Brave New World: An Early Look at Aven Colony

By Marcello Perricone 03 Jul 2017 0

The excitement of colonising an alien planet has long captured the imagination, yet seldom been properly realised. In the past few years, several developers tried and failed to capture the magic and challenges of spreading human civilisation to the stars, including the legendary Sid Meiers’ team in Firaxis’ Civilization: Beyond Earth. Now, for the first time, a company managed to successfully bring such fantasy to life in Mothership Entertainment’s high-quality city-building game Aven Colony.

Taking place on the alien world of Aven Prime, Team 17’s latest strategy title tasks players with overseeing the establishment of several colonies around the planet in a bid to secure humanity’s foothold in this unpopulated sector of space. As the governor, the player has complete control over the colonies’ buildings and development, and must make sure its infrastructure is in top shape while keeping its colonists happy.

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Thanks to the high amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, every inch of the colony is hermetically sealed. Constructions and resource gathering are relegated to automated drones operating from central facilities, while colonists control them at a distance or work in a variety of other buildings. It all has a slightly less spread out feel than a “standard” city-builder game, yet it looks extremely endearing thanks to the verticality and visual variations of buildings, all placed among the beautiful alien landscapes that serve as the background of this alien world.

Learning how to live alongside the hostile environment of Aven Prime is the main challenge of the game, adding a layer of worries over standard city-builders considerations like resource management, power, or crime. Intake fans must be placed to increase oxygen distribution and counterbalance the buildup of carbon dioxide in certain areas of the colony, while lightning towers must be built to protect the structures from powerful electrical discharges during the planet’s many thunderstorms.

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In addition, each day on Aven Prime lasts an disproportionate amount of time in comparison to Earth, and are long enough to actually have their own seasons. During the day/summer, temperatures are hot and farms produce food non-stop, while during nights/winter, the surface freezes, lightning storms ravage the planet, and exposed crops become utterly sterile. It all creates a constant need to think ahead in order to adapt to environment, as unlike many other forms of human colonisation, this is one native you can’t beat into submission.

Given the planet’s dangerous climate, colonists aren’t allowed to walk on its surface and require a network of glass corridors connecting all facilities across the settlement to move freely. While residents can walk through buildings to get to an adjacent location, they tend to dislike that, preferring the bright and beautiful transparent canopies of the pedestrian highways. Those glass tunnels are cheap to build and maintain while serving the double duty of connecting power lines, making them an essential and constant sight through every single settlement.

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The game’s medium-sized scale allows it to worry about things like commute or happiness without getting bogged down on the lives of one single individual, contributing to the feel of running a colony instead of playing a The Sims facsimile. It has a peaceful feel to it, almost like the Anno entries, yet slightly more demanding, not giving you as much excess resources as the Ubisoft titles did, but allowing you to develop the colony in virtually any way you want. At the same time, little touches like clearly different individual portraits or colonists talking to each other when crossing on the corridors add a sense of character to proceedings, making it feel more like a living settlement in your care than a virtual string of numbers.

This balance between a small outpost management and a huge city-builder game gives Aven Colony a lot of space to grow, without being overwhelming. The tutorial, while short, is one of the best ones I ever experienced. It is extremely straightforward and clear, and quickly teaches you the basics. The first scenarios help filling in all the gaps the tutorial doesn’t cover, but have the special distinction of setting you free from the start, almost without any sort of arbitrary limitations or unlocks.

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However, Aven Colony is not without flaws. The frame rate inexplicably tanks at random points, in a manner completely unjustified given the graphical demands of the title. Little gameplay peeves hamper the experience, like the small amount of energy generation buildings not being able to keep up with the growth, or seemingly imbalanced commute calculation at times. Humans can’t reproduce, relying on “immigration from a colony ship” in order to increase their numbers. Security can only be carried via drugs or police drones, forgoing any sort of use of the myriad of cameras spread across every single area of the colony. Air purifiers don’t seem to make a lot of sense, being vulnerable to toxic fumes yet encouraged to be placed near alien thermal vents at the same time. Air quality can quickly degrade in an area, yet placing a high-tiered fan intake doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference, resulting in a fickle and unsatisfactory experience. It all contributes to little things that tend to bother you in the long run, yet can be fixed before the game is released at the end of the month.

With a fantastic engaging gameplay, good quality, and amazing concepts, Aven Colony has the potential to be a fantastic entry into the genre. The only major problem I can identify at the moment is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously as an “endless” game, where it would be balanced in a manner that just allows players to build something indefinitely, in peace. And in a genre where players often clock in hundreds if not thousands of hours, this is a major problem indeed.

Aven Colony will be released on PC, Xbox One & Playstation 4 on July 25th, 2017.

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