A futuristic city sim where you’re in-charge of building and maintaining a human colony on an alien planet. Where, in addition to mining for resources and building solar power stations you also need to deal with strange local weather, atmospheric interference, a climate that can change
in an instant, and crazy-alien florae and faunae. We’re talking giant sandworms, a strange new ore that starts with the letter ‘z’ that can power an entire city, and plants than can be combined with corn syrup to create a delicious ‘sedative’. In other words, a classic sci-fi sim experience.
Aven Colony, which is all the above, kind of snuck up on us with just how good it is -- even in preview form. Out later this month for both PC and console, the attention to detail, great strategy and sim mechanics and all-round polish help make this one of the best city sim games we’ve played since, well, Cities: Skylines.
Yeah, big call. But one that we’re sticking with. And best of all, it plays surprisingly well on console too – with a smooth framerate and intuitive controller support.
Dawn of the Planet of the Optimist
Right off the bat one of the great things about Aven Colony is that there is no real reference to any war, or for that matter -- any sort of futuristic space colonel or space marine army. Instead it presents both an optimistic and realistic version of humanity, one where interstellar travel means that the colonial spirit which today has humanity looking to Mars, leads us to distant stars and strange new planets in the future. A time where how we survive, as a species, comes down to the symbiotic relationship between our ability to adapt to just about any living situation and our need for advanced technology. Like SimCity before it, Aven Colony is all about human achievement. And disasters in the form of monsters.
In Aven Colony, robots will not only construct new buildings and walkways and farms and mining facilities, they’ll also act as law enforcement. Human scientists will spend the time to research local plant-life to figure out if it can be turned into some form of bread, drink, or nutrient-based item. Where, being able to sustain life is the starting point, and freedom of choice, lifestyle, and entertainment in the form of VR centres soon become priorities for maintaining or retaining any semblance of a real society. Aven Colony’s foundation is solid, and from a science-fiction standpoint presents one of the most interesting strategy/sim premises in a while.
In terms of mechanics and comparisons to other sims you might draw parallels between Aven Colony and stuff like Tropico, Anno, or Cities: Skylines. That it manages to surprise and feel like its own thing whilst drawing from a few decades of city sims to build its systems upon, helps elevate the overall experience. Also, the focus on objective driven scenarios that begin on more hospitable planets before moving onto the harsher stuff is great too. With elements of narrative popping up often enough to instil the notion that you’re in charge of building a real colony on an alien world.
Winter is Coming…
Perhaps one of the more interesting features of Aven Colony is the dynamic time mechanics that progress through different seasons. Farms won’t grow any crops during winter, and greenhouses will only be able to produce stuff like broccoli, corn, wheat, and weird purple alien flowers at half capacity. This means there’s the element of survival that feels more than just building silos and warehouses to store all those excess numbers – you’ll need to ensure that you have enough food and water to see you through the winter. The same goes for power, especially if you lean in the direction of solar. So, building batteries to store excess power for later use is the sort of thinking that can save you from a truly harsh winter. And a few space credits – or, nanites.
This leads to being able to implement different policies from food rationing to forced labour, right down to changing a buildings priority level to ensure that it has the right number of workers to run at full capacity. Add in weather that ranges from peaceful to wild, you can also rely on power-hungry canons to fend off debris one minute to using a large lightning tower to capture energy during an electrical storm the next.
Survival plays an important role early on in Aven Colony, and as your colony expands so do the threats. Including a sort of alien zombie virus that arrives in the form of a StarCraft Zerg-like Overlord that spreads ‘Creep’ through your colony’s air quality system.
Come on, Cohaagen, You Got What You Want. Give These People Air!
For anyone who’s seen the movie Total Recall, and that’s the original 1990 classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’d, err, recall that the Mars colony we saw in the film was clearly divided into classes. With the poorest labourers left to rot in districts with air so shoddy that they mutate with alien-like deformities and psychic abilities. And sometimes, into star attractions at the local space gin-joint thanks to an extra breast. Anyway, the point is that setting up a mining district in Aven Colony and then situating some housing among all the space-age industrialisation, can lead to a similar ‘dirty air’ situation.
One that you can choose to ignore, or tackle head on. Same goes for your population’s happiness, do you manufacture happy pills or build space parks and retail centres and places where they can get their VR on. Disease, crime, happiness, commute times, infestation rates, food production, power consumption, and so forth. After a few hours of strict survival that foregoes the luxury of fancy foods like bread, Aven Colony does enter the realm of pure management that you’d might find in other city-sims. And it’s at this point where the scenarios begin to become more open ended and the overall experience feel somewhat familiar, if still solid.
And just when you think the game has hit its groove Expeditions open-up that let you explore your surroundings in fun and meaningful ways, including sorting out alien spore nests, dealing with colonists that have decided to break out and go it alone, and one of our favourite sci-fi things ever – answering the call of mysterious distress signals.
Fans of sci-fi and city-sims would be wise to keep an eye out for Aven Colony, which launches July 25 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. For this preview, we played the game on both PC and Xbox One with codes supplied by the publisher and were impressed with how solid the experience was across both platforms. Naturally the PC version looks better and mouse control is the sim genre -- but, Aven Colony plays surprisingly great with a controller too.