Aven Colony Review – Intergalactic, Planetary (PS4)
At first glance, Aven Colony’s premise is pretty straightforward. Humanity is searching for a new place to call home. As such, it’s up to the player to take charge, start planning and building colonies in which the population can not only survive, but thrive.
In short, it appears to be SimCity in space, but to claim that’s all it is would be something of an injustice. There are some clever ideas here that help to do away with some of the duller tasks that you’d find in other city building titles, for example. Transport is a luxury that isn’t available on the new planet, so your citizens walk everywhere along tunnels which protect them from the unbreathable atmosphere. Not only does this take the usual transport management – which some find to be tedious – out of the equation, but these tunnels also allow you to transfer electricity and water from place to place without needing to mess about with building a grid of power lines or sewer pipes. Ideas like these mean that your colony can grow at a much faster rate than you’d think.
Everything you build is constructed from iron Nanites. Your first task when laying down roots is usually to find iron deposits to mine, then construct a Nanite processing station to ensure you have the resources to keep on building. Construction is completed by drones which have a limited range, which means that voyaging too far away from your colony will require the building of a chain of drone stations that reach the geothermal outlet that you wanted to place a power station on. It takes a little bit of getting used to – especially if you’re familiar with being able to just drag and drop a five-mile road in Cities: Skylines or the like – but this way of doing things has the effect of causing you to really think about whether your next big construction project is worth it in the long run.
Once you’re familiar with the construction systems – which a pair of handy tutorial levels explain very well – you’ll need to ensure that your colonists have places to live and that there’s an ample supply of food and water, produced by farms and water pumps that you build. An immigration station is needed to allow new colonists to relocate to your little piece of heaven, while air filters and police drones ensure that they can get around without choking to death or having their wallets snatched. Outside interference comes into play in the form of plague and creeper spores – the latter of which can infect and destroy your buildings one-by-one if left unattended. I haven’t mentioned that you’ll have to deal with catastrophic lightning strikes, meteor showers, a lack of food production in winter, entertaining your citizens, researching new food types, distributing vaccines and drugs that provide health boosts, and making sure that the poor darlings don’t have to walk too far to work, have I?
You also must stay in everyone’s good books so that they vote you back into power during the periodical referendums that can end your game instantly. A trick has been missed here, as there was an opportunity to bring in a political aspect to the simulation. Instead though, being voted back in solely comes down to whether your citizens are happy in their daily life. Half the time, you won’t even know that a vote has taken place, since the notification will get lost amongst all the others that are constantly cropping up.
Aside from that, Aven Colony puts in a good shift on the UI front. You can see key metrics (water, food, power, colonist happiness, and storage) at all times and everything you will ever want to do is never more than a button press or two away. There’s a lot of information to be found, even getting as granular as being able to see what’s bothering individual colonists.
It isn’t all just free-form building and keeping people happy, either. There are tasks to take on as a multi-level mission-based campaign is included, which has you trying to find out what happened to the planet’s previous colonists. It’s a nice idea, but most of the missions have essentially the same structure and the whole mode could have been so much more. You start with the smallest possible settlement – the same as if you were starting a new colony in sandbox mode – and must build it up until you are able to do the thing that the mission goals say, whether that’s sending out a ship from your new expedition hub to destroy spore nests, or building a containment unit so that your scientists can examine an alien artefact. The single mission in the set that gives you a time limit to construct a habitat that can support all the colonists aboard a compromised ship provides enough tension to show that the rest of the game’s missions are lightweight and unimaginative at best. With no multiplayer mode (not that you’d necessarily expect one in a game of this type), that could prove to be a major obstacle for some.
Raising the difficulty level is recommended for almost all players, since the normal level is painfully simple. I managed to walk through the campaign without even coming close to failing a single mission. Things are so easy in fact, that the entire trading aspect of the game is made entirely pointless. Having to build a new farm to grow enough quinoa to supply a contract becomes less appealing when you’re only going to get 100 ration packs in return and you already have enough food stored to keep things going for a few centuries.
One major downside to being able to construct a large colony in fairly short order is that when you get a number of buildings in place, certain parts of Aven Colony become largely unusable. Amongst other things, managing crime levels and air quality are next to impossible, since the overlays that show you the data for each area of the city cause the game to freeze for seconds at a time. At one point after only an hour of building, there was a delay of a full ten seconds between me (finally) selecting a location for a drone hub, and the game unfreezing. This wouldn’t be as bad an issue if those overlays weren’t enabled automatically every time you tried to place a police drone hub or new air filter in your colony. It isn’t going to cause a problem in earlier missions, but get deep into the campaign or build a bigger city in sandbox mode and the skips, freezes, and lock ups make the game borderline unplayable.
Ultimately, those performance issues are what will stop Aven Colony being a title that you’ll put dozens of hours into. Though the campaign is unimaginative and some areas are not fleshed out as well as they could have been, the game is still addictive stuff. But, once you’ve run through the campaign you’re only left with the sandbox mode, which grinds to a halt as soon as you start to do well.
Aven Colony PS4 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.