If you’ve ever thought about colonising a new world and perpetuating the human race beyond our galaxy, then there just might be a game for you in your local digital store. Aven Colony comes from Mothership, is published by Team 17, and puts you in the shoes of a hot shot administrator tasked with building up new homes, jobs and lives for people making an exceptionally long distance journey. Given there are numerous city creation and management sims available, does this once have enough point of difference to keep you entertained?
You’re not going it alone in this endeavour though. Any self respecting city planner won’t get started without his trusty advisors, and they’re on hand at all hours to guide you through the highs and lows of your new settlement. Starting with some basic tutorials on how to manage the camera and menus, you’re pretty quickly into your first mission to setup a nice simple colony in a quiet and resource abundant area. It ramps the difficulty level up at a nice sedate pace giving you ample time to get to grips with the variety of different scenarios you need to manage. Power, food and water are key to the survival and growth of your community, but will only take you so far. Increasing your population needs immigration from other colonies or the mothership sitting in orbit, and then you need to have employment to keep them occupied, plus entertainment to balance the morale levels and keep everything productive. It starts off slow and steady in the early missions and introduces new mechanics and capabilities at a decent rate, whilst tying them into an underlying story that gives you motivation and reason to move into new environments.
Like the Tropico series, that persistent story enables a linking element that gives reason for shifting from luscious grasslands to arid desert and then on to frozen tundra; each providing a unique challenge to contend with aside from whatever scenario you’ve been asked to complete as colony overseer. Resurrecting a failing colony, rescuing evacuees or recovering alien artifacts all come up, and whilst each settlement development is fairly similar, reacting to the specific requirements to claim victory can be quite tricky, especially on the higher difficulty levels. With you being based out in the nether regions of space, currency is not really an issue, so your main resource are nanites – the 3D printing building blocks of everything construction. It works well as a cash replacement and strangely feels more tangible than just having enough to spend on a new structure. Nanites can be created or earned and how quickly you generate them depends on the available ores you’re mining and how many processors you decide to put up. In most scenarios you’re busy watching all the other gauges on food, water and happiness, as well as figuring out where you need to extend your colony, but every now and then there’s one that needs you to throw up buildings all over the place and you find yourself speeding up time to get the resources in place.
Fortunately in Aven Colony whilst there’s lots of data to manage, it’s all broken down simply and it’s very easy to understand. A problem inherent in this type of strategy game is usually the infinite detail you have at hand to make decisions which leaves you spending more time looking at charts instead of managing a situation. That’s in here as well, but is shunted off to one side and hidden away in multilayered menus. Instead, every useful stat for keeping it all running smoothly is shown across the bottom of the screen which can also be selected for some highlight details when you need a bit of guidance on focussing your efforts. Couple this with the constant notifications of what’s going right and wrong, and there’s very rarely a need to get into the minutiae if you don’t want to. The only thing that really could do with a bit more flagging up is when the crises happen. Who can enjoy their impeccably laid out settlement without the odd bit of jeopardy? Most times it’s the environment and alien life to contend with – lightning strikes, extreme cold and dark in the winter cutting power, plague infestations, spores attacking buildings… there’s quite a variety. As expected, each has a specific way of being dealt with, and whatever speed you’re playing at gets pulled down to the slowest when an event happens so you can deal with it, but sometimes it feels like it’s pretty unavoidable despite any of your preventative measures. That is until you build an expedition centre.
A refreshing addition that takes you away from a humdrum crop growing existence, an expedition centre allows you to have a ship that you can send out into the local area exploring the terrain and what it has to offer. It reminded me of the companion app for Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag where you sent ships out to complete tasks; this lets you pick a point on a map and find out what’s going on. Extra rewards come in from successfully earning a commendation, and you can reduce the amount of plague and spore attacks by taking out the nearby nests. Being able to deploy multiple ships at once if you decide to construct more than one expedition centre makes for faster clearing of the fogged over exploration map too. I also really liked the interplay between your advisors and the not-at-all subtle parodies of social media. With a narrative ongoing, the same people crop up and give each other grief for the mistakes they’ve made and provide some much needed character in a genre that typically is quite dry.
There’s nothing earth shattering about the looks or the audio of Aven Colony, it does the job it needs to with only the occasional slowdown for intensive sunrises, but what it does have is detailed well. Some of the structures are a bit samey, so picking out ventilation from solar panels if you’re seeing them top down can be tricky, though a quick select on the item gives you everything you need to know. It’s a solid and functional game that seems to have really thought about the platforms it’s on and how to maintain interesting gameplay as well as accessible controls. Each scenario is different enough to make you want to play them again, and with the sandbox mode for each area you can spend as much time as you want building your legacy with the constraints and restrictions set to your liking. If you’re a fan of the genre then this is definitely worth picking up and spending some time with, though it might leave you wanting more levels by the time you get to the end.
A PS4 review copy of Aven Colony was provided by the Team 17 PR team, and the game is out now for PS4, PC and Xbox One at around £25.