not very well. The renticule will disappear and reappear as it wants, and you often end up using a phantom icon that may or may not be where you’re intending.
Since the port deliberately breaks the actions between the two joysticks and buttons, the mouse doesn’t really have a purpose here. Though this is quite understandable, the keyboard function, in some capacity, would be nice for communicating with other players during multi-sessions. By the way: kudos to Wube for allowing Switch players to jump into PC games. That was very cool, totally unexpected, and could be a massive appeal for existing players who want to double dip.
That said, the porting aspect mostly extends to the controls, because everything else is very much the full PC experience. Which means the incredibly detailed, very small-texted menus and submenus are quite difficult to read on the portable screen. Notice I said difficult and not impossible. This isn’t the same path that Beamdog went down with Baldur’s Gate, and it’s on par with the Switch version of Disco Elysium. Meaning that, if you want to, it’s legible and readable with a bit of determination and focus. Additionally, with controls bound to different button combinations, it’s going to be a slower game overall. It takes more time to get from point A to point B, and there’s a massive learning curve with toggling between the menus and remembering what can be done simultaneously and what can’t.
Also, as a fully fledged PC port, this means that it comes with all the bells and whistles attached. Factorio holds incredible amounts of promise in both single player heaven for longform maps and scenarios, as well as the crafting aspect for those who want to design maps. The soundtrack, an ambient, lonely score, pulls you perfectly into the world and concept of needing to survive, to figure out the right combinations to get off this hostile rock and get back to wherever home is. The graphics are superbly handled, not just in ensuring performance but also in looking good with a wide span of zooming in and out.
You can get down to the macro level and see how each and every machine looks, or take it to the micro and observe your ant colony at work, as several, tens, hundreds of machines thrum in harmony to strip mine of the world around you. It should be some kind of dark parallel to capitalism, but instead, it’s a balancing act of stress and pressure to come up with a solution and the serious satisfaction that comes with figuring it out. This isn’t my normal gaming go-to, but the addictive properties are real, and that’s due in part to such an attention to detail and performance.
People who are deeply in love/hate with Factorio should have already made up their minds, but if you haven’t, get it. It takes a bit to get used to the interface, but it does become second nature and makes sense after a short period of time. For newcomers, really consider what the game is and what you want it to be. If you sincerely want a full fledged experience, Factorio on the Switch will get you 80% of the way there, but I can’t conceivably think that chat or keyboards can be put in the Switch version. Still, it’s got everything important, and that should be more than enough to keep the cycle going. The machines must grow, and you shall be their farmer.
While slightly muddy when zoomed in tight, the overall picture of Factorio is sharp and clean, and, most importantly, handles impressively on the Switch.
The interface is initially overwhelming, but the variety in builds, choices and designs helps to make up for the interesting mapping of mouse and keyboard to strictly console.
The sparse soundtrack is appropriately ambient, and the haunting notes help to mirror your desolate start and gradual, desperate rise to prominence.
Once the game gets its hooks in you, it’s all you can think about and all you want to do. Now having it in portable availability is exceedingly dangerous, and I’m all for it.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Factorio is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Factorio was provided by the publisher.