Review: Surviving Mars: Space Race

By Joe Robinson 15 Nov 2018 0

Review: Surviving Mars: Space Race

Released 15 Nov 2018

Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Simulation
Available from:
Direct
Steam

Much like the harsh realities of space travel in real-life, the reality of the Space Race expansion for Surviving Mars is a little less romantic than the idea of it. Rival colonies, new sponsors and more focused goals... it all sounds quite invigorating.

We had reservations about Surviving Mars after it launched, but it is definitely a better game now. Most of that stems from the great work the developers have been doing with the free patches. The free Gagarin update that accompanies this expansion is no different – and it actually does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of ushering in a new phase of the game. Space Race itself is... ok. It's also not a particularly large expansion either, and given the price point it’s important to understand what you are and aren’t getting.

SM Space Race 3

To be clear, spending $12.99 on Space Race gets you:

  • Two new sponsors (Japan and Brazil) with their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Sponsors now all come with their own unique building and unit which speak to their identity and strengths.
  • New narrative events (although the free patch comes with its own as well).
  • For additional monies, you can buy two micro-DLCs (or everything in the Space Race Plus bundle) which include new music, and 25 new building skins to make your colonies look a little different from the vanilla models.

Last, but not least, you get rival colonies. Up to three AI sponsors will land their own missions on Mars at different landing sites and develop their own colonies their own way. These colonies will have their own opinion of you, and you can interact with them by trading resources, technology, and there are also avenues for stealing things off them as well, like colonists. They also compete with you for milestone achievements and a few other things.

The DLC feature set also mentions sponsor goals, which essentially replaces the Mission Evaluation system that was in the game up till now. Sponsor goals are a bit like the milestone achievements in that they give you something to work towards, and the benefits vary - from money and research points, to free prefabs or Rockets. We’re a bit confused on this one because the patch notes mentioned Sponsor Goals as being a free feature, yet it’s also listed on the Space Race DLC page. We’re not sure if this is an error or there’s some additional premium content for this new feature.

SM Space Race 1

Unfortunately, this isn’t as ground-breaking as I initially hoped it would be. It’s an interesting side-show to be sure, but it can also be easily ignored. I quite often forget they are there actually, although when your first colony is reaching its limit and you’re looking to expand, they are a useful way of getting a large influx of resources quickly, assuming you have a good enough relationship with them. So far, I’ve observed that simply by doing nothing, my relationship with all three rival colonies slowly ticked up to the point where we could trade.

It feels a bit lifeless as a feature though – you can’t physically go to these other colonies. They probably don’t exist in the same way player colonies do, which makes their resource and development stats feel a bit arbitrary – just what exactly IS driving their growth? It feels a bit like cheating, in a way – you’re going through all this work and effort to gather resources, set up infrastructure and keep your colonists alive and they’re just… there. Existing. They do incentivise you to keep on top of the milestones though – these progress achievements now offer research points as a reward (free patch feature), and rival colonies can achieve them first, preventing you from doing it.

With only one real ‘game-changing’ feature, the rest of the expansion’s content simply adds additional flavour to the game. I spent most of my testing with Japan – one of the new factions. Their unique toys are an automated metal mine (which is actually really useful) and their drones can hover, which is pretty neat. All of the faction unique toys changes things up in subtle ways, so even if you like playing a particular sponsor a lot you can now play them slightly differently.

SM Space Race 2

As for the events – they’re pretty much what you’d expect them to be. Some are interesting, some are slightly more mundane, but combined with the mysteries (should you have them) and the rival colonies the early-mid game gets a bit more interesting, and a bit more padded out. As we’ve mentioned above though, the free patch does far more leg-work in this area.

So where does this all leave us? Space Race as an expansion is worth checking out at some point, but I wouldn’t be in any hurry. It ultimately does little to solve many of the deep-rooted problems the game still has at the mid-to-late stages. It does make the early-game a little easier, or at the very least more varied (depends on your settings), and there’s definitely some interesting stuff there. Surviving Mars still has a fair ways to go though, and it’s going to take more than small injections of personality to carry it over that hump.

Review: Surviving Mars: Space Race

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