Many of us are looking to the stars these days. We’ve messed up our planet to the point where a concerning percentage of the scientific community believes it’s irreparable, but other planets still exist out there. We’ll just grab a couple of rockets filled with supplies and set up a base on Mars. Easy. The people living there won’t need entertainment or luxuries, they’ll be okay. I’ve already tested everything in Aven Colony, and as long as no aliens attack us, we won’t need to start rationing for at least three sols. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to simulate a real colony, but at least I enjoyed my time in the game… More or less.
Aven Colony is a colony building game, which is a bit like a city building game minus the ability to breathe. You are in charge of planning out a colony on Aven Prime, a planet with a CO2 rich atmosphere and bountiful Shai-Hulud living underground. Everything you construct is hermetically sealed and connected via tunnels to function, and it’s up to you to make sure your colonists have access to food, water and breathable air. At first glance, it seems that the game has a lot of potential for some unique mechanics, and you’d be half right.
Colony builders aren’t too common a sight, and Aven Colony does a good job of replicating the struggles that a colony might face. Having to balance food production with money accumulation, giving citizens enough housing without overpopulating your colony, even air quality is accounted for. However, some aspects of the game don’t make a whole lot of sense. Everything needs to be connected to work, including unmanned structures like solar panels, but you can’t just build a power line connecting them up. Even things like storage depots need to be connected by tunnels even though they’re unmanned and we have access to drones the size of shipping containers. These are minor gripes when compared to the crises that occur.
Colonising a planet doesn’t come without risks, and your people will face crises all too frequently. Ice storms, alien plagues and creep infestations are all commonplace on Aven Prime, and each is countered by building the appropriate structure. The thing is, there aren’t that many kinds of crises to deal with, and I only counted five different crises ever occurring. These crises will relentlessly hound you, though, and after the 65th notification that your citizens are infected with a plague, you’ll feel a bit sick yourself. It just feels very simplistic, but this is true of the game on the whole.
My major gripe with Aven Colony is its simplicity. The best way to describe the gameplay would be a mix of Anno and Cities: Skylines without either’s depth. The game is played in a grid, with each building taking up some squares, but nothing is done with that idea. All buildings are square shaped, so you won’t Tetris buildings around to optimise layout like in Anno, you’ll just plonk ‘em down within range of your citizens. Buildings don’t have maintenance costs attached to them, and pollution is quickly dealt with by an air filter, so everything just feels a little too easy to set up and manage. Does this mean the game is bad? Hell no.
While a little simplistic for my tastes, Aven Colony still managed to keep me entertained for all the time I put into it. The core goal to keep citizens happy was easy, but keeping them fed as my colony grew was enough of a challenge to keep my attention. Most threats feel trivial as lone structures take care of them for a huge area, but key logistical needs like food, water and storage remained challenges even as I was building end-game structures. The desire to continually grow was always at the back of my mind too, seeing just how far I could push my colony until it imploded, though the game didn’t seem intent on letting me grow too big.
One of the other major issues I have with the game is its scale. The maps are smaller than you would expect for a planned colony. I’d dare say you could only reach a couple of thousand colonists if you expanded out all the way. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by games like Cities, but the map size feels like a cop-out. The game seems built around its mission format, so smaller maps have been made to incentivise you moving on. The game engine doesn’t feel very well optimised either, chugging at even moderately sized colonies. The maps act as a preventative measure to keep the engine from killing itself, which is a shame because the larger your colony gets, the prettier the game seems to be.
While not the best looking game on the market, Aven Colony elicited enough awe-inspiring vistas to make me want to buy a spaceship. Every building looks shinier than a deranged uncle’s bald spot, and the environments ooze alien eccentricities any sci-fi fan loves. Weird rock formations litter the horizon in deserts, ice pillars lean ominously in the frosty regions, and your colony feels like the one bastion of humanity for a long, long way. Despite this prettiness, however, the game presents information very poorly.
Not putting white on white seems like common sense to me, but apparently, colonists have much better vision than I do. The UI of the game isn’t stellar, not because it’s not functional but because it lacks polish. Range indications show up as white circles, even on ice maps. All buildings go transparent when an overlay is active, which is infuriating when you want to gain some insight into what buildings are doing what. Perhaps most frustratingly, the UI will splash notifications into the centre of the screen if they are deemed important enough, getting rid of whatever I was looking at and pausing the game in the process. There’s a lot that could be done to improve these problems, but for now, Aven Colony is just okay.
Aven Colony is a game that’s almost too easy to get into. The gameplay mechanics are simple to a fault, and while the core logistical challenges of keeping people alive are enjoyable to manage, the crises are not. The game looks great but has plenty of issues in how it presents information to the player. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not a great one either. It’s like colonising Pluto. If you need something to latch onto until the next best option comes along, it’ll do.