Traveling to distant stars and the great beyond while discovering new habitable planets has been a huge goal for scientists for quite some time. Sure, the future we see in movies is slowly catching up. However we must continue to imagine with platforms such as movies and video games. Traveling to the nearest planet, Mars, seems logical and in the past it seemed somewhat appealing. But lately with new discoveries of the surface, it seems less likely to be habitable.
The struggle is, you’d have to be used to living an indoor only life and rely on artificial life support systems. People are getting used to being indoors already with underground shopping complexes and pathways, subway systems, malls and pathways connecting apartments to various retail locations or travel to work. Not only is it a convenience but it’s sometimes necessary with the climate of today. This is all very relatable in Aven Colony. In fact with technology presented in Aven Colony, it may be possible even if viewed as futuristic at first.
Aven Colony is a game that allows you to explore a planet named Aven Prime which is located many light years beyond earth. You are the commander of the first colonization of humanity on an alien planet. Along the way you learn to live amongst harsh climates, discover new and widely exciting locations, creatures, alien artifacts and even defend against alien spores.
The story mode is comprised of 9 scenarios in which you travel to 9 discovery locations with various climates and challenges. Each providing a grand new landscape with beautiful vistas, harsh terrain that limits food production, lightning storms, prime research components and so on. And through it all, the citizens seem to live on in the safety of their enclosed structures and pathways.
Each scenario starts with a base of operations. They contain your life pod that holds a few of the first colonists, oxygen units, solar panels and sometimes a few other structures. From their, you are immediately given instructions, if you so desire to follow them, to build vital structures for resources and to progress the story with main quest missions. Nanites are used as currency and early on a valuable resource that can be hard to come by. Generally nanites are rewarded from completing tasks, but sometimes easily created by creating mines that collect iron and nanite processors that process the mineral to nanite.
Speaking of the indoor system that has been proposed for Mars, Aven Colony allows you to build tunnels that support oxygen and allow enclosed paths for citizens to travel around the colony. Conveniently, they also transport goods, such as food, electricity and water. It is great that it is all combined instead of separate power lines for instance or water pipes. If you build a structure, chances are civilians need to get to it so might as well make it all as one. Very efficient for starting in a new habitable planet.
With any of these sorts of games, you should only build when there is a demand for something and you feel you can spare a few extra resources. I tend to rush these games as I anticipate a demand later, or I envision a layout that I want immediately. This quickly becomes a problem. I ended up building too many outposts anticipating quick future growth for workers in certain areas however people were confused and struggling to get to work and I only had a fraction of the capacity of citizens I could hold. So I recycled the outposts and built new paths to work structures and everything corrected itself until I immigrated more people to accommodate new citizens. It’s a balance you must always maintain.
Overlays are immensely key for balancing your tasks and colony growth. Upon bringing up the overlays panel, you can quickly see areas where citizens are happy or not, areas with good air quality, fertile land for farming, crime rates, housing, and suitable water pump locations. Once I realized how to properly use them, I quickly understand when and where to place structures for maximum efficiency.
Efficiency is key for keeping a happy colony and growing a large colony, but additionally, the controls you use need to be efficient. Luckily, the keyboard and mouse setup is very efficient with speed ramps mapped to the number keys above and the mouse for camera controls. Function keys switch between overlays but it can get tricky when you get further down the list as you must use a modifier key as well. I found it best to use the UI here as it displays graphics of what you want to view.
The UI is well designed with a bar at the bottom for all your key functions such as food, storage, water, power, citizen count/happiness, and nanites as well as the length of the season. New tasks and notifications pop up on the right hand side and are unobtrusive.
The structures available to build live at the bottom of the UI. I won’t go in to full detail of all the structures, but you start with basic structures and can upgrade them once placed and you have enough resources. Once you have one of a particular structure, you can start by placing a level 2 or 3 structure right away instead of having to wait to upgrade. Power can vary from windmills and solar panels to Geothermal vents and energy batteries. The later which is charged by harnessing lightning strikes during the winter seasons with lightning towers. Also with geothermal vents, you must ensure proper air quality so be sure to check the overlays and place many air vents around your colony.
There are various drones at your disposal but the important drones are the construction drones which are used to build everything, repair and collect nearby cargo pods. You must create multiple construction pods as your progress to increase your construction radius. Additional drones are scrubber drones and police drones.
Another very important resource to manage is food. This can be a tricky one to manage because sometimes you come across a location that does not have any fertile land you must rely on your trade center to bring in food or to research the local aliens plants that are edible and grow them. Additionally, winter posses a challenge in that a regular farm will not produce food and a greenhouse will produce only 50%. Other challenges include minimal water availability and shard storms that reduce the integrity of your buildings. Alien spores also pose a big threat from time to time as they latch on to your structures and reduce integrity of buildings and can release toxic gas that kills citizens. Turrets are available as are the scrubber drones to fend off these creatures.
A really exciting aspect was when I first unlocked the expedition panel. It may not seem like much as it is just a map where you can pick various “pins” to send your expedition team out to explore, or rescue or retrieve items, but it can be a valuable tool for gaining additional resources and just fun to think of a team exploring an unknown alien planet. Of course, it is also used to progress story missions so it is exciting to hear of all the discoveries when the team reports back.
Referendums are important moments in a scenario when citizens vote to keep them as their commander or boot you out causing you to lose the mission. Maintaining that balance I mentioned earlier and keeping citizens happy will result in an easy electoral win and will reward you with new commendations and policies to use. By completing all scenarios, you become the Expedition President.
I was so engrossed in the scenarios and expanding them beyond the victory screen that I spent little time in the sandbox mode, but I know that it consist of the same in terms of gameplay, just with creative freedom. You must still maintain balance to keep the colony growing and alive, but you are free to play your way. You can choose to have missions on or off.
The locations you travel to are surprising quite big and present many different challenges that are clearly visible. Even if by view distance in some cases, and I found myself pausing the game and staring at the vast alien landscapes beyond while watching the waterfalls, local foliage, storms or worldly activity. Vast mountains sit on the horizon in the distance with large rock formations and alien ruins throughout. Sandy Gulch for instance has large holes in the ground that are just begging to be explored by a rover in third person view, however that is not something that can be done in this game. Lighting effects and shadows are very appealing. The glistening reflections off the water and snow is great to see and the details on all the grass, plants and trees and even birds that fly by. It is really quite something for a city builder that can contain so many structural elements. Structures have small details that bring them to life.
When close up, you hear the hustle and bustle of city life and machines humming. You hear day to day chatter from citizens as they greet each other or hang out with friends and family or even protesters if you fail to keep workers happy. There are various environmental sounds such as the swoosh of the grass, the birds flying above and the curious aliens that visit you. Soothing and exciting ambient music plays when you are viewing the colony from a distance and adds to those long play sessions. I never felt bored or annoyed by it at all.
A Steam code for this game was provided for free for review purposes. This does not affect the opinion of the content or value of released game.
Also, be sure to check out some gameplay from our first Twitch livestream.