Lightyear Frontier isn’t the Stardew Valley clone we expected

There’s no escaping the influence of Stardew Valley on Lightyear Frontier – it’s a wholesome and ebuliant game about farming, after all – but after half an hour of hands-on reaping and sowing there’s a clear difference, and it’s not the mech.

This is a homesteader’s game, albeit one in which the lone settler is commanding a giant mech that looks more suited to destroying than creating. There’s not a rundown town to restore and you won’t find anyone around to befriend – it’s just you, your mech, and a planet to cultivate.

The process of cultivating is pretty straightforward. You build some planting beds, collect seeds from some of the local flora, and then stick those seeds in the ground and give them a generous drink of water. It’s basic stuff, horticulture for dummies, but the fact that you’re doing it from the cockpit of an unwieldy, rumbling mech adds a dash of slapstick sweetness.

Collecting materials, for example, involves waving a ridiculous vacuum around the environment and watching as entire corn cobs, small boulders, and gallons of water flood into your inventory and automatically sort themselves out into tidy resource pools. You plant new crops by blasting them into the soil from a cannon and water them by carefully arcing high-pressure jets of water, and if you want to get around faster you can click a button to transform your plodding power walker into a tank with rocket boosters.

All that gardening firepower does speed things up. The process of planting and maintaining a seed bed in most farming sims involves dozens of repetitive steps, but in Lightyear Frontier you can tend to a whole seed bed in a couple of swift, fluid motions.

So, fast farming, no townsfolk haranguing you with chores – what are you supposed to do with all that spare time? Just beyond the starting area there’s an open meadow with several paths branching out towards new biomes. I can’t explore any further than the Edenic meadow in the Gamesom build of Lightyear Frontier, but it seems like you’ll be spending as much time farming as uncovering new areas and analysing the resources you find there. When you return to your homestead you can plant whatever’s new, build some fresh machinery, and use newly harvested materials to upgrade your mech with new tools that’ll let you explore further.

Lightyear Frontier not like Stardew Valley: first-person view from the cockpit of a giant mech that's been retrofitted for farming

And you’ll want to explore further, because the planet you’re isolated on is a gorgeous, instantly soothing alien idyll. It’s familiar enough that there are still trees and streams and verdant swathes of grass, but foreign enough to feel a bit fantastical. Basic crops are bejewelled with luminescent fruits, massive clusters of gemstones dot cliffsides, and canopies boast vibrant splashes of pink, purple, and yellow. The soft-edged, cartoon art style ensures the world always feels friendly and tranquil.

And that’s the feeling Lightyear Frontier leaves you with. Despite trampling around in a mech that could have served Ellen Ripley in a previous life, your relationship with this planet isn’t about tearing things down and pulling things up. Your job isn’t to pave the way for an urban settlement, you’re just carving out a little life for yourself, working with whatever the planet provides, and learning more about your new home as the days gently pass you by.

Early Access is set to launch in spring 2023, but if you’re hungry for more farming sims then check out our lists of the best games like Stardew Valley, life games, and farming games on PC. There’s a lot of virtual growing to be done before Lightyear Frontier arrives on Steam.

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