Running an off-world colony is hard. It was all going so well until the Creeps arrived. My mines were productive, my colonists happy, drones flitting around keeping the place standing, and I was even gearing up to build a giant museum dedicated to the Earth we’d left behind. And then, in an instant, due to one minor oversight, everything went to hell.
They hit the furthest reaches of the colony at first, but worked fast. Farms fell, tunnels collapsed, sealing off the geothermal plants and reduced my power generation too much to support the rest of the base. I’d forgotten to add the scrubber drones that hold back the Creeps at this end of the base, and with my nanite production now too slow, I didn’t have enough to build up any useful defence. With half of my colony now devastated, getting things back on track was going to be an utter nightmare. Instead, I decided to start the mission again, building up the colony sturdier and more Creep-proof than ever. And I loved every second of it.
Aven Colony tasks you with building up the first colonies on a new, unusual and alien planet. It’s a tough task, as each location comes with its own levels of arable land for farming and mineral resources for expansion. Balancing keeping your colony happy and provided for with trading your surplus with other settlements is paramount.
Balancing keeping your colony happy and provided for with trading your surplus with other settlements is paramount.
When it comes to city sims, I’ll usually do the few tutorial missions to get to grips with the systems, and then drop the story completely and head straight for the sandbox. Aven Colony is the first time I’ve ever been engrossed by a city builder’s story, and I can’t wait to uncover more of it. It’s an interesting tale of the planet’s former inhabitants, told using a cast of surprisingly complex characters who also function as your various advisers. Hours in and I haven’t even touched the sandbox, I just want to learn more about this world I’m striding out across with a crew of genuinely likeable allies.
Each mission pushes the systems of the game to their absolute limit in interesting, creative ways.
It helps that each mission pushes the systems of the game to their absolute limit in interesting, creative ways; some missions will require you to build a city in a frozen tundra where farms are worthless, while others may make you much more frugal in your building construction due to a lack of mineral resources. The goals are also more than just “raise citizen happiness to X” or “raise X funds”, requiring you to hunt out alien artifacts, rescue allies, and confront rebel groups.
While most games in the genre offer expansion as simultaneously a soft goal and reward, Aven Colony manages to make expanding an essential, terrifying race against time. The maps may require you to spread yourself thinly in the pursuit of precious resources, but then also require everything be protected, clean and peaceful for the colonists, at the cost of the resources you’ve just gained. It really nails the anxiety-ridden, yet also weirdly optimistic, feeling of sci-fi off-world colonies; getting bigger and boldly venturing forth is exciting, but it also makes you much more vulnerable to the bizarre alien world you’re taking up space on.
Unfortunately, that relentless expansion can be marred by a few irritating, but not usually game-breaking, bugs. Recycling buildings often doesn’t seem to return the materials it promises, making culling superfluous structures during moments when you’re a bit tight utterly pointless. On a standard PlayStation 4 (no PS4 Pro optimisations are available as of launch), the game also slows to a crawl once the city is at a certain size, requiring me to pause the game entirely to access essential menus.
That relentless expansion can be marred by a few irritating, but not usually game-breaking, bugs.
These problems are exacerbated by difficulties in how the game communicates with the player. Many issues that arise in your colony come with a warning on the right side of the screen. Sometimes they’ll not give you much of a hint into how much needs to be done to rectify the problem, as is the case when air quality dips, while other times you’ll be treated to a relentless spamming of alerts as problems affect clusters of buildings, like when the Creeps attack. Having constant alerts for things you either are unable to fix at that exact moment, or struggling to fix to an adequate level, can be immensely annoying.
I never once wished I was playing with a mouse and keyboard.
On the plus side, the game works surprisingly well with gamepads. City Sims are often considered a more mouse-and-keyboard-reliant genre, but controlling and building my colonies with DualShock 4 was simple, smooth, and not at all awkward, especially once I’d learned the radial menus. I only chose to play the game on PlayStation 4 because I was mostly laid up in bed while playing, yet I never once wished I was playing with a mouse and keyboard instead.
Aven Colony is a fantastic city simulator. It isn’t as economically complex as Anno, and it isn’t as obsessed with micromanaging as Cities Skylines, but it does offer a gripping story mode – a rarity for the genre – and a compelling twist on the usual expansionist mechanics that combines Star Trek-style optimism of exploration with the ruthless, survivalist reality of The Martian.
It’s a city sim, Jim, but not as we know it.
A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PlayStation 4 [reviewed]/Xbox One/PC
Developer/Publisher: Mothership Entertainment/Team 17
Release date: July 25, 2017
- Fantastic story mode.
- Tense, cautious city expansion fueled by survival instead of greed.
- Slick console controls.
- Maybe too simple compared to leaders in the genre.
- A few bugs and performance problems.
- Irritating alert system.
While it’s very simplified compared to other city sims, Aven Colony gives a great story mode and tense construction that puts an interesting twist on the genre.