After being in the beta testing phase for an extremely long time, Minecraft has finally been officially released. Even before its release, Minecraft has become immensely popular with PC gamers due to the vast amount of freedom it offers players and Youtube videos of things people have used it to make, going as far as a recreation of Earth itself.
Minecraft is a difficult game to review. Unlike most games there is no specified objective, and no story. The player wakes up on an island somewhere where everything is in retro-style 8 bit graphics, albeit in 3D. The environment is made up of lego-like blocks of things such as sand, dirt or stone which the player can pick up and re-arrange into structures. This also things like trees and objects which can be found on the ground. At the start of the game, it's a good idea to build a shelter by either digging into a wall, or arranging blocks to create a building and living inside it.
There are other ways to get blocks and items. For example, punching a sheep to death may get you a block of wool. This is one of the ways in which crafting comes into the game, as certain blocks and be crafted, or combined, to create items. For example, combine wood in the right way, and boom. Wooden pickaxe. Get some eggs from chickens and some other materials, and get a cake. These items may be purely aesthetic, or they may help you out in the game. Pickaxes can be used to mine stones, getting you more material with which to build structures. Swords help you defend against hostile creatures which appear every in-game night, Pikmin-style. These monsters help make the game more interesting, and come in a number of varieties, including creepers, who look upon the solid gold castle you spent hours building with contempt as they charge into it and blow it up; zombies, who chase the player around trying to kill them, and spiders, whose sole purpose seems to be to roam around letting out a screech specifically designed to scare the crap out of anyone wearing headphones.
Minecraft's sandbox nature and wide variety of blocks and craftable items means there's a lot of scope for exploration and freedom. There is no real point to the game: just build what you like, be it a shelter with which to defend yourself, a multi-roomed castle, or a 90-feet tall, diamond statue of Snoop Dogg. There are a number of different modes in Minecraft, depending on how you want to play it. There's Survival mode, which is the standard mode in which you gather resources to buld things and fend off monsters; Hardcore mode, where the player has only one life and every hostile creature kills in a couple of attacks; and Creative mode, which gives the player unlimited blocks of all types, unlimited items of all types, and the ability to fly through the game world. It's also possible to switch off hostile creatures, in case you just want to build without worrying about dying.
I recommend Minecraft. There's no clear objective, so if you're looking for a game with increasing difficulty or a well-written story, it's not for you. For those of you who want near-endless customisation and the chance to be creative, Minecraft is ideal. Download it and see what all the hype is about.