Yesterday I received my copy of the brand new Aven Colony from Mothership Entertainment and I didn't waste any time getting started. If you don't know what this is yet, it is a sci fi city building strategy game released yesterday for PC, Xbox One and PS4. In this early review for the PS4 version, I want to present my first initial findings for the game, which will be followed up in a few week's time by my final review.
First, here is my first 30 mins of gameplay at the start of the game for you to get a feel what it is like.
First off, I'd be careful calling the campaign a story. There isn't really an actual storyline in this game, although you shouldn't really expect one in a city builder. However, there definitely is a sense of progression in the campaign mode. You start off with Vanaar once you've completed two tutorial stages, but as you progress you unlock new areas of the moon to build a base on.
As you progress far enough in your missions in campaign mode, you will unlock a much harder area with new challenges. There is also a sandbox mode, where you can activate having missions or not, but basically you pick any stage and you're on your own. I've tested two sandbox stages and have this to confess: If you haven't learnt everything there is to learn in campaign mode until you can do it in your sleep, stay away from sandbox mode. It's a killer.
The missions are what help you in campaign grow your city. Each mission is aimed at helping you construct in a logical, structured strategic way. I tried building the city in sandbox mode without the missions, and have had to restart thrice as I either forgot to place more power generators before my nanites ran out (resource used to construct), build an immigration buildings so visitors from outer space could come down and work for me (without them, you won't grow), or forgot to place nanite mining production plants.
Every element of this game is about strategy, but the missions really help you understand what is needed to grow your city on this moon in the Aven Prime system and why. I played for hours beyond the initial 30 min video, and as the city grew, so did all the resources I had to research and manage. The mechanics of moving around your restricted building area are easy enough, but sometimes I found that the land you build on suffocates your ability to plan properly. There will be an odd rock, plant or bump in the earth that will force you to redirect your tunnels.
I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. Just momentarily frustrating. The menus are very easy to access, but something you have to become accustomed to, as with all new building games. All of the buttons are put to good use. The D-pad can access the side and bottom menus, the central PS pad can be used to access missions, the triggers and buttons can be held in or pressed to access production and other menus invisible for most of the game, while the central action buttons are used to confirm, cancel or call up items.
The mechanics and control layout was very well thought out, and for this I must give them good credit. It didn't take me long to learn and manage the menus as if I'd been playing for years, as they've used a logical system that I don't feel could be improved. They even have a calendar and weather system, where running into winter can give you major crop and power problems if you did not plan properly.
One of the issues I had was when the alien creatures from the planet started attacking. I was warned as soon as the aliens started arriving, being told what they were and how they could be combated. I increased the speed of the game so the defensive structures could be built, but the aliens were much faster than my construction droids. The spores infected my buildings, and my hospitals took so long to remedy the situation, even in full speed mode, that I felt rather sick myself.
So believe me when I say this game is rather challenging. The further you grow your city, the harder it is to please your citizens and maintain your resources.
One last thing to mention is the CCTV type spying ability you have. This is used to monitor your civilians as they walk within the tunnels and access their feelings and moods to determine what should be improved on. Gives that Paranormal Activity feel as you move from camera to camera within your base.
If you thought the trailer graphics was superb, wait until you play the game. When you zoom in, the resolution is not lost and everything is pristine and clear. Everything was designed around a futuristic city setting, and ample credit must be given to the design team for their marvelous work. I love the designs of the different types of buildings and the plants that light up the night.
The menu bar at the bottom was the perfect touch, and makes me feel like I am sitting before a console in one of the HQ buildings on the moon from where I manage everything. Even when my city grew very very large, there was no drop in framerate or any glitches I could tell of as yet. There was one moment, which you might spot in the video when flying around the island, where I had paused the game and the rivers and ocean had stopped flowing, but the crashing of water on rocks seemed to be stuck in a loop. I'm shaking that off as a momentary glitch though and nothing worth complaining about.
A final word on graphics is all the effort the design team put into making this moon. I've scrolled through the different levels that can be played in sandbox mode, and no two areas are exactly the same. I'm not going to deliberately burn other games or developers, but too often have I played console building games where "different" levels and stages are too much of the same thing. Thanks for not being lazy, Mothership design team! Really, really appreciated.
A city building game is all about replayability. There is basic no end to building until you run out of space, and even then you may not want to stop. What gives Aven Colony the edge over most city building games is that there are different environments you can try out, which means you can spend even more hours building.
There was nothing about this game that made me want to stop playing it or will prevent me from playing it again. On the contrary, I cannot wait to start it up again and continue building the city in the hopes of meeting the rumored Guardian ancient civilisation I have yet to meet.
WHAT IT COULD HAVE DONE BETTER
There was one aspect I was really hoping for. I suppose it is a bit much to ask, since these city building games really take their toll on the system, especially when the entire map is being used. No Man's Sky really treated me to some pleasure when they released the base development for the game. It was so great to not only build my own base, but to be able to walk around within it and build the interior further.
This was something I was actually hoping I'd be able to do. Not just walk around in the tunnels, like you can walk around your park in Zoo Tycoon, but also maybe build your own residence that you can develop and relax in when not managing the city. Even having someone knock at the door delivering your mail from concerned citizens would have been a great touch.
WHAT I AM HOPING TO SEE IN TIME TO COME
Aven Colony has massive scope for future DLC. More areas of the moon can be added with other resource and alien challenges. New building types can be added with enhanced gameplay modes. I haven't really seen scope for multiplayer features, but I am hoping to see some opportunities to have this included in some way. Maybe trading with other players for resources that you really need. Or building a small residence on their base. The scope of possibilities is immense, and I hope Mothership Entertainment is already planning some more development for this game.
I wanted a separate section to compare this game with, instead of mixing it among the fluff above. I've seen some reviews or comments comparing this game with Sim City, which I must spend some time disagreeing with. To me, Sim City was and is just boring. I haven't spent as much time as many fans out there playing the game, simply because I don't enjoy it that much. The strategy in Sim City is fun, to a point.
If I were to compare this to any city building game, I'd rather compare it to Tropico. You have the lush island, with land restrictions like lakes, mountains, resource mounds and rocks. And Vanaar, the first area, reminds me way too much of the Tropico islands to ignore. As mentioned before, the base development on No Man's Sky, maybe more for that sci fi feel, is also very close to this, although I was hoping we could build more on NMS...thank you Mothership for building on this dream for me!
I'm enjoying Aven Colony more than any of the games mentioned in the comparison, with the possible exception of No Man's Sky. Nothing beats being able to get into your spaceship and flying between systems. So far, this is the best city building game I have ever.... yes, EVER, played, and it is the one I have been waiting for my whole life! I am so, so, so very grateful that Mothership brought this to console, especially the PS4, and that is one of the main reasons I will be giving this a very high score when my final review comes out.
Now... just bring out an Aven Colony mobile game, you can even add that silly money collecting thing mobile games like doing, and you will have one very satisfied puppy in your hands.