When it comes to number crunching games, consoles are generally not the target platform, especially with their limited resources. City-builders are games where they require – in mid to late game – massive amounts of RAM to store the information of all the tasks happening at once. The question is: how does Aven Colony handle on PS4 with a genre that isn’t particularly well suited to console?
In Aven Colony, you play as a governor overseeing the colonisation of Aven Prime, an alien planet with an atmosphere primarily consisting of carbon dioxide and teeming with organic life, not too dissimilar to Earth. As you build your colonies you must survive against the omnipresence of the elements and alien lifeforms that attempt to thwart your progress of taking hold of the planet.
So, you need to build a colony while fending off aliens: a survival game then? Essentially yes. Aven Colony, while essentially a city-builder, is a survival game where you need to keep your citizens happy while you make sure that their oxygen levels are at the right levels – they’re well fed and hydrated, and they’re entertained enough to prevent revolting against you in the referendum elections.
In each level, you’re assigned a set objective, and reaching this objective is not particularly hard. However, the end of the mission is never triggered, the reason being is that you must progress through the story. During the tutorials (which I recommend doing at the start), you’re told that the tasks you’re given are optional, however, I have found this not to be the case because in order to trigger the mission objective, you’re given a mission specific to that task.
When checking the tasks, there is a set number of tabs to scroll through, though typically only two or three tasks are given at any time. With the limited number of task tabs at hand, it means that pushing through to completing the mission objective can take a long time, especially where the story is concerned. This is not a bad thing, however, as these tasks are given to you to help guide the construction of the colony in a specific – and much needed – direction. They also provide materials that are sorely needed.
The only material for building is nannites. Acquiring nannites is a matter of placing mines on top of a metal resource and processing the metal. Once all the metal is mined, which can happen quite rapidly, then the game becomes a bit of a headache at first. The first scenario I was confused about where to get more nannites, ending up selling so much that I failed the mission completely. Popping into the Sandbox mode allowed for experimentation with an eventual “hallelujah” moment. Since then the game became much easier – to an extent.
In Aven Colony, there are different biome types – glacier, desert, and taiga (some of which have large lakes). These biomes significantly change the way the colonies are built and which power sources are used. Desert biomes are rocky and full of mining opportunities with plenty of geothermal craters for power but lack the fertile land for expansive colonies. Taiga biomes have lots of areas for growing crops and large sprawling colonies but lack the mining and geothermal areas. Glacial biomes are full of geothermal craters, but growing anything is almost impossible and the only meaningful way to continue your colony is mining and trading gold.
Each of these biomes are vast in size owing to the complexity of the game flow. The xeno-foliage coupled with the wild-life, that occasionally pass by, adds to the serene peace and tranquility of the landscapes. The detail of the buildings and the environments might seem simple, but once you invade the land with your web of concrete then you can see the beauty in the detail of the animations and textures used.
The more colonists you have then the more you can see them roam your tube streets. When placing buildings you see your drones build up your structures until they’re complete. When your colony is infected with creep spores your drones rush in to remove the xenomorph. All of the animations are subtle enough to make the levels feel alive, especially during the winter.
Sustaining your colony seems simple at first, but then the number crunching starts crashing down on you like a tonne of bricks. If you’re not into your statistical gameplay then you might be wracking your brain. Keeping on top of your colony’s water and food supply is one thing, but when your citizens start complaining about travel distances, job availabilities, and the frequent referendums (end game if less than 50% vote for you), then you know you have to plan well in advance on structural placements.
Keeping your colony under control while pushing the boundaries of your structures into the vast wilderness is difficult but very rewarding when things go just right. Being able to push the size of your colony to almost unsustainable numbers whilst in a glacial colony is an achievement itself, but the gratification knowing you have got that far is one to behold.
Using the overlays to find the best spots for farming and water helps position your structures with ease, and they’re also great for keeping an eye on crime rates, air pollution, mining spots. Having coloured bar graphs show up helps with the immediate level of connotation for that overlay. Simple yet cleverly done.
Managing the colony can be done with colony control panel where you can set policies to help automate your colony, restrict consumption of goods, and even force overtime work! These can cause dire consequences or prove to be a benefit. The graphs and morale panels helps check the entire colony of issues and what needs to be done to fix it.
The wealth of options is staggering and it’s a dream for any city-builder fan to have these options at their fingertips, allowing them to control almost every aspect of their colony at the fingertips of the controller.Everything just works wonderfully until the biggest asset this game has become its greatest weakness – the number crunching.
The colony requires citizens to fill the jobs available at the relevant buildings – check. The more citizens working at said building improves its output – check. Farming and mining get put into storage – check. Restricting your storage input of various different materials, food, and water – half check. The water situation is handled intelligently where each water building can be set for a maximum output based on your citizen level. For instance, you can set the water output to 16 per citizen, so if you have 10 citizens, the maximum water in storage will be 160. Very easy to understand.
This all is immediately negated by the fact that farming cannot be capped. Instead, your storage is filled up so rapidly that you can’t even manufacture enough nannites in order to build new structures or even repair your structures. Having nannites be part of storage makes building a colony extremely tricky.
It also hampers being able to trade and acquire materials from drop pods. The only way to free up space is to delete it from inventory – which you shouldn’t have to do. If storage was handled where each individual item was capped, automatically or manually, then there would not be any issues. This is the only major gripe I have about the game.
One other issue I found was when zooming. Several times zooming the camera would not work unless you either turned off the overlay or you brought up the build menu and immediately closed it. A strange bug but it can be quite annoying to get the camera zooming to work again with extra unneeded steps.
The overlays really do give a lot of detailed information, whether it’s the happiness and well-being of your citizens, to the air quality and infections your colony has. The environment plays a massive role in the statistics and overlays. When a crater’s gas floats over your base, the air quality drops rapidly, alien spores can infect your colony forcing you to create vaccinations, and creep spores multiply to destroy your base rapidly unless you have scrubber bots.
Aven Colony review code supplied by the publisher
The harshest time, that really makes this game difficult, are the frequent glacial shower storms. Thunderstorms can be quelled easily with well-placed towers, but having these shower storms hit your base sets the repair bill sky high. With an already difficult upkeep of nannites, repairing your base is more of a chore than an automation – as automation turns off once there aren’t enough nannites in storage. You can use cannons, but it would require too many to prevent damage from occurring, thus taking up too much precious space.
While a city-builder is not everyone’s cup of tea and rare on consoles, for those that love strategy games, economics, and balancing survival aspects, then this game is for you. Just keep in mind that you will need to balance storage by the books rather than the in-game stats.