A Deep Strategy Game Let Down By Poor Controls
Surviving Mars is a deep real-time strategy game that sees you build and sustain a colony on Mars. With a strong soundtrack, great visuals and an impressive amount of micromanagement options, Surviving Mars is a fun and rewarding strategy game. The opening few hours are a little slow as you get to grips with the questionable control scheme and mechanics of the game but after some initial trial and error obtaining and sustaining key resources and saving your colony from disaster becomes a little easier. The game has a steep learning curve too and a lack of a tutorial and variety in the latter periods of core gameplay damages what’s otherwise a solid strategy offering.
The domes house all human life and gameplay revolves around sustaining this ecology
At the beginning of the game you’re dropped onto a promising slab of land on the Red Planet with the task of building the foundations for sustainable human life. The early parts of Surviving Mars involve harnessing and maintaining electrical power, building a manageable food source and keeping a steady stream of water flowing through the colony. With these core components under your belt the gameplay becomes more challenging as you begin building domes to house colonists and micromanage their needs. It’s here that Surviving Mars increases its challenge by juggling the colonists’ needs whilst growing and maintaining the overall construction on the planet. There’s a fair amount of resource management needed here too and effectively managing this can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful colony.
Most of the busy work on the ground originates from three vehicle types that aid you through most of the building. Explorers are used to navigate the vast map and scan for more resources, gain research points and unlock perks, the transport vehicle is used for transporting resources between different points and the Rover acts as a hub point for worker drones that carry out most of the busy work but only within the radius of that vehicle. Utilising these to your advantage are key but it can take some time to get used to this style of play.
The various domes can be tweaked to allow specific demographics or type of humans for more customisation
Those expecting a fast-paced simulation like Cities: Skylines to build a thriving colony quickly will certainly be left disappointed. Surviving Mars is decidedly slow, especially early on as you get to grips with the control scheme and understanding how to harvest resources on the planet. The lack of a tutorial mode or any substantial information around what you’re supposed to do, what buildings to prioritise and when to make the jump to making Mars habitable takes the shine off an otherwise solid title. The control scheme is a little awkward too, with certain buttons mapped a little awkwardly which results in opening the wrong menu, accidentally pausing the game time or selecting the wrong notification which is far more hassle than it should be.
To aid with your quest, Surviving Mars includes the option to restock an array of supplies via cargo rockets from Earth which drops a rocket to your chosen spot on the map. After your first humans have survived for 10 Sols (in-game Mars days), an additional option opens up to allow more humans to colonise Mars and from there grow to multiple domes and more complex societal structures. What’s particularly interesting here is the ability to sift through an exhaustive list of perks and flaws to find the right fit humans for your colony. Want to inhabit the planet with crazy, religious fanatics from Russia? How about a lazy bunch of vegan gamblers from Great Britain? All of this and more can be customised and tweaked including specific domes only allowing certain demographics in further enhancing the ability to be as broad or specific as you like which brings more variety to the core gameplay loop.
Rockets can be helpful to restock dwindling supplies.
Researching new buildings does help a little too and whether it be fungal farms and nuclear energy or social bonuses for colonists, there’s a myriad of different options available to unlock but once you’ve grasped the core gameplay through harnessing oxygen, water and energy, there really isn’t much deviation from this with most of the problem solving late on a result of natural disasters or mismanaged resources.
Surviving Mars’ difficulty can be modified and tweaked depending on where you decide to build and how hostile the area is but even on the easiest setting, this can be a challenge. Asteroids frequently knock out pipes and cause cracks in domes that need urgent repairs, dust storms can be problematic and running out of certain resources can have a devastating impact on the ecology of your world. It’s at these moments that Surviving Mars is in desperate need of a tutorial mode. One particular moment saw drones statically watching while a malfunctioning pipe housing oxygen caused havoc for a nearby dome and the game gives little acknowledgement of how to fix this other than that the colony is suffering. A quick google search uncovered a lack of resources like metal or concrete is the culprit and restocking these resources or adjusting the location of your Rover to hover over nearby storage areas can alleviate the problem but as this isn’t communicated in-game, moments like this lead to needless frustration and take the shine off an otherwise impressive real time strategy title.
Visually, the game looks amazing with great lighting effects
There’s no denying that Surviving Mars is a very well put together game. The slick visuals and excellent soundtrack help make this a joy to play through and building up your colony to a thriving, bustling community can be incredibly rewarding. The host of options around choosing colonists, researching extra buildings and perks to improve your society are really well thought out but it’s such a shame that a few glaring issues hold this back from being the great game it so easily could have been. The clumsy control scheme, lack of a tutorial mode and explanation for core mechanics in the game hurts the overall appeal of this otherwise impressive title. With a little more polish and refinement Surviving Mars could easily be one of the most impressive strategy offerings on Playstation 4 but the flaws are difficult to ignore, holding back what’s otherwise a very good game.
Verdict - 7.5/10