Surviving the Aftermath and Surviving Mars might be part of the new ‘Surviving’ franchise that Paradox Interactive are trying to kickstart, but make no mistake, these are two very different games. Thematically similar, with an emphasis on simply surviving the elements, everything else is completely different… right down to the developers!
Where Surviving Mars came from Haemimont Games, most famous for older entries in the Tropico series, Surviving the Aftermath is instead from Finnish developer Iceflake Studios. The tale of how it came to be is actually a rather interesting one, with Iceflake approaching Paradox Interactive two years ago with their concept for a survival colony builder, well before the release of Surviving Mars. With Haemimont deciding to pursue other projects and Paradox owning the IP, the publisher saw the parallels and the opportunity to found a new franchise. What could easily have been called Billy Bob’s Post Apocalyptic Settlement Sim became Surviving the Aftermath instead.
And so, from those completely different origins, you find very different gameplay to Surviving Mars. You do, however, still start off setting your difficulty level. Instead of picking a sponsor for an interstellar mission, you’re determining what happened to the world and your band of survivors. How irradiated is the environment, how fertile and warm, how many catastrophes still ravage the surface, how large is your starting band of survivors, and just how difficult do you want the outer world to be? Each step gives you three levels to choose from, letting you really tweak and customise the difficulty to be as low, high, or middling as you want. It goes from 33% at its easiest, up to 100% at its most gruelling.
Whatever you choose, you start with just a handful of resources next to a broken down shell of a car, and a bunch of now homeless survivors. You have to use that pool of starting resources quickly and effectively to get your camp up and running, building shelters out of recycled plastics, water wells, and the first resource gathering and fabrication buildings.
Immediately, you feel the difference of not having a hex-based grid to live by, as you did on Mars, and can place your buildings pretty freely on a square grid. You also don’t have to worry about domes and connecting things up, with everything working independently and the survivors simply ambling around.
Scanning your surroundings, you’ll find a procedurally generated assortment of resources and hazards. Piles of wooden boards, plastic rubbish and metal scrap heaps, crumbling remains of buildings, toxic nuclear sludge. All of them are the remains of the lost civilisation that once ruled the planet, and all but the last of them can still be repurposed to build your post-apocalyptic colony.
You’ll also want to scout out and harvest bushes of berries early on, as a simple source of food for your endlessly hungry survivors. They will quickly get gobbled up, so you need to set down roots more literally with plots of land to grow seeds, and both fishing and trapping huts for more sustainable sources of food. The farms work on a cycle, growing and then harvesting at different speeds and yields depending on what you’re growing, and you’re going to want to quickly start using any new seeds that you come across in your encounters, as they will likely be better in both the short and long term.
The initial set up for your colony can be quite fast, with the main micro-management coming from needing to set the work zone of a building. Through this, one metal scrap collector building can drain a scrap heap and then simply target the next one, if you decide that the time spent walking back and forth by workers isn’t taking too long. You have to keep tabs on this for all your collection buildings, while also making sure there’s enough people moving resources between storage buildings, which will doubtless become a little more complex once you’ve drained your immediate surroundings dry and need to build and harvest from other parts of the map.
The game really opens up once you’ve build a gate to your settlement, which seems to be conveniently located in a massive crater cut off from the rest of the world. It’s through here that people can wander up and interact, traders potentially offering you medical supplies or particular items, other survivors eager for shelter, and potentially even bandits coming to extract a pound of flesh.
You can also send out scavenger characters to scout the surrounding world, pulling your view out to a world map with an exploration mini-game to find more resources, battle bandits and uncover new technologies in the form of basic science points. It’s a strange pseudo-turn based set up, where your characters are regularly given action points with which to move, scout an area and/or interact with something. You’re regularly pinged every half day to tell you there’s action points to spend, but it almost feels like a totally separate game and can become incessant when you have more than one roaming character out of sync.
Really you want to be finding science points, as they’re what drive the state of your colony forward. Spending them in the simplistic tech tree categories unlocks better housing, improved recycling, energy generation. Given the finite resources near your settlement, these are key to your continued survival.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the disasters that once struck the planet might return. A nuclear smog can smother your budding colony within its first week, giving some of the people bravely going about their daily work radiation poisoning and requiring decent stores of iodine to save them, while meteor showers can batter and bruise your buildings, forcing you to repair those hit.
As the game takes its first steps into Epic Early Access and Xbox Game Preview, it’s understandably quite rough around the edges and not fully formed. Already on the roadmap are a colony update for next month and a world map update for December, but they’re also looking to take feedback on board from the community. I think my main worry is that there’s currently not enough depth to the systems. You can, for example, plonk down you water wells wherever you like, and regardless of whether they’re right next to a radiation swamp or the body pit for the dead, you’ll get totally A-OK 100% clean and filtered water.
So yes, it’s a bit rough and plenty to improve on, but there’s the genesis of a good survival colony builder here and I’m eager to see how it flourishes over the next year.