If, like me, you feel that building management sims peaked during the halcyon days of Bullfrog’s Theme- series (Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper etc) and the many Sim- games released by Maxis (Sim City, Sim Tower and the mighty Sim Ant etc), Aven Colony may well be right up your alley.
Minimal backstory is provided, but Aven Colony is the first planet other than Earth to be settled by humans and it is your job to manage the new colony. There are two brief tutorial missions, which give a good overview of the various menus and which buildings have the most vital functions. After that, you are let loose of a succession of start-up colonies in various types of terrain; a temperate lake side with plenty of farm land, a barren desert populated by gigantic sandworms, a glacier with arctic conditions which are not conducive to building a thriving agricultural economy. You need to complete these sequentially, with each level completion unlocking the next.
As you progress through the levels, various members of your team will offer you missions to complete – these can be as simple as growing your population to a certain number, trading certain commodities with other colonies or erecting specific buildings. Successful completion of these tasks garners a reward (often nanites, the raw material for building, or food) and helps you to progress towards the victory conditions for the level.
As is so common with this type of game, the key is to not expand too quickly; you start with a modest number of colonists, and once you have built an Immigration Hub, will receive regular shipments of fresh faces, but you need to carefully pace your building speed to match the immigration speed or you risk having lots shiny new buildings unable to function due to a lack of workers. Conversely, if you build too slowly, you can end up with mass unemployment.
Once your colony is large enough to sustain it you need to build a Trade Hub; this lets you trade goods with the Colony Ship orbiting the planet initially, but as you progress through the levels you can also trade with your previous colonies. Trading is absolutely invaluable in the later levels, especially those without much in the via of viable agricultural land.
You also unlock the ability to build an Expedition Hub later in the game; this allows a team of your colonists to explore the surrounding area. In the environs of the colony you may come across crashed trade vessels filled with cargo, rovers that need repair, other explorers in need of help, mysterious alien artefacts and even hostile former colonists. The Expeditions section is a great idea, but feels a bit underdeveloped – you just have a map with some destinations and then get a message to say if your mission was a success or failure. I would have loved for this to have been expanded upon.
There is a plethora of hazards that can affect the colony, many of which can be dealt with via the construction of specific buildings (a lightning tower will protect a set area from lightning strikes and charge your energy batteries, scrubber drones will remove alien spores from your buildings etc).
There are an enormous number of difficulty settings, which means that you can really customise the experience (and to customise it even further, there is a full sandbox mode). I played through on Normal, and didn’t fail a level (#humblebrag), so I would suggest upping the difficulty level if you are experienced in this type of game and looking for more of a challenge. The overarching storyline certainly adds to the immersive nature of the game, and does help to draw you in, but is not exactly revolutionary; brace yourself for the final cutscene.
The controls are easy to get a handle on, and most of the menus are intuitive and easy to use. The Overlays menu allows you to look at various attributes for parts of your colony (crime rate, air quality, commute distance etc) and these are really helpful for deciding where to site new functional buildings (although the game definitely slowed significantly whilst using the Commute overlay on a medium to large colony).
Clearly, the primary effort graphically and sound wise has been on the actual colony building elements and landscapes, and these are all gorgeous and suitably alien, but the peripheral elements (voice acting, cutscenes, mission screens etc) are basic. To me, this just added to the charm and made it feel like a management-sim game of old.
Exotic alien landscapes, virulent extra-terrestrial plagues, lightning storms, toxic gas plumes, giant vicious sandworms, invasive species and mysterious alien artefacts all combine with an intuitive building and management interface to form a compelling and absorbing management sim. I’ve already spent many hours immersed in the world of Aven Colony, and I look forward to spending many more there.