The private space travel industry is a hot topic these days, with near-constant talk about when (and how) people may one day set foot on Mars in permanent outposts. Haemimont Games has re-entered the city-building genre of games, while hopping on the hype train of planet colonization, with their latest release Surviving Mars. But is this just SimCity with a fresh coat of dry red Martian dust? Or is there more to the game than simply managing resources and people? Time to find out in our Surviving Mars PS4 review.
So Much to Do
What is there to do as a Mars colony manager? As with most city sims, the first order of business is securing resources to prepare an area for habitation. The basic resources in Surviving Mars are metals, concrete, machine parts, polymers, and electronics, which cements it as a sci-fi game through and through. Domes are required in order for humans to be able to arrive via rocket ship and attempt to eke out an existence on the Red Planet. Unlike in games such as SimCity, where simply placing a zone connected to power and water is enough to get things going, Surviving Mars requires each dome to have living quarters, medical facilities, farms, recreational centers, and other spaces if one is to be successful. A lot of these fixtures have to be built ahead of time, otherwise the freshly arrived colonists will quickly turn into fresh corpses. There’s a ton of preparation involved, and drones will be constantly busy leading up the arrival of colonists.
Those drones are the labor force of Surviving Mars. They can extract resources such as metals from deposits scattered in the barren wastelands of Mars, repair broken equipment including one another, build and repair structures, and more. Drones can be commanded individually, but are also pretty good at behaving autonomously. As long as something is in range of their commander drone, if it needs attention and there are available resources, it’ll get repaired or maintained without manual intervention.
As a settlement expands, research can be gained – automatically if the difficulty is low enough, as well as through properly staffed research facilities within functioning domes. This research can be used to make improvements in five key areas, such as increasing the resource load that each drone can carry, improving productivity of workers, and plenty of other boosts to gameplay. Each citizen has their own personality, as well as accompanying traits, both beneficial and detrimental to the colony. If a colonist’s sanity level dips too low, for instance due to a prolonged period of starvation and oxygen deprivation, they may commit suicide – however, those who have the religious trait will never commit suicide due to a low sanity level. There’s all kinds of these traits that will mix and match to various degrees, such as workaholic gamers, lazy alcoholic gamblers, rugged sexy party animals (yes, “sexy” is actually a trait, which can help to improve the birth rate), and others which have to be kept in mind. It’s yet another aspect of Surviving Mars that ensures things are always interesting.
They Know What They’re Doing
The development crew at Haemimont Games are no strangers to the city-building genre – they’ve been at it since their release of Glory of the Roman Empire in 2006. It shows in Surviving Mars’ smooth performance. Other than during a manual or autosave, the engine running the show keeps the screen refreshed with data, and hopping from screen to screen is a breeze. Zooming in up close on buildings reveals a decent amount of detail, and the longer a building or robot has been around, the more dust cakes up over time in a nice touch. Equally as important is being able to zoom out when a city is full, which doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, either. This isn’t the most detailed simulation game out there, graphics-wise, but in a sci-fi setting perhaps it doesn’t really need to be.
City simulation games are generally designed with the PC in mind, because the interfaces are full of things to select and click on. Surviving Mars has a fairly smart control scheme, with compromises made for the controller. For instance, pressing the Cross button selects the nearest object to the cursor, which is always centered on the screen. If an incorrect object is highlighted, simply pressing the cross button repeatedly will cycle through nearby objects, until the intended target is highlighted. There are handy shortcuts to quickly change roles or target objects, which is sorely needed in a game such as this, and is always appreciated on console. Yet, the DualShock 4’s touchpad as well as its button, go completely unused in Surviving Mars. This is a missed opportunity, since a lot of utility feels lost with that glaring omission.
Mysteries at the Dome
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to Surviving Mars is its mysteries. These are the main source of lore, and involve finding key artifacts hidden in the planet, such as mysterious black cubes or perhaps monolithic-type structures. By the time this point in the adventure is reached, a settlement will have many colonists, some of whom have banded together in an attempt to convince the player, as overseer, what to do with the artifacts, if anything. Slowly, based on player choice, these mysteries are revealed, and they may help or hinder progress on the settlement. This is something not seen very often in this genre, and is a refreshing twist that will ensure fans will come back to play through each scenario.
Surviving Mars isn’t simply SimCity set on our red neighbor Mars. It’s a resource management game with a heavy emphasis on survival, involving lots of death and brutal mechanics. At the same time, its systems are designed to teach the player how best to strategize and learn from past mistakes. A potential play time of 100+ hours to see each mystery play out also ensures a ton of entertainment return on a meager investment of ~$40 USD. For those who love the city-sim genre, this is a no-brainer.
Surviving Mars review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.