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This Unconventional Farming Sim Puts You Behind the Wheel of a Giant Robot

Extraterrestrial agriculture.

screenshot from Lightyear Frontier
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Farming sims are everywhere these days. Countless games give players the chance to experience a cozy version of rural life, making friends with neighbors, tending to crops, and exploring unexplored planets in your tractor mech. Well, that last one may be new.

While it might seem out of place, that handy mech makes Lightyear Frontier stand out in an overcrowded genre, and you can see just how well it works now that its early access version is available on Xbox Game Pass.

As part of Xbox’s Game Preview program, Lightyear Frontier is still in development, but what’s out now is already polished enough to be satisfying for around a dozen hours. You can reach the end of the story so far quicker than that, but Lightyear Frontier does a better job than most other farming sims of encouraging players to take it slow. Paradoxically, that’s partly because it doles out upgrades so quickly.

Lightyear Frontier’s mech is an incongruous addition to a farming game that works surprisingly well.

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In some farming sims, it takes a lot of work to get from one step to another. Unlocking new recipes or parts of the map could take several in-game days of work so there’s a natural pressure to grind through that quickly to see what’s next. Lightyear Frontier takes the opposite approach. Within a few minutes of playing, you can unlock a handful of recipes, discover most of the available zones on the map, or start building your homestead. Resources are abundant, and you can access rare material without too much trouble. As a result, there’s less pressure to use every second of your time on the grind. If you take a day just to wander the wilderness and feed animals you find along the way, you’re not delaying your progress that much.

Despite trying to be cozy, a lot of farming sims end up feeling stressful, due to the need to work as fast as possible. I haven’t felt that at all with Lightyear Frontier. I spend one day working on my farm and gathering a few materials, then the next doing nothing but exploring ruins.

Lightyear Frontier starts after you crash-land on a planet that was once marked for colonization by humans, but has long since been abandoned. Scattered around the planet are mysterious ruins full of unidentifiable purple-hued technology. Exploring the ruins thoroughly grants you new recipes, but more than that, it forms a nice narrative backbone for your cozy journey. Figuring out what these ruins are for seems to be a major thrust of a plot that will be explored more in the game’s full release. For now, it’s a nice mystery to have in the back of your mind as you play.

Starting from scratch, you can build a functional farm in almost no time.

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One of your first major goals in Lightyear Frontier is cleaning up the planet. Region by region, you must remove toxic weeds and sludge to restore the ecosystem to its earlier state. It’s not made entirely clear yet why the planet is covered in goo in the first place, but it gives me some confidence that Lightyear Frontier will have interesting things to say about being a steward of the land rather than exploiting it. Like any farming sim, it does have you fundamentally altering the character of the place you’re building on and taking resources from, and that kind of unexamined fantasy of extraction can make these games feel more sinister than they intend.

These noxious environmental concerns even cause problems on your own farm. From time to time, weeds and slime will rain from the skies, and you’ll have to catch them or clean them up before they can do any damage. These threats make the world feel more reactive and add a nice challenge to break up the domestic routine. Lightyear Frontier is an entirely non-violent game, lacking even the out-of-place combat you’d find in Stardew Valley. These attacks of invasive plants are a good substitute for that, giving players a force to fight in a more abstract way without breaking the game’s theme with actual monsters.

Lightyear Frontier supports up to four players but it’s still a blast to play solo.

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Where Lightyear Frontier doesn’t quite stack up yet is on the social side. There are a few other characters to interact with so far, but their relationships are transactional. They’re present for you to trade with, but nothing else. Lightyear Frontier is expected to spend about a year in early access, so there’s still plenty of room to hope for more on that front. Until then, Lightyear Frontier also features a co-op mode so you can bring real-life friends along to your new extraterrestrial life.

Farm sims are ultimately made to be slow games played over the course of months, not hours. As an early access game, Lightyear Frontier doesn’t have that quite yet. But what it does have is a solid foundation for what might be the chillest farming sim ever. I’ve enjoyed my time exploring its beautiful alien world so far, and I’m eager to see how it grows until release and beyond.

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