TL;DR – A DLC that is full of exciting ideas but also some missed opportunities and frustrations.
Disclosure – I paid for this DLC
Surviving Mars: Below and Beyond Review –
Over the years, one of the games I come back to once in a while has been Surviving Mars. This is a strategy game/ city builder about constructing the first human colony on Mars with drones, domes, and danger, oh my. While it was full of promise, it hit its stride with the Green Planet DLC, allowing you to terraform Mars into an oasis gradually. For a long time, this looked like it would be the final stop for the game, but recently there was a surprise announcement of a new DLC Below and Beyond, which we will look at today.
The essential overview of this new DLC is that while exploring the surface of Mars, you have come across these vents under the surface. Here there are large tunnels, old lava tubes, so large that you could both explore and even colonise them. The one big drawback is that they are very dangerous as cave falls can crush rovers and cut off passageways. You can use technologies found in the new Recon and Expansion tech tree to make exploring safer. Still, if you want to colonise down below, you will need sturdier materials, which is good because it just so happens that several asteroids are coming close to Mars’ orbit with Exotic Minerals just perfect for the new task.
This was an excellent direction to take the game in, as it gives you a couple more loops that you always have to have in the back of your mind as you manage your colony. It also adds a good timed element to the game because asteroids are only near Mars’ orbit for a short time, so you have to pick your moments and get out before you get left behind. Both facets are also compelling because they have a strikingly different visual design from everything else in the game. Instead of the reds and browns (and then greens) of Mars. The underground is dark and foreboding, and the asteroids are lifeless hunks of rock hurtling through the Solar System. There has also been a shift in how research is managed with their seemingly many more anomalies to find, all of which give something towards those new techs.
Of the two new parts, I found the asteroids to be the most compelling part of the DLC. Managing your cargo rockets so you can pull as much of the rock as possible in the short amount of time that you have was a lot of fun. Well, it was a lot of fun once I worked out the real fiddley way they manage the rocket cargo UI. Before I worked out all its quirks, so many things that I thought had been secured would end up being let on the rock as it floated out of reach. Also, it was a bit disappointing to see that most of the anomalies on these asteroids are just the same as the ones on the ground of Mars, even when it means that blurb makes no sense. I did find a couple of new ones that meant I did send an exploration rover with each mission, but that could have been worked on a bit more so that the immersion didn’t break. Also, I will say, I never once felt the need to send colonists on any of these missions. Too much risk and no real reward compared to an automated option.
Down below was where I found most of my frustration with this DLC because you could see some fantastic ideas, but they were frustrated at almost every step. It was a lot of fun when my rover first made the trip underground, slowly making its way through the caverns, lighting up its path with torches, as the music ratcheted up the tension. But that is a short phase. You are then met with the frustratingly fiddly way you transfer resources from above ground to below because they use separate resource pools. From here, honestly, now that I have done it once, I don’t think I will ever need or want to colonise the underground again. There are just no rewards to the investment it takes to get it going. It also feels like a missed opportunity not to have integrated the terraforming aspects of the game into the tunnels, which in theory would be more habitable than the surface.
In the end, do we recommend Surviving Mars: Below and Beyond? Honestly, I am not sure. I did love the rocket loop of mining asteroids, but everything underground was a wash and given the main reason for going to asteroids is to help the underground. It becomes a tough sell and even more challenging once you factor in the price point that is on the high side.
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: Below and Beyond
Creative Director – Tiberius Lazar
Art Director – Scott Davidson
Lead Programmer – Wouter van Dongen
Lead Designer – Bart Vossen
Music – Dan Bewick
Developer – Abstraction
Publisher – Paradox Interactive