Aven Colony PC, PS4, Xbox One

Win a cou­ple of ref­er­en­dums and you’ll un­lock the abil­ity to im­pose mar­tial law; this isn’t bril­liant for morale

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Mother­ship En­ter­tain­ment Pub­lisher Team 17 For­mat PC (tested), PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Dur­ing an age of melt­ing ice caps and con­ti­nent­long al­gae blooms, the idea of trad­ing Earth for an un­spoilt planet has in­creas­ing ap­peal – wit­ness the an­tics of Elon Musk, a bil­lion­aire hell-bent on trans­port­ing thou­sands of peo­ple to Mars by the end of the cen­tury. Mother­ship’s el­e­gant, if slightly placid, Aven Colony is a timely re­minder that hu­mans are quite ca­pa­ble of tak­ing their prob­lems with them. The lush gar­den world you’re called upon to ter­raform has its per­ils – from drift­ing gas clouds to par­a­sitic spores that clog up vi­tal ma­chin­ery – but ev­ery in­dige­nous threat pales be­fore the needs and foibles of your sup­pos­edly hardy set­tlers. Their de­mands are myr­iad, from a wider range of din­ing op­tions and less con­gested res­i­dences to beefier com­mu­nity policing and ac­cess to a su­per-mall stocked with the lat­est ro­bot but­lers. Fail to meet those de­mands (to say noth­ing of triv­i­al­i­ties like drink­ing wa­ter) and you’ll be sent pack­ing at the next ref­er­en­dum, as­sum­ing your sub­jects don’t em­i­grate (or ex­pire) be­fore­hand. It’s more like play­ing the mayor of a gated sub­urb, at times, than colonis­ing a mys­te­ri­ous fron­tier.

Ei­ther way, it makes for a rest­ful, mod­er­ately sat­is­fy­ing strat­egy game that plays like a hy­brid of Cities: Sky­lines and Of­f­world Trad­ing Com­pany. Aven Colony is a pure build­ing sim, with no units to fuss over save for self-pi­lot­ing con­struc­tion drones and off-map ex­pe­di­tion shut­tles. Be­gin­ning with a homely tum­ble of land­ing pods, you’ll grad­u­ally raise each colony to a state of self-suf­fi­ciency, stretch­ing out a her­met­i­cally sealed tun­nel net­work to­wards re­sources such as iron de­posits, geo­ther­mal vents and fer­tile soil. It’s easy to lose your­self in the click and gleam of the grid-based ar­chi­tec­ture, but leave the un­der­ly­ing vari­ables unat­tended for too long and cit­i­zens may take to their rooftops in protest. A protest­ing colonist is not a pro­duc­tive colonist. Win a cou­ple of ref­er­en­dums, how­ever, and you’ll un­lock the abil­ity to im­pose mar­tial law; this isn’t bril­liant for morale, but will at least en­sure that the peo­ple run­ning your air fil­ters get back to work be­fore they all die of car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing.

Aven Colony’s cam­paign spans just nine maps (a tenth, Cerulean Vale, is a pre-or­der ex­clu­sive for now), from loamy lake­sides that sup­port vast agri­cul­tural yields but are low on iron de­posits, to glacial plateaus fringed by spires where you’ll have to rely on trade for sus­te­nance. There’s also a sand­box mode which al­lows you to re­play maps with custom set­tings, such as more fre­quent hazards, but there’s no map gen­er­a­tor at the time of writ­ing. It’s a sparse fea­ture set, and the cam­paign is a lit­tle lack­ing in back­bone. Ev­ery type of build­ing is avail­able from the off, so progress through mis­sions is de­void of in­trigue, and the story doesn’t help: it’s yet an­other tale of ex­tinct alien races and mys­te­ri­ous arte­facts, dot­ted with grat­ing ban­ter about, of all things, so­cial-media gaffes.

RE­SEARCH COM­PO­NENT

Aven Colony is patently a work of fan­tasy – it skims past the ques­tion of how ex­actly hu­man be­ings have made it to Aven Prime – but it takes in­spi­ra­tion from the work of Pro­fes­sor Abel Men­dez, who stud­ies po­ten­tially hab­it­able ex­o­plan­ets at the Univer­sity Of Puerto Rico. He sug­gested the use of giant crys­tals as a plau­si­ble ter­rain el­e­ment and pro­vided in­put on the choice of crops, which range from rice and mel­ons to cu­ri­ous na­tive plants. Ac­cord­ing to his NASA bio, Men­dez’s re­search is mo­ti­vated by the threat of global warm­ing, a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion that per­haps in­forms the em­pha­sis on cli­mate as a vari­able in the game, and ren­ders its en­dorse­ment of full­blown in­dus­trial cap­i­tal­ism as each colony’s de­sired end state a lit­tle prob­lem­atic.

If the writ­ing is bilge and the broad strokes of base man­age­ment are un­ex­cit­ing, there’s a lot of clev­er­ness at work in Aven Colony’s crevices. Take the chang­ing of the sea­sons. The planet’s slow ro­ta­tion means that night is es­sen­tially a minia­ture ice age: out­door crops won’t grow, thun­der­storms threaten to set build­ings ablaze (and in the case of our re­view build, crash the PC) un­less con­structed within range of a light­ning tower, and so­lar pan­els are half as ef­fec­tive. Hav­ing to pre­pare for such scarci­ties helps break up the flow, pun­ish­ing you if you rush to claim dis­tant min­ing sites be­fore your colony is se­cure. It also in­vites a pleas­ing spread of tac­tics. You might aim to churn out food through the darker months by in­vest­ing in ex­pen­sive, power-hog­ging green­houses. You could fall back on the off-map econ­omy, sell­ing gold and nanites to other colonies in re­turn for ship­ments of grain, or you could bet ev­ery­thing on gen­er­at­ing a huge sur­plus while the sun is up, then ra­tion con­sump­tion till spring. In gen­eral, there’s a gen­tle flex­i­bil­ity to Aven Colony’s de­sign that re­wards imag­i­na­tive so­lu­tions to prob­lems. Many build­ings serve more than one pur­pose. Wind farms, for in­stance, can be spun back­wards to blow away gas clouds be­fore they seep into vents. At­mo­spheric con­densers can per­form elec­trol­y­sis to gen­er­ate oxy­gen rather than wa­ter, im­prov­ing air qual­ity nearby. Light­ning con­duc­tors are both a de­fence and a means of top­ping up your colony’s bat­ter­ies, al­low­ing you to ride out win­ter power short­ages. Tougher mis­sions draw these qual­i­ties out, par­tic­u­larly those that ask you to move be­yond sub­sis­tence farm­ing to com­mod­ity cap­i­tal­ism, which in­volves an ex­tended pro­duc­tion chain – when you’re strug­gling with rolling black­outs and mal­nu­tri­tion, it’s hard to jus­tify set­ting aside land and power for ined­i­ble crops and mills.

A gen­er­ous as­sort­ment of vis­ual over­lays al­lows you to mon­i­tor your set­tle­ment in depth even as its scale threat­ens to hide the key work­ings from view, flag­ging up green­houses that are a chore to reach or habi­tats where the mood is prickly for want of places to shop. They also make cer­tain flaws more ap­par­ent, like the slightly ar­bi­trary way the game cal­cu­lates com­mut­ing dis­tance or ar­eas where pol­lu­tion is high. It’s per­haps more a prob­lem of com­mu­ni­ca­tion: Aven Colony of­fers two tu­to­rial mis­sions but leaves you to work out the in­tri­ca­cies on your own, which is ad­mit­tedly a source of sat­is­fac­tion. A wider prob­lem is that af­ter a few hours, the prospect of vis­it­ing an alien planet is lost, stran­gled by the mun­dane pres­sures of com­mu­nity man­age­ment. Sud­denly those her­met­i­cally sealed tun­nel net­works take on an ad­di­tional sig­nif­i­cance. It’s less a trip to an­other world than a slice of this one, warts and all, care­fully pre­served in the mid­dle of a be­witch­ing, in­ac­ces­si­ble wilder­ness.

MAIN Dense ur­ban ar­eas attract crime, though it takes a while to build to crit­i­cal lev­els – it’s of­ten bet­ter to wait for it than con­struct po­lice hubs in ad­vance.

ABOVE Set­tle­ments are largely shaped by ac­cess to re­sources (and the lo­cal wildlife) – in this desert map, you’ll leap from one patch of green soil to an­other.

RIGHT The game’s Un­real En­gine world is more sooth­ing than it is breath­tak­ing – shad­ows or­bit struc­tures and wildlife swoops over the map as the day passes

ABOVE Ex­pe­di­tion cen­tres al­low you to send an up­grade­able shut­tle on mis­sions – re­claim­ing relics, res­cu­ing ex­plor­ers – for small re­wards. It’s hardly XCOM, ad­mit­tedly, but it does cre­ate a lit­tle late-game in­trigue

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