Review: Aven Colony

By Marcello Perricone 25 Jul 2017 0

Review: Aven Colony

Released 25 Jul 2017

Developer: Mothership Entertainment
Genre: Simulation
Available from:
Steam
Reviewed on: PC

Colonising space is a hard endeavour, and given the success rate of many contenders, so too it seems is doing a good game about it. Aven Colony tries to buck that trend, and the end result is a capable game with great ideas, but that only performs a few of them well. Taking place on the alien world of Aven Prime, this new 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.

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. Everything looks quite endearing, thanks to the verticality of buildings and the beautiful alien landscapes that serve as the background of this newly colonised world.

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Contrasting with the gorgeous visuals is a rather flawed gameplay loop that turns playing into a bit of a chore. The game is unnecessary delayed by low yields and every resource is limited by artificial constraints, putting an unnecessary cap on creativity. Ore deposits are placed few and far apart (and for some reason, depletable in about an hour of gameplay), reducing your ability to gather metals, which in turn limits how many nanites you can produce and how many constructions you can build. On normal difficulty, disasters occur a dime a dozen and serve as nothing but an annoyance, constantly drawing your attention away from your colony to deal with an insignificant threat.

Missions start and end with voice comms transmissions (and sometimes have a couple of them mid-mission), but are largely sterile affairs. All objectives involve the same structure of building something or importing/exporting/generating/etc a certain number of resources. The gameplay itself just isn’t engaging enough to be fun over long hours, and even if it was, Aven Colony doesn’t possess a basic endless mode. The only difference between sandbox levels and missions are the lack of objectives -- everything else, including the limited amount of resources on the map, stays the same.

Internally, things are equally worse. The air filtration mechanic is amazingly inconsistent & poor explained, with things like geothermal generators being described as “stopping the emission of dangerous gasses”, yet severely polluting your colony whenever they are built. The air filtration units themselves are useless and in desperate need of tweaking, since you often need half a dozen of the highest-tiered ones in order to keep the air of a single region of the colony stable. Given each one of them costs over 30 nanites, building six every time you expand becomes a huge drag on resources and handicaps player’s creativity, thanks to the limited amount of resources present in every map and the inability to acquire more.

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Colonists are somewhat... entitled, becoming massively unhappy whenever they have to walk more than 2 minutes to work or the air quality dips beneath 90%. Curiously though, they don’t mind lacking entertainment or medical care, which gives you a few less things to constantly worry about but it doesn’t make up for the highly sensitive nature of the other complaints. Making matters worse is the game's awfully designed overlay system which fails to give you all the relevant stats at a glance and requires multiple clicks to check things like ore production, weapons and building ranges, and factors that currently affect the colony’s morale.

Given the necessity to keep everything close-by due to mechanics, building range, and the colonists adamant resolve to be whiny, players are forced to build things in tight clusters in order to not waste materials. When you do expand, you still tend to keep things close due to resource consideration, creating a less distributed building placement than most city-builder games. The colony does end up feeling spread out due to the sheer distance between relevant resources, but it is always marred by tight clusters of nigh-indistinguishable facilities that look like something out of a cyberpunk universe.

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 nonstop, 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.

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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.

Aven Colony’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, but the lack of tools to properly monitor the colony status make maintenance a slightly vague endeavour. When building things like iron mines or air filters, the game unhelpfully turns every single building into a grey transparent box, which removes most overlay indicators of performance with the added onus of utterly negating any sense of placement.

However, Aven Colony notifies you about every single useless occurrence, from docking trade and passenger ships to the severely annoying air quality, quickly leading to alarm fatigue. After about an hour of playing the title, I would constantly miss out alerts or grow rather aggravated by their frequency. The sheer amount of useless info like “lightning has hit a lighting tower” coupled with the limiting, dragged out gameplay meant that by the time missions ended, I often wanted to hit the game with a chair.

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In terms of personality, Aven Colony has an amazing voice cast which takes part in an interesting -- if rather underplayed -- story. I wish narrative played a bigger role than just framing the start and end of missions, and the end result feels like a missed opportunity. The Expedition system, which would be a great way to create narrative and bring a bigger sense of character to the game, misses the shot by being a randomly generated set of clickable points on a map, making them littler better than clicker games. Like many things we've encountered here, it is a great concept derailed by a flawed execution.

In the end, Aven Colony doesn't seem to take into account that strategy players prefer the freedom to path their own way instead of being told what to do. The first two levels are fun and full of promise, but by the end of the third level, it becomes clear Aven Colony has nothing else in it’s sleeve. While the subsequent levels offer differing climates and progress the storyline, they still follow the exact same gameplay loop, and the end result is a very repetitive structure that allows little deviation from the form. With restrictive mechanics, borderline nonexistent progression paths, and unbalanced resource management logistics, Aven Colony offers a novel take on an interesting concept, but is ultimately a somewhat hollow experience. 

A polished game with some underwhelming design decisions.

Review: Aven Colony

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