Review: Surviving Mars: Green Planet28 May 2019 0
Review: Surviving Mars: Green Planet
Released 16 May 2019
There’s something decidedly unmartian about a green Mars. The Red Planet has been the Red Planet for so long, that the "Green Planet" feels decidedly… well, alien. Yet here we are, terraforming the fourth rock from the Sun in Haemimont’s latest DLC for their first proper strategy game, Surviving Mars.
The second expansion for the Paradox-published game gives players the tools to create forests, liquid water, and even an atmosphere on Mars, allowing your entrepreneuring citizens to finally get rid of those pesky domes and walk barefooted on the surface of the Red Planet. But to get there, you’ll need to go through a gruesome, complex, and veeeeeery slow journey to slowly turn a barren chunk of rock into a lovely, giant, planet-wide park.
The process starts with very scientific-sounding concepts, which slowly fill four different parameters of terraforming. Atmosphere retention can be improved with magnetic field generators, temperature is raised via the production of heating factories or the importation of greenhouse gases (really), water can be either pooled from underground reserves into open lakes or pulled to the surface via ice comets, and finally the forestation factor - add a bunch of seeds to an area, and as they flourish and grow, the winds carry their seedy offspring further away and slowly forest the planet for you.
Taken as a whole, terraforming is an extremely hands-on and laborious process. The parameters tend to slowly tick up by 0.02% or something every Martian day or so, meaning players will need to dedicate a lot of attention and/or time to turn the planet green. The requirements and duration of such a herculean task actually render it extremely challenging, as they further strain the base game’s already tightly packed resource management balance. It adds an interesting layer of further difficulties to manage, and while players have the option to start terraforming right away, it does have the potential to straight up sink a burgeoning colony if mismanaged or mistimed.
The new mechanics aren’t only thorough, they are also varied. Seeding Mars can actually be accomplished with a number of green options, ranging from lichen and grass that require little maintenance to big trees and shrubbery that can spread seeds far and wide. Special projects, such as melting the ice caps or launching a giant space mirror, serve to improve each of the four terraforming parameters, but can also cause disasters such as meteor showers or toxic rains. A safer terraforming option requires use of the seven new terraforming buildings, and while you can totally complete the terraforming by using only around four of them, the extra options can vastly improve efficiency and encourage player choice for their particular styles.
My one issue with the DLC is that it continues to thematically destroy the main purpose of the game. After adding rival space colonies with the Space Race DLC, the developers continue their unwavering dedication to stripping Surviving Mars of its lonely, challenging premise of singlehandedly colonising an uninhabitable rock. The sense of being a pioneer breaking ground in an alien world was already eviscerated with the first DLC, and the developers now decided to attack the “alien” part, too.
On a side note, Green Planet came accompanied of a smaller DLC titled Project Laika, named after the Russian cosmonaut lady pupper that was sent to space and died, forever cementing Soviets as bad guys. This smallish expansion adds 25 different animals to Surviving Mars, ranging from cattle and poultry through cats and dogs to brilliant exotic animals, like llamas, platypuses, and penguins. Most of those are purely aesthetic, having zero gameplay impact whatsoever (not even a morale boost) and only really becoming noticeable when you zoom into a dome or terraform the planet fully - at which point animals tend to go out into the woods to have some fun. Cattle can be put into ranches, but weirdly, that only works in domes - you would think having a whole planet made of grass would be perfect for raising cattle, but just like the lack of corridors connecting domes at release, the developers at Haemimont are experts at missing the obvious.
In the end, Green Planet and Project Laika are interesting DLCs. Taken together, they add several gameplay and cosmetic features, and the former significantly alter playstyles if you decide to go for the terraforming. While Project Laika is cute and fits the game’s overall “feel good” vibe, I do feel Surviving Mars is consistently stripping away its identity with each of its main DLCs. Regardless, if you enjoy or the game or want to try turning a barren planet into a giant planet-wide forest, give Green Planet a shot.