Those rascals at Team17 have been teasing us with titbits, screen shots and gifs of Aven Colony for some time now. Our initial thoughts were “Wow that looks suspiciously good”. Could it really be a near-perfect building and resource management sim? Well after around forty hours of gameplay we feel very qualified to answer that question.
Touching down on the alien Aven Prime after a long journey that was possibly rougher than a journey up the M6 with no travel sweets, Humanity needs to find a foothold fast. You have been put in charge of a single colony and it’s your job to make sure that colony thrives. You can begin the game in either sandbox or campaign mode but for the sake of the review we’ll talk about the campaign first.
There are nine missions, each a separate colony in a different part of Aven Prime with its own challenges and end goal. The aim on each mission is to grow your colony and reach a final objective to claim victory and move on to the next mission. How you reach that final objective is up to you if wish to do your own thing, but a fair chunk of the fun is following and completing the ongoing objectives. Of course this will make you feel like a true champ but it can also net you rewards and resources along the way. Doing as your told usually pays in campaign mode, and it’s the best way to learn how to play. The developer has done a stellar job of not letting any part of the game after the first two Holo-sims feel like a tutorial and yet by the end of the campaign mode you’ll be a high-ranking, smug-as-a-Smurf, colony-building expert.
There’s lots to juggle in Aven Colony but the pacing is set just right so that you’re always learning but never overwhelmed. You’ll start with the basics. Firstly you’ll need power, and you’ll have the choice between self-powered methods such as the wind turbine and solar panels or power stations that require mined resources to function. Each has benefits and drawbacks. The solar panels half their electrical output in the winter and the geothermal power stations give out more pollution that an unexpected curry and beer fuelled guff in an elevator. However, wind turbines, which only give out a small electrical output per unit, and can also be used to blow away toxic gases
Much like the good old days of Sim City, half your battle is keeping your citizens happy. They won’t care that you’re struggling to even keep them alive on a hostile new planet; they want their Retail Centre and Bar and Grill and they want it now. They also want food and water. Fussy bastards. There are different types of farms you can build, again with benefits and drawbacks. Always remember that Winter is Coming and while there are no White Walkers on the horizon, this does mean that along with your dwindling solar power, your outdoor farms will produce absolutely nothing. So here you have a further choice. You could build more outdoor farms to stockpile during the summer or splash out on the more expensive to buy and expensive to run Greenhouses that will keep producing even while the ground is frozen solid.
Of course you’re going to need people to work on these farms and in your power stations, retail centres and mines. If you’re short on workers your farms won’t stockpile anything and your power stations won’t power more than a bathroom light. Building an immigration centre becomes key very early on, as does building habitats, and as your population grows do keep an eye on your crime levels and build a police drone unit as soon as you safely can.
There are three different types of drones available in Aven Colony. Police, construction and scrubbers (don’t be smutty, and for your insolence you’ll have to buy and play the game to find out exactly what the scrubbers do). You need construction drones to not only build everything but to build further and further out of your starting point. If you want to access that pile of Iron or Zorium you can see in the distance and place a mine on top of it, you’ll need construction drones to do that. Place the new construction unit on the edge of your accessible zone so that your current construction drones can build it, then hopefully your new construction drones will be able to reach your resources. If not, you may need a chain of units stretching out across the land. Often it’s the only way to get potential mining opportunities and geothermal vents. Obviously, you’re also going to need workers to achieve all this and they don’t like a long commute so get ready to build more habitats and outposts, entertainment centres, hospitals, lightning towers and police. You need to keep all of your colony happy, otherwise protests and strikes will break out and your buildings’ efficiency and production levels will drop, leaving you in the dark with no food, no trade and no new workers coming in. You have regular referendums to win and it’s game over if you don’t.
Aven Colony is very much a resource management sim. There’s a lot to juggle and I would recommend going through the campaign first. Every mission is extremely open and you can still sandbox your way through it in your own way as long as you eventually complete the mission’s main objective. The campaign will take around thirty glorious hours and you’ll be pleased to know there is a story to go along with it, which is great for some context to your presence on Aven Prime.
During the campaign you’ll be prompted to build an expedition centre that will allow you to explore the further reaches of your colony via an aircraft and a team of specialised workers. Click on the building to access the map and send your ship wherever you fancy. You can rescue colonists, bring back artefacts and resources and even engage in battles. The expedition mechanics are extremely simplified and the map is graphically disappointing but it is a fun addition to the gameplay and comes with its own challenges.
While the expedition map is nothing particularly special, the rest of the game’s graphics are simply spectacular. You can zoom in close enough to see the little people, and the details on the buildings are amazing. The lighting is gorgeous the way it reflects off the individual structures. The graphics are bright and gleaming. Aven Colony, simply put, is beautiful.
And now for the moment of truth. How does it perform on a console? This is one of the most important questions to ask with a game of this type away from its natural environment on a PC with a keyboard and mouse. Again, I’m going to be blunt. Aven Colony is the best building sim we’ve seen on PS4 thus far. The main mechanic and is a radial menu system. Everything can be accessed with just a couple of clicks and an angled stick. It’s so easy and so quick I wonder why all sim games on console aren’t done this way. There’s no awkwardness, no faff – just painless selection and placement of buildings. We asked earlier if Aven Colony was as near-perfect as it looks. Well the answer is no, it’s not near perfect. It’s just perfect. The mechanics make or break games of this type, and the mechanics here are faultless.
So it’s with good cheer that I can also reveal the Sandbox Mode to be top notch. Here you can do whatever you want whenever you want. There are a huge amount of variables you can set to personalise this part of the game and make it as difficult or easy as you want. If you want to concentrate on just building you can set to start with more resources, no referendums, high morale and no environmental perils. Or you can do exactly the opposite for a tough challenge. You can truly make this mode your own and build and mine and colonise until you’ve bled the planet dry, just like in real life. Alternatively, you might have got attached to the colonies you built during the campaign and as long as you saved them before you claimed victory on the last main objective you can go back and continue on sandbox style. I would actually recommend doing this and saving every mission just before Victory if you plan to go trophy hunting. There are forty nine trophies to collect including a platinum. You’ll probably get at least half of them on your campaign playthrough, but if you’re like us and like to “mop up” after completion, you’ll need to go back to some fully functioning colonies. Just be prepared to pretty much destroy some of them. It’s a fun trophy list and one of the best we’ve seen since Horizon.
The graphics are beautiful, the music is gorgeous, the mechanics are streamlined and easy, and the gameplay is addictive. Simply put – Aven Colony is the best building sim and resource management game on PS4 so far. Even the trophy list is top notch. There isn’t anything we didn’t like. Absolutely flawless.
S J Hollis Rating – 10/10
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