Ryu’s Musings – Surviving Mars (PC)

surving-mars-box-artLanguage: English
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Format: Steam/PS4/XBox 1
Type: Survival, City Builder
Demo Box: PC
Synopsis: Colonize Mars and discover her secrets, with minimal casualties.

Welcome Home! The time has come to stake your claim on the Red Planet and build the first functioning human colonies on Mars! All you need are supplies, oxygen, decades of training, experience with sandstorms, and a can-do attitude to discover the purpose of those weird black cubes that appeared out of nowhere. With a bit of sprucing up, this place is going to be awesome!

Surviving Mars is a sci-fi city builder all about colonizing Mars and surviving the process. Choose a space agency for resources and financial support before determining a location for your colony. Build domes and infrastructure, research new possibilities and utilize drones to unlock more elaborate ways to shape and expand your settlement. Cultivate your own food, mine minerals or just relax by the bar after a hard day’s work. Most important of all, though, is keeping your colonists alive. Not an easy task on a strange new planet.

There will be challenges to overcome. Execute your strategy and improve your colony’s chances of survival while unlocking the mysteries of this alien world. Are you ready? Mars is waiting for you.

Surviving Mars was one of the games I’ve been most excited for this month, and it didn’t disappoint…to much!

I am a huge fan of the Anno series, and have long been waiting for another game in the genre to rise up. Aven Colony failed to do so in a big way, so my hope lay on Surviving Mars. Honestly the game delivers what it says it would, a satisfying game which just oozes potential due to it’s mechanics and modability.

However it has to be said that it’s not been a smooth launch. In fact initially this game was rated pretty poorly by me due to it’s performance issues, and game breaking bugs. I decided to give it a bit of time to see if the developers were going to fix things, and for the most part they have!

So lets talk about the game, what’s the story?, whats the purpose? Well, it’s all in the title, Surviving Mars. You’re the ‘director’ of the project, you go to Mars, and well, try to survive and build a thriving colony.

This is where it gets good! Before you go to Mars you get to pick a sponsor, as in who is funding your attempt. There’s different sponsors available, and more can be added through mods. These sponsors change the way you’ll play the game, with things like starting funds, research per sol, materials and equipment being different. Even the number of rockets you start with is different. Some giving you more than others, though you can always buy more if you need them. Though that of course costs money, which leaves you less for other things.

You get to choose who you were before the project, which again gives you perks, and starting tech to help you build you’re city. Finally you get to choose a ‘story’ what this gives you is a little mini campaign of sorts once you hit the mid point of the game. Again theres a few to choose from, nine in total, with more coming down the road, and you can also create your own with mods.

So from there you get to go to mars, the entire planet is you’re sandbox, and I do mean the entire planet. Though, I do have to admit that map variety is a bit limited, it does use a seed system so resources are all random.

When you first land you’re not going to be running around with colonists straight away, rather you start off with drones. Your aim in the early game is to work on research and build the infrastructure needed to make a viable colony. So this of course means things like air, water, and food, but you’re also going to need to gather metal and other resources, as well as build a dome, fit it with work and leisure elements to keep your colonists happy.

On the surface it sounds like and easy thing to do, but its actually not, even on the easiest settings you can find yourself struggling. It all comes down to how good a seed you get for resources, where you land (you get to decide), and what sort of disasters you get when the game decides you’ve had it to easy and decides to sucker punch you! Great example was on my first colony i’d just gotten every one situated when Homer Simpson went to work and wrecked the metal extractor, which lead to a resource shortage and then leaking pipes, leading to air shortage. After finally getting that fixed, the game through a disaster at me, a meteor storm. It took out the fuel plat, which in turn took out the Moxi generator (which makes air) and then another cracked the dome. End result, everyone died of oxygen depravation!

Welcome to life on Mars! Anyone seen Arnie anywhere?

Another thing you have to be very wary over, and it’s easy to forget it early on, is you’re drone range. Drones can only travel a certain distance from their controller. Even if there’s another one close, drones cant go beyond the range of their own controller. So one of your first things to do is plop a controller close to your initial landing and then resign the drones from the rocket to that controller. Otherwise things will come to a grinding halt when the rocket takes off!

Mechanically I have to admit that this game is a lot of fun, while not as good as the king of the genre (Anno) it’s a great, and strong addition to it.

Now, lets talk graphics and sounds. I was honestly suprised by the games art. I was expecting a more red pallet, because well, its Mars…and yeah it is. However as you progress and add more to you’re colony it comes to life bring some vibrant splashes of colour. The contrast against the red of Mars actually makes for some stunning visuals. Haemimont have done an excellent job with the art of this game and it makes what would have been a bland game feel alive!

Sound wise, they include a number of radio stations, each bring a different style of music and different set of adds. Some of which can be hilariously funny leaving you chuckling for a while. Whats more these stations are also part of the mods, so you can add you’re own music into a station. The only hard part of this apparently is converting them to the correct format. So they get a huge thumbs up from me on this point!

Now, as I mentioned above the game has its issues. The biggest one of these being the developers odd decision to try and build the game for console and PC at the same time. Though it’s clear from the UI decisions that the Console was the strongest influence. I say this because the UI and the way you move things around is nothing short of tedious, and done in such a way that it’s clearly designed for consoles.

For example, lets say you’ve just drought 10 drones up on a rocket and want to resign them to a drone tower. Here’s how you need to do it.

  1. Select the rocket (it then highlights the drones it controls)
  2. Select the drone
  3. In the UI to the right select the reassign button
  4. Click on the drone controller or RV you want to assign it to
  5. Repeat for every drone

As you can see, for doing just a few drones, thats a lot of hassle, and thats just the start. There are a lot of minor things with the UI, that individually aren’t really and issue, but when all brought together it gets frustrating.

The dev’s say it’s to keep ‘parity’ across all platforms, and if this was a multiplayer or even coop game I would applaud it (to a degree), however this is a pure single player game. Parity is pointless in this case, and has led to more than a few issues that could have been avoided.

However, there is a point that is, for me (and many others apparently), and unforgivable miss step, was the lack of a tutorial. Given the game has a lot of mechanics that aren’t properly explained it leads to a lot of failed runs. This is not fun, nor satisfying, and frankly is frustrating. Since you end up feeling that if ‘X’ was explained when you first encountered it, it wouldn’t have lead to a colony dying.

As the game went on this became more and more apparent and more and more frustrating. Haemimont’s response wasn’t to actually add a tutorial, but rather to hire Quil18, and prominent YouTuber to do a series of vids. However he doesn’t cover everything, and personally, I find his over the top way of doing his vids to be childish, it’s like watching a kids cartoon.

Honestly, if this was any other game, I think these frustrations would have turned me off of the game resulting a very negative review. However I have to admit that I can’t stop playing the game, it’s very addicting, and challenging even on the lower difficulties.

You learn very quickly that before you rush bringing u your colonists you need to fully establish your foundation. Make sure you’ve got your infrastructure well established. That means lots of research, ideally getting the shuttle tech so you can easily shift cargo and colonists around. Get your air, water and fuel production up to scratch, get it well stock piled and sorted. Getting your domes built is the next challenge, you need to place them close enough to resources that the colonists will work on them, but not so close that the Dome gets covered in dust. You also need to set up food production and do some exploration. All of this before you get colonists!

Of course all you’re best laid plans and buildings go out the window once the colonists arrive. As the human element is the hardest to work with. Especially if you get some with the idiocy trait! Yup, you can have an entire colony of Homer Simpson’s running around screwing everything up. I actually used the mod that makes that a permanent state, and it’s surprising a lot of fun!

The game is frustrating, fiddly, and frankly at times annoy as hell. However it’s the first time in a while I’ve found a game that scratches the Anno itch in such a great way. As bad as the UI and lack of tutorial and explanations are, it’s a surprising fun, addictive and satisfying game.

Would I recommend the game? Absolutely. Without a bit of hesitation, this is one of the best games of the year, has a huge amount of replayability and is supported by active developers and a thriving modding scene.

Truth be told the only substatial complaint I have is that there’s no coop. Playing against someone else building a city, fighting for resources, or working in cooperation, would have been amazing fun! Hopefully it’s something they’ll add down the road

Author: Ryu Sheng