TL;DR – As a game it is a really interesting puzzle to get right, mimicking real life in some ways, but it would be good to take it a step further.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
When it comes to settings for films, TV, books, or games nothing is an easier sell for me than setting something on Mars. Whether it is your Red Mars trilogy, your Total Recall, your The Martian, whatever it may be, I am just engrossed with our red neighbour floating out in the void. So with this in mind, we are looking at a game today that simulates what it would be like potentially to create a colony on the red planet and well be prepared going in that you probably going to kill your colony a couple of times.
So to set the scene, in Surviving Mars, as the title suggests your job it to help manage the first colony on Mars and make sure everything runs smoothly. You begin with picking your mission’s sponsor the USA, Europe, Blue Sun Corporation, and more, you then pick what type of commander you are going to be an Ecologist, Oligarch etc., and then you are off to the red planet. Here you have to pick your landing site on a very well detailed map of Mars, you can pick from one of the pre-determined locations or just go stuff it game I’m landing in the Utopia Planitia, and then it is just you a rocket and a couple of automated rovers to start you on building the first place for humankind away from Earth.
The first thing I really liked about Surviving Mars is just how customisable the difficulty is, so, for example, each of those steps I just talked about determine just how much of an easy or difficult time you will have. Do you want to pick a nice (relatively) cozy place on the equator, or up near the poles where everything freezes? Once you have landed and started to work out your colony there is a lot you have to think about which is good because that is the puzzle at the heart of the game. So everything you build needs resources to build it some you may have naturally on the planet like concrete or metal, but others involve materials that you will need to import like electronics or polymers. But to import materials costs money, and fuel to get it back, so then you have to build Rare Metal extractors to make money, but you can’t mine that automatically. So you need to have colonists, so you have to have air, water, food, domes to live in. It becomes this huge feedback loop if you are not careful.
Indeed, the thing about this loop is that if you don’t get it completely right it will all fail in front of you. There is this line in The Expanse as they are walking though Ganymede where even though everyone is walking around the colony was already dead because a collapse was coming and they couldn’t see it coming. Well, I lived that … several times … as I was getting used to how the game worked. While it can be frustrating watching your whole colony collapse under you because you didn’t think through the consequences of having a mostly Wind Turbine energy grid. Which works wonders until you need to have all those Machine Parts to keep it all running, and then when you don’t you don’t have power and then the Drone Hubs can’t work and oops your colony is dead. I had about four colony collapses before I worked out a system that worked for me, and of the four only one felt not my fault. So one of the things that can happen is that your colonists can get Earthsick and then they don’t work and hope on the first rocket out of there, a perfectly valid mechanism, except when it happens to the first colonists you send because the game won’t let you get more for the first 10 Sols, but by then it was too late.
The way I worked it, though this may only work with the USA and Europe as sponsors, is a very slow burn, I didn’t have any colonists till well over 100 sols as I slowly built up all the capacities and research needed for a colony to success. Indeed in my last game, I had the Mohole Mine and Space Elevator before a single human set foot on the Martian colony. With this one of the things that sets Surviving Mars apart from a lot of the other games in this genre is that it has a randomised research tech tree. While there are some techs like the wonders at the end, the rest is a mix, and while this does make each playthrough different it can be frustrating when there is something you need but luck has just not revealed it yet. The same can be said about the Breakthrough Techs, these are a special set of technologies that can completely change the rule sets like one tech that makes you pipes build instantly, and makes them never leak. There are a bunch of almost thirty of these techs which you get a random assortment of each time. This can be a bit hit and miss because some of these Breakthrough Techs have some interesting synergies with each other and some are a bit meh and it is up to the luck of the draw as to which ones you get.
One issue with the game is while the puzzle is really interesting and keeps wanting you to come back until you crack it, once you have there is not a whole lot motivating you to keep on going rather than trying to make it a bit harder. There are these mysteries that happen in the game but in all my playthroughs that have made it to multiple mysteries, it always gets stuck on the black cubes one. It just feels like the game just stops short of taking this game to a really interesting place because nothing you do has an impact on Mars itself so you are always apart from it never changing it. It could have been taken that one step more forward and have you start to terraform Mars. However, that being said since launch the developers have continued to update the game so who knows what developments are coming?
In the end, do we recommend Surviving Mars? Yes, we do. As a City/Base building game, it is a really solid game, with a great puzzle to solve. The support for the game has been great with recent updates adding better storage options and tunnels which help the game. Also that drive to colonise Mars is a great setting for a game, it is just that they have held back from which it really could be and there could still be a water dead end point in the game, but its future does seem bright.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the staff of Surviving Mars
Creative Director – Gabriel Dobrev
Lead Designers – Boyab ‘Chimera’ Ivanov & Boian ‘Blizzard’ Spaov
Lead Programming – Ivan-Assen Ivanov
Lead Artist – chrom
Developer – Haemimont Games
Publisher – Paradox Interactive