Aven Colony Review – The Dreaded Space Commute
Aven Colony25th July, 2017
Nineteen months ago I reviewed Anno 2205. 2205’s latter three levels sent you to the moon to build an off-world colony of sorts. The building was restricted and you also had a number of concerns, as well as the dangers of space to think about. Aven Colony brings this same city building, only to take it even further out into the reaches of space.
The thing about space in Aven Colony is that it’s more dangerous than you’d first imagine. Ice shards rain from the sky. Giant worm creatures sprout from the ground, spitting on your buildings. Plague spores and toxic gasses erupt from the ground with the sole aim of killing your colonists. At least it wants to be dangerous and add intrigue and excitement. It sadly ends up being mundane and more of a chore.
Much like any city builder, you have a list of resources to manage which turns out to be the core experience. Food, water, power, air and happiness are the main targets here. What turns out to be the major problem is that where other games add something to keep your interest, Aven doesn’t. For example, Cities: Skylines allows you to specialize. You can draw in tourists, be an industrial powerhouse or, in reality, balance and do everything by creating multiple areas – as a real city would (provided you’ve used a mod to unlock all of the space available).
The city or colony building here on Aven Prime is just a little too basic. There’s no real need or use for expansion beyond a few basics. On certain maps, the amount of land useful for farming is limited so expanding there is essential. On others, one core mission objective could be to investigate structures there long before the arrival of man. What turns out to be the core problem is that you never really get to be proactive, only reactive.
Space inevitably throws a number of problems your way. This could be a geothermal vent that releases toxic gasses which head towards your colony. Maybe it’s lightning strikes or ice shards, raiding from the sky causing damage to anything they hit. You’ve even got alien spores that love to eat through your buildings. Worst of all are the ungrateful plebs that make up the population of your colony. You can build certain buildings to offer protection from some of the disasters. These can be lightning towers, space cannons, air filters or scrubber drones. That’s about as proactive as Aven Colony lets you be. The rest of the time you’re just reacting to the next problem, which takes us back to the plebs.
Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess. At least that would be possible if I seemed to actually possess the mythical key to happiness. You would imagine that people moving to colonise a new world would understand that there may be a few hardships to suffer through. However, and it’s a problem that Aven Colony simply doesn’t cater for, one huge killer here is the dreaded commute. Yes, after travelling light years to a new world, a problem that these daring space travellers will hold up holo-placards over is having to walk a few extra meters to work.
Of course there are other, more fatal issues that impact the happiness of your colonists. Air quality will cause a large level of sickness and eventual death of your people. Colonists also need to eat and drink, so high enough levels of food and water are essential. Power is what keeps everything running and keeps the heat on. Essentially all you’re doing is balancing these handful of resources. While this isn’t unlike most other city-building games, others have at least some goal in mind, or some variety on the way of meeting your goals.
Aven Colony doesn’t. It doesn’t matter what map you’re on. Skirmish or campaign? No real issue there. Each and every game plays out the same way, even the objectives thrown at you on the way are near identical, simply because they’re reacting to which line on the invisible graph is lower than the others. Throughout it all, there’s only two ways to actually lose the game. The first is to let all of your colonists die. The second is to have happiness lower than 50% around election time, because democracy comes before long-term planning of a space colony which could lead to some short-term hardship.
That’s one of the few unique features of Aven Colony. Every so often an election comes around and the people are given a chance to vote on you as the colony leader. The problem is that just one thing can spiral and lead to your quick demise. Long commute? Less may go to the power plant which in turn shuts down the construction drones, eventually preventing you from building housing near the power plant, causing a further power shortage which hits your greenhouses and food production. Eventually, you either get voted out or the people die of starvation. In my situation, all 400+ colonists died within about ten minutes and the spiral simply couldn’t be stopped.
These moments are caused by neglect more than anything the game throws at you. This ends up being the core problem with the game, it’s simply toothless. There’s no real time limit on your expansion, the game simply waits for you. Allowing for this slow expansion, the build-up of resources to expand just another few meters. It’s all too streamlined, all too mundane. Gone are any personal or economic challenges, particularly as you simply generate the game’s version of cash (nanites) with a regular building or the game’s basic version of a trade or development system.
Trading, for example, only offers a limited list of specific trades. Some are there permanently, some are one-time only objective specific. There’s no fluctuation in the value of any given item either. It’s possible to simply survive on one resource and trade it out for everything. Just how shallow the economic simulation of the game is becomes apparent in later story maps or in skirmish.
Once you can provide enough of a particular resource, and that resource is either abundant or easy to grow in the particular map, and is always in demand at the trade depot, you’re set for life. The only interesting thing to do after that is grow alien plants that, alone, are useless but can be developed using another building into other items that increase happiness.
What could have been one of the few interesting aspects of the game are expeditions. The building of an expedition center allows you to man up and control a vessel that’s sent out on expeditions. Uncovering a set map and responding to the missions that appear as you explore, you can task the ships to perform a set mission. What’s disappointing is that all expedition aspects are shown through text boxes and the only influence you really have is keeping the expedition centre fully manned and powered up.
What should be praised are the aesthetic choices. While I’m more than willing to complain about the streamlining of gameplay, I’ll never complain about the streamlining of the UI. Everything is sleek, easy and manageable. Whatever you want to see is a mere click away, offering multiple overlays and graphs that let you see exactly where your colony is lacking, or succeeding.
It ties in well with what is a sleek and undeniably attractive game. Every building, all of the maps and even the people, drones and creatures that feature within the maps are all outstandingly detailed and look perfect for the game’s setting. The game also offers you the chance for a close-up view of your colony, letting you hook into the CCTV system. As nice as these views, as well as the multitude of sleek overlays and graphs are, they mostly turn out to be superfluous at best.
Despite the overall negativity of these words, Aven Colony isn’t a bad game. The problem is that it’s not good. The overly streamlined approach has left it feeling bland, lacking any complexity or challenge. It’s a great game to look at and will grab your interest, if only for a while. The problem is that an hour or so in you’ll realize it has nothing truly new to show you.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by publisher. Can be bought for PS4 or Xbox One via Amazon.
Aven Colony has the trappings of a good city-building game but simply lacks the depth to make it so. While the game looks great and plays well, the setting of space is underused outside of its aesthetic and the lack of variety or challenge inevitably leaves the game feeling dull.
- Aven Colony is a great looking game and always offers something nice to look at, listen to and simply watch
- Gameplay is streamlined and easily accessible, with a UI that always makes things clear and easy to understand
- There’s no challenge or bite to the game, leaving a mundane cycle of expansion and resource gathering with no threat, bar human error, to stop you
- No variety is ever really introduced which leads to every campaign mission and skirmish playing out roughly the same way