Fed up with terrible traffic? The council not picking up your rubbish on time? Local pub drawing in the riff raff? Maybe it’s time to move. How does no oxygen, sub-zero temperatures and living in a precarious dome all sound? If you’re up for it then it sounds like Mars is the planet for you. Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive present Surviving Mars, a building and resource management sim. The idea is to build and maintain a viable colony on Mars and eventually turn it into a thriving community, and it presents a very tricky challenge.
Your first moments on Mars are likely to feel overwhelming, and for good reason. Surviving Mars isn’t going to hold your hand. It will give you the gist of the situation and you’re left to figure it all out for yourself. Your initial rocket will hold enough supplies and drones to get you started but you’ll soon figure out that much of what you need will come from farming resources on the surface. Concrete is in very short supply at the beginning and has to be a priority if you want to go on to extract water, metals and rare metals, and build other facilities. Things can go wrong very fast if you’re not careful in the early stages.
The game has a quick start option to get you into things as fast as possible, but once you’re feeling a bit more like an expert there are all manner of settings you can employ at the beginning of the game to mix things up and add some variety. You can also make life on Mars harder or easier, but be careful about making it harder on your first playthrough because Surviving Mars is quite the challenge. Don’t expect an alien version of Sim City with towering domes littering every corner of the map after an hour or two of play. To survive Mars you need to make thoughtful choices and it’s also a good idea to save at regular intervals with staggered save files as a precaution against anything that doesn’t go to plan. Those saves might also come in handy if you encounter any bugs. We played and have based our review on the pre-launch beta version. We did suffer a few crashes late game and had to roll back the save. An update patch has been subsequently released so hopefully this won’t occur again.
The controls do take a little bit of getting used to. Clearly they are not going to be as straight forward as PC controls but they do feel somewhat convoluted and you don’t get much help with them at the start. You’ll get used to them eventually but even after fifty hours I was still left feeling like I was pressing four buttons where one or two would have done. There are some shortcuts which do improve the efficiency of the controls so that’s definitely worth checking out.
There’s a lot to learn and while the game does give hints and pointers, putting those hints and pointers into practice takes some patience. Surviving Mars is quite a complex game and it’s very tempting to rush and start building willy nilly, but it’s better to pay attention to the game’s milestones and little words of wisdom. Even when you’re playing it safe it’s easy for things to spiral out of control. Caution and care and the key words you need to make your colony a success.
Once you’re in control of the basics and you have a dome set up with living quarters and your choice of amenities, it’s time to send for the people. You have access to several rockets which can be sent back and forth from Earth. These can be used to transport either purely passengers or a selection of supplies which can vary from machine parts, drones, metal, food, or even prefabricated buildings. It costs money and fuel to launch a rocket and you can only fit in so much. Funding and fuel is limited and so you need to make your supplies and passenger choices count. It’s like ordering online from Sainsburys and realising when the delivery driver pitches up that you’ve forgotten the bananas, except you’ve actually forgotten polymers and machine parts now your entire colony is dead. Oops.
The eventual goal is to be self-sufficient. At some point you’ll be able to mine and manufacture everything you need right there on Mars. Before that happens, however, you’ve got a lot of research to do and resources to find. It’s all very well shipping over a prefabricated factory from Earth but if you don’t have the core resources to support that kind of manufacturing you could and probably will find yourself with critical shortages. Surviving Mars does a fantastic job of making you feel truly isolated. Earth is a long way away and so every choice you make is huge.
You can initially land anywhere you like on Mars and once you’re down you’ll need to send out probes to scan the sectors around you. Some sectors will have absolutely nothing of interest, others will have rare or valuable resources and some will have research opportunities. You won’t have the capabilities to build and produce certain buildings and domes without first researching them, and that also takes time, funding and a degree of management. It’s also highly likely that the resource you desperately need will be bloody miles away.
Drones are responsible for building and maintaining your colony, but they all have to be attached to a command hub. These can take the form of the rocket you land in, central hubs or even specialised vehicles. Each hub has a service area, and within that area drones will build on command and automatically repair, carry resources and harvest. If you’ve just scanned and found valuable and critical underground deposits on the other side of the map then you’ve got to find a way to set up an outpost of sorts. Exactly how you do this is up to you, but this is where your RC Rover comes in. You can buy and ship (and one day produce) more drones to attach to it and then send it off to your new area to essentially start all over again with water, oxygen, dome, population. You also have a transport rover witch you can send from outpost to outpost delivering materials. At this point you are essentially managing two mini colonies. If you’re a lucky little pixie, however, you will have discovered everything you need quite close to your original settlement and so all you need to do is build a second central hub to stretch out a new serviceable area. You’ve researched how to build hubs, right? Or you have enough funding to carry a new one from Earth? Everything is a balancing act and forward thinking doesn’t hurt (and don’t forget the bananas).
The later parts of the game opens up new builds. You’ll be able to construct much larger domes, for example. The highlights of the game are when you can get to a point where you can safely support a new dome that you can fill with farms, factories and entertainment facilities. These communities are fascinating to behold and you can zoom in almost close enough to see what the residents had for breakfast. Also expect some mysterious Mars activity as you get further into the action. There’s a chance you’re not alone. Ooooooh.
Surviving Mars is pretty hardcore and a must for true fans of the genre. You’ll need to manage those resources like you’ve never managed resources before and approach the game’s challenges with a thoughtful and strategic contemplation. Live long and prosper or alternatively run out of funding and metals and suffocate all your colonists. Fun!
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10
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