s ur­viv­ing mars

Oh man, look at those cave­men go

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Martin Kitts

It may just be a ra­dioac­tive dust­bowl, 140 mil­lion miles from the near­est breath­able at­mos­phere, but Mars ex­erts an ir­re­sistible pull on Earth’s dream­ers. Could peo­ple ever live there? Would a fu­ture colony se­ri­ously have a casino?

There’s a lot of work to be done be­fore the first colonists can move in. So­lar pan­els and wind tur­bines must be set up to power the ma­chin­ery that ex­tracts wa­ter and oxy­gen from the Mar­tian en­vi­ron­ment. Raw ma­te­ri­als must be pro­cessed, and miles of pipe­lines and elec­tri­cal ca­bles must be laid to con­nect ev­ery­thing to­gether.

Once you’ve got some working habi­ta­tion domes you can start fer­ry­ing set­tlers from Earth. You’d think the first peo­ple to visit Mars would be se­lected from the world’s best and bright­est, but you’re more than likely to end up with a bunch of drunks and in­vet­er­ate gam­blers. Tight­en­ing the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria to weed out un­de­sir­able traits such as old age and in­san­ity means you end up with a rocket car­ry­ing just one per­son. Con­se­quently, the domes must be man­aged and po­liced like any nor­mal city sim.

Most jobs fall to an army of semi­au­tonomous drones that trun­dle around in the dust, build­ing, re­pair­ing and sup­ply­ing the grow­ing Mar­tian base. They don’t re­quire much di­rect in­ter­ven­tion but can only op­er­ate within a fixed ra­dius of a com­mand post. As long as you’ve pro­vided a pile of the cor­rect re­sources within their zone of con­trol, they’ll hap­pily con­struct build­ings and re­pair leaky pipes all day long, but if the com­mand post it­self breaks down or the re­sources are so much as a few inches out­side their ter­ri­tory, they’ll grind to a halt. Lo­cat­ing in­ven­tory amid dozens of sup­ply dumps and truck­ing items to the cor­rect zones is a crit­i­cal man­ual task.

Build­ing blocks

As the colony grows larger, jug­gling mul­ti­ple prob­lems with the in­fra­struc­ture be­comes in­creas­ingly com­mon­place. For some rea­son the power sup­ply upon which the en­tire base de­pends seems to be wired to­gether with tin­foil, and it’s rare to go more than a cou­ple of min­utes with­out a sec­tion of burnt-out cable need­ing to be re­paired. The oxy­gen sup­ply is for­ever break­ing down and any num­ber of build­ings will sud­denly go off­line.

You might want to patch a sim­ple oxy­gen leak, but first you have to re­place a cable to power up the drones that will fix the com­mand cen­tre that will fix the ma­chine that makes the com­po­nents to fix an­other ma­chine that feeds the leaky pipe… Cri­sis man­age­ment across mul­ti­ple com­mand zones can be hec­tic, and all the while you’ve got me­teor strikes knock­ing out more pipes and oxy­gen leak­ing into space. Colonists will swiftly freeze to death, suf­fo­cate or just top them­selves when things start go­ing badly wrong, and the game isn’t great at telling you what you’re meant to be do­ing.

As long as you keep mul­ti­ple save files you can al­ways go back to a time be­fore it all went south, but find­ing any sort of equi­lib­rium is hard to do. Even if you can wean the colony off its reg­u­lar sup­ply ships from Earth, breed­ing and cloning the next gen­er­a­tion of Mar­tians as you in­ves­ti­gate a num­ber of po­ten­tial endgame mys­ter­ies, it’s al­ways go­ing to re­quire more man­ual over­sight than a typ­i­cal city-build­ing game. There’s life on Mars, but it’s only ever one blown fuse away from ex­tinc­tion.

“Colonists will swiftly freeze to death when things go wrong”

Plug­ging an oxy­gen leak in this dome will be one of your main chal­lenges.

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