The absolute last thing I want to do when landing on a beautifully unspoilt, lush and exotic alien planet is build a clunking, grey, smog-spewing factory. But that's what Satisfactory makes you do, that's what it's about, and it's both horrid and inspired.
You work for a company called FICSIT but you don't know much about it. All you really know are your orders: land in your drop pod, disassemble it using a kind of futuristic supermarket barcode scanner, then begin building your factory. No questions thank you. Do as you're told. And you will. You will because it's the game and you want to succeed at it.
You find your copper vein and mine it, then cobble together the other materials you need to build your all-important hub. It's a bit like your crafting bench in Minecraft (but there are other benches for parts and equipment). It takes no time at all. It takes no time at all to do much in Satisfactory. Harvesting and production are streamlined and unfussy. It's very satisfying - very, um, satisfactory.
Where the time-consuming part comes is in sourcing raw materials to feed your machine. You have to go into the wilds to find these, and it's a masterstroke. You don't have to go far, it's not as though you're wandering around blindly for ages - your barcode scanner pings locations on your compass which are only usually a few hundred meters away. But what it does is force you to look up, to pull your face out of build-queues and to-do lists, and do something else. It forces you to take a break from your job and go outside. The effect is as profound as it sounds.
As you run, you cannot help but take in the beautiful world around you and sink into its natural calm. You'll come across beasties, some aggressive, some ponderous, and you'll see strange plants with minds of their own. You'll see things you haven't seen before. And, naturally, you'll begin to wonder if what you're doing to their world is right.
There are few things more jarring than cresting a hill upon your return, only to see your industrial stain on the land sprawl before you. What you build at the beginning might look quaint - a few shipping-container-sized buildings here and there - but what developer Coffee Stain showed me in a demo, of a factory roughly 40 hours in the building, was a different matter. It was fully the size of a city - ginormous - with hulking, multi-level hangars dominating the landscape, conveyors snaked between them like motorways, and chimneys clustered like trees in a forest, belching out their smoggy canopy. The player needed a jetpack just to get around (the decision to make Satisfactory first-person does wonders for the sense of scale).
It was disgusting; it was beautiful. Satisfactory constantly walks a tightrope across your conscience. On the one hand, here is your technical marvel, the thing you've been told to build, and you croon over it in the same way a watchmaker does a masterwork piece. You see every cog, every process you've now automated, all hunking and clunking in perfect industrial harmony. On the other hand, you're reminded what you're doing is horrible. There's an alien bug: research and harvest it. There's an alien creature: stun-gun it. There's a weird and wonderful plant: chop it down. Exploitation at every turn.
But it's not overbearing. There's no environmental preaching. Rather, there's a joviality running through Satisfactory, a kind of Portal-ly humour. The robotty supervisor voice in your ear is reminiscent of GlaDOS, come to think of it, and there's evidently more to your company FICSIT than meets the eye... The actual gameplay implications of your building on the environment are slim-to-non-existent, because really, Satisfactory is a game about building and honing an enormous factory, not a game about environmentalism. The gnawing feeling inside comes from your imagination. It's a backdrop to the game.
Which makes it all the more marvellous, as far as I'm concerned. Coffee Stain could have set Satisfactory anywhere and it would still be a well-oiled, compelling building game. But by setting it on an alien world, Coffee Stain has given it so much more. It's given it a sense of intrigue, awe and wonder, and it's given it a conscience. It asks: how long until your pursuit of bigger and better overrules your compassion for the world around you? Hell of a question.