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Colonising The Red Planet In Surviving Mars

The Martians

A few years ago the city builder genre was ripe for the taking, as Paradox learnt with the staggering success of Cities: Skylines. However, Colossal Order’s take on this management sim is only one possible interpretation, and just as Paradox’s grand strategy titles span different eras, settings and themes, so too can city builders. Haemimont Games are probably best known for the Tropico series, with the dictatorial machinations of running a banana republic front and centre with a wry sense of humour. Partnering up with Paradox, Surviving Mars is something else entirely.

Perhaps most interesting about this is that, despite the jokey nature of the announcement trailer, Surviving Mars is a more serious game, homing in on the rather realistic challenges that a potential colony on the red planet might face. There’s a degree of realism to how you start the game, first picking a mission sponsor, what you want to take with you, pick a landing site and then send your rocket blasting off to our neighbour.

It’s those shipments that will largely come to determine how easy or difficult the game is. Pick a sponsor with few resources – fingers crossed for a Tropico-Esque banana republic as an option – and then fritter that away on packing the wrong resources, and you could be up a creek without a rocket home.

Sensibly, there won’t be any people on this first rocket. The latest plans and thinking behind a colony on Mars is that our own arrival will be preceded by robots, turning up to do the early work and make sure it’s not an unsustainable one way trip. To that end, the early game sees you marshalling your drones around the red surface to build solar panels for power, drone hubs for more workers, water drilling operations, machines to turn the Martian surface into cement-like building materials, and habitable domes for the eventual volunteers to live in.

It hopefully won’t be too long before you can send your reusable rocket back to Earth to pick up some colonists, but that round trip takes a long time. Much like in reality, there will only be a handful of windows during which Earth and Mars are close enough to make the journey a reasonable length, and even then that will be hundreds of days. You’re stranded and alone, in other words, with any help a long, long way away. There’s no quick and easy way to get an instant loan to fix a base problem, and you ultimately want to achieve independence and sustainability without rocket shipments.

There’s a pleasing art style to the game, taking inspiration from classic 60s and 70s science fiction. It’s not in your face, but as buildings go up, there’s a retro-futurism to their design that gives the game an almost fun and playful look when you zoom in. It’s one element absolutely not dictated by the rigours of realism, just as the presence of windmills as a viable power source might also be questionable.

Within these domes, you’ll try to build a small and burgeoning community, with each person having certain personality traits – you might like to bundle all the outgoing types under one particular dome because of this. There’s also both physical and mental health, which can both drop if you make poor decisions or something goes wrong. If people are deprived of oxygen, for example, it could lead to permanent brain damage, even if you manage to save them physically. Since these are all volunteers, if they’re not happy on Mars, they could simply book a ticket and head home on the next rocket.

Behind all of this, there will actually be a mystery to uncover, though it’s not the main aim of the game. As a new and alien world, there’s still an awful lot we don’t know about Mars, and some rather unusual things could come to affect your colony. I’m not expecting little green men to pop out from behind the rocks and attack, but it would be nice to see them stuff it with a few different mysteries to make replaying the game more interesting and varied.

However, Haemimont are staying away from creating Tropico-style scenarios. The challenges you face are the ones you set yourself, but personally I feel that’s a missed opportunity. As we’ve seen with Cities: Skylines, having scenarios to tackle can give an added impetus and purpose when playing the game.

Of course, there’s always the possibility for that to be added down the line, even in a rudimentary manner that Steam Workshop support will allow for. With a release not planned until 2018 – this was a very early build we saw – it’s really too soon to talk about the support after release, but Haemimont are keen to keep the game up to date with the latest theories and ideas over the coming years. You’d have to assume that this would tie into a rather Paradox-like (paradoxical?) DLC plan.

It might be on a much smaller scale to the cities of Cities: Skylines and lacking some of the humour of Tropico, but that just means Surviving Mars can stand as it’s own peculiar take on the city builder. I must say, though, I like the idea of playing something a little bit different, a little… out of this world.

One Comment
  1. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    I quite like the sound of this, especially if they make it relatively realistic.

    Comment posted on 17/05/2017 at 15:46.

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