Excerpt: Land on the Red Planet and establish a colony in this game for Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Date: 8/22/2018

First, the technical stuff. I played on an Xbox 1, and only encountered one glitch. When I attempted to evict a colonist, I would get a video crash about 70% of the time, so save before you to try to do some redistricting.

Overview

This is a city building game that takes after Banished more than it does Sim City. It’s concrete, not abstract. Every building costs resources and labor to construct, and the placement of each is vitally important. One tile off means something vital doesn’t fit somewhere else. Further, for a very long time each individual drone or colonist will be so precious that you’ll want to know where each is at any moment.

Later on, however, once you hit certain economies of scale, you will start to see colonists, drones, and resources as stocks and flows, much more similar to Sim City than to Banished.I was very surprised to see this transformation when I hit it.

The tech tree also has numerous, powerful technologies that are randomly distributed. If you research enough biotechnology, you’ll eventually be able to construct a huge farm. However, in some games you’ll have to research five or six biotechnologies before it unlocks, in others farms will be the first available biotechnology. This randomization, in addition to the randomized map and randomized quests, ensures that every game is a different experience and that there is never a “correct” way to build your colony.

This game is very deep, there’s so many things to fiddle with that an optimization gamer like myself will always find something to tweak or improve. However, I was surprised at how easy the game was to learn, despite its complexity. I think that’s a function of the pacing, in order to introduce complexity, you need to build that particular thing or start landing colonists. You can get along quite well with basic things for a very long time.

I would like to point out that this is a very slow paced game. I spent 20 hours before I felt like I really knew what I was doing, and then I restarted, spending about 100 hours on a colony that I felt like I didn’t screw up horribly.

Gameplay

The game starts when your map area is revealed to you. Some are fairly flat with craters, others have a giant jagged cliff that separates two very flat areas. The game seems to try to generate maps with the correct ratio of buildable to nonbuildable terrain. I made it generate ten and never came up with a map that had either in extreme.

The map will be divided into sectors, I believe 81 in total. One sector will have a surface scan already performed, and in my experience that was usually the most resource rich sector. However, it wasn’t always resources that were immediately useful. You’ll have some probes which you can use to instantly scan a few more sectors, but at some point you’ll need to land your rocket.

The rocket will contain some drones and three different kinds of rovers. Drones can do basic tasks in their command radius, including harvesting surface resources, building structures, and repairing them. Your Command rover will be able to pack up some drones and move them to any point on the map. Your Transport rover will be able to haul material around in a similar way. The Explorer provides some passive research and can investigate anomalies for all sorts of bonuses.

However, as soon as the game starts, there’s a game over timer ticking. Your sponsor sent the rocket for a reason, and they’re expecting results. Some of them want to see you research technologies, others want a certain population goal, and another group just wants you to export rare metals. Fail to meet your deadline, and your game ends. That’s not the only deadline, your rovers are burning their batteries and you’ll need to construct a power source for them. Once you’ve built it, you’ll need to maintain it, and there’s only so much surface metal. In order to build a metal extractor to mine metal from underground, you’ll need colonists, who will need food, water, and air. That will require extractors for various resources and processing to get them in the right forms, which all requires power. However, every raw resource on Mars is finite, and even once you get your metal extractor operational, it’s only good for 1,000 units of metal at most. You’ll need to set up a similar operation elsewhere, until that deposit runs out. Only when you’ve constructed the MOHOLE wonder, an automated mine that sifts the mantle of Mars for resources. That’s the only infinite source of materials.

Once you’ve finally reached that point, you won’t have any further time constraints and you’ll be able to do what you’d like and grow as you’d like. The whole game shifts focus from a frantic balancing act to a very peaceful city builder. I know I felt a weight lift when I realized that I could start experimenting, that there was no further existential threat.

Thematic elements

This game has a lot of character just below the surface. For starters, there’s the radio stations. You’ll start out listening to Surviving Mars Radio, which has a lot of relaxed focusing music with some upbeat songs. However, you can also listen to the Red Frontier, Free Earth Radio, and Mars Official Radio, each with a DJ with a particular perspective. If you don’t like any of those options, you can turn the radio off. Further, the technologies have little quotes from movies and famous people that can be either uplifting, dystopian, or downright funny.

Conclusion

This is a very good, interesting, and engaging city building game. As with the rest of its genre, it takes a long time to fully understand it, but once you do, the randomized elements may make it so you never need another game in the genre.

 

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