Humanity’s spread into outer space is fraught with dangers to overcome. There’s the seeming impossibility of propelling ourselves through space in the first place, the air, food, water and other resources needed to survive travel to our closest neighbour, let alone whole other star systems, and then there is, of course, the planet that we visit with the hopes of colonising a new world that’s (fingers crossed) even vaguely hospitable to human life. It’s this final stage that Aven Colony is all about.
Humanity’s first ventures down to Aven Prime, with the colony ship up in space waiting for various beachheads to spring up, are relatively easy going. Most of the work is done by drones that build the hermetically sealed tunnels, the air intakes and filters, habitation, mines, and plenty more, creating the structures in while we could potentially thrive. Yet there’s something a little more mysterious at play here.
There’s a lot to manage – you need to be aware of the oxygen levels, food, water, morale, and so on – but it’s fairly easy to pick up and play once you’ve become accustomed to the controls. On PC it’s as expected with mouse and keyboard, but Aven Colony is also out on consoles and has to adapt to playing on the controller.
Helping to introduce you to the various elements at the tips of your thumbs, the single player campaign occasionally has characters pop up to discuss various developments and request certain things from you. It doesn’t take long before the unexpected occurs, with both ancient and new alien life, from giant fire spitting worms to deadly floating spores, and that’s in addition to the expected dangers of the ferocious lightning storms and the bitterly cold winters that reduce your food and energy generation.
It takes you to a number of different biomes as the story unfolds, asking you build up a new colony in each, but it can be a little too easy to gloss over what the main objective is when you’re being handed a string of objective designed to help you build your colony correctly. Of course, you can always head to Sandbox Mode and play without being led by the nose.
With the city being built on a rigid grid, with all buildings being square, bolting your colony together is fast and efficient. You don’t have quite as much leeway to create a dream city as in more traditional city builders, but the plus side is the immediacy that you get and a much easier jump to playing the game on console.
However, the user interface has a few quirks and minor issues on console. Zooming in and out is handled on the shoulder buttons, but these often stop working when navigating the menus, which hampers the ease with which you can use the info displays. Camera control also annoyed me when selecting a building to place and having the camera pulled in close, only for a minor bug forcing me to zoom in before I could zoom out again and get a better overview. Neither of these issues are really present on PC, but all platforms share the issue of construction often bringing up a relevant overlay, which actually makes it more difficult to see where you want to place it, as it obscures the tunnels and buildings that you bolt onto the side of.
A little more fundamentally, it’s easy to feel like you’re reaching the kind of end game of your colony’s creation, and you start to struggle with the growing pains of doing so. I kept on butting into the limits of my resource storage, as all manner of crops, traded items, water, and Nanite building blocks clog up a single pool of storage space. On several occasions I’ve been caught out by this, as a temporary drain of water or mass construction spree saw the space I cleared instantly turned over to barley, wheat, and various alien crops. It would be far better to either have separate storage space or let players impose limits on resource types.
There’s just a feeling that some elements in the game haven’t been fully fleshed out. Buildings can be upgraded to the next level as soon as they’ve been created, you can simply set your Reasearch Centre to research every available technology in one go, trading is limited to prescribed deals, missions often boil down to simply hitting the next minor milestone, and the Expeditions that let you send a jet to perform missions in the wider world could all have been handled somewhat differently or broadened in scope. One neat trick, however, is that you can switch to a CCTV view and click on individual inhabitants to see their diet and what’s bothering them
It’s a tradeoff, of course, between pick up and play city building and having the depth to satisfy city builder fans, with Aven Colony hedging towards the former, even if careless play can see you fighting to survive a sticky situation. Mothership plan to continue adding to the game over time though, so this may well be the first step to something grander and more involving.
The first impressions of Aven Colony are great, as you build your first colony, finding your way on this alien world. It doesn’t take too long before you start to see the limitations, whether by design or by mistake, leaving this as a city builder that’s easy to pick up and play, but one that could do with a little more depth.
Versions tested: PS4, PC
Reviewed with input from Jonathan ‘yogdog’ Brown