Surviving Mars by independent game developer Haemimont Games (Victor Vran, Tropico 3, 4 and 5) and global publisher Paradox Interactive (Cities:Skylines, Hearts of Iron IV) is a real time survival simulation where, you’ve probably already guessed it from the title, you have to survive on planet Mars!
It has been spoken about greatly on the news as to when we will colonize Mars. Elon Musk has set an aspirational goal to launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2022 on a voyage of discovery meanwhile Arnie found out the eyeball popping truth of the planet in the iconic movie “Total Recall” (The original not the dodgy remake!) If you enjoy settlement builder style strategy games and love all things sci-fi then keep reading as you may be in for a treat with Surviving Mars!
Start by choosing a space agency for resources and financial support before determining a location on planet Mars to begin building your colony. I would highly recommend beginning with the “Easy Start” option for the first game just so the game controls and mechanics can be drip fed to you. You will soon discover that the difficulty bonus depends on your mission sponsor and commander profile, for the easiest start you are prompted to select the “International Mars Mission” sponsor which gives you a large fund and rocket payload to help you out as well as perks such as “Colonists never get earthsick” and a decent amount of research points per day. Once you have selected your sponsor, commander, logo and whether you want a “mystery” plot to play out it is then over to view the initial payload of your rocket where you can edit your first deployment. I would leave them as they are until you are familiar with the game.
Once ready, the planet Mars appears and by scouting the cursor around you can see how bountiful the places are for the resources of metal, concrete and water as well as the topography (flat or mountainous) and threats that may occur such as dust devils, storms, meteors and cold waves. Simply click the area that appeals to you most. A large square grid opens up for you to select a sector to begin your epic quest to colonize Mars!
The rocket lands and its initial payload gives you building materials and some rovers; RC drone transport, explorers and a transporter. The transporter can be commanded to collect materials, while the explorer can be used to investigate areas of interest designated by various icons scattered around the floor. Moving around the barren landscape is easily achieved by moving the cursor across the screen while similar to games such as Cities: Skylines you can zoom right in and see the action close up.
Ok so you have landed on Mars, what do you do first? Well power is kinda key for anything to work so solar panels are a good start. Navigating the building menu is fairly simple affair with a series of icons appearing at the bottom of the screen allowing you to open up further into each section and see what is available to build. Once a solar panel has been selected it is just a case of placing it onto the Mars surface and watching a little drone drive over and begin construction.
Similar to Earth, Mars has days and nights, measured in Sols therefore to sustain power at night you will also need to construct a battery that will steadily charge up during the day. The amount of power being produced and consumed is easily found out by selecting the solar panel therefore you have no excuses for running out. Most buildings require a power connection therefore don’t forget to run electric cables to each installation otherwise they won’t work!
Set across the rocky landscape are areas of interest for you to explore and mine for resources, such as water, metals and concrete. Sending out a drone allows you to then construct a mine/well to begin extraction. Don’t forget to build areas for your resources to be stored and also a dumping site for waste rock too as once the space behind the building is full it will not mine anymore. I found that when deploying the building it did not have to be directly on top of the symbol, just within the catchment area shown of it.
To further your knowledge and development on Mars, research is carried out by selecting a tree from one of the five available divisions; Biotech, Engineering; Robotics; Physics and Social. Each research milestone contributes to the efficiency of your colony such as gaining extra research points each sol to upgrading water supplies and constructing environmental sensors that do not require any power or maintenance. Research can be queued up so that you do not have to keep returning to the research screen after every goal has been achieved leaving you to carry on with the task of building your colony. Each time you start a new game you will find that the research tree randomises, therefore discoveries arrive in different orders, forcing you to adapt and change the way that you play.
Where before most city builders require planning mainly to do with the zoning of buildings and the roadways, here on Mars it is about building a self sustaining functional colony where an electricity black-out is not going to just stop you from working or going to the shops, it will affect your life support systems and end in death. The pressure is on!
Futuristic glass domes are constructed to support human life as well as factories and commercial buildings such as bars and casinos. In essence these become neighbourhoods and nearby colonists can migrate from dome to dome if they are local. Are your colonists going to to be sensible, dull 9-5 workers? or are they going to be hitting the martian Wetherspoons pub at 10am for a few pints and a gamble on the fruit machines? The god-like power is almost in your hands…
The colonists that are flown to Mars are chosen by yourself based upon a set of traits that you can select thumbs up or down in order to try and create your dream team. Selecting from drop down categories such as age, sex, perks, flaws, quirks and specialisation can help define the type of colonist that you are after however there is nothing to say that they won’t develop other traits later down the line that could jeopardise the mission. On a planet as barren as Mars the last thing you want is a lazy moaner or an alcoholic engineer!
Rather than just give you an empty planet to colonise and leave you to it, mission evaluation goals and mysteries appear during gameplay to give you a further sense of heading…that’s if trying to build a colony from scratch, have everyone being friends and the whole settlement working efficiently wasn’t enough for you. There is a sense of awe if you can achieve the goals that is for sure with some of the goal narratives extending gameplay to 100 hours according to the developers.
Everything from the initial map of Mars down to the close up animations at land level is impressive with a great amount of detail presented. Watching the drones construct a building was quite mesmerising as was tracking colonists while they go about their daily routine. The rockets look a little like killer whales however the whole graphical concept for Surviving Mars is loosely based on the 1960’s idea of how the future would look. I guess you would call that “retro futuristic”? The dark shadows formed by the constant passing of sols gives a real sense of lonesomeness as small shadows of buildings cast into long ones as day turns into night without the usual Earth comforts of trees, rivers and grassland to break them up. It all very barren.
An ethereal orchestral soundscape beautifully captures the sense of adventure and space when playing Surviving Mars. As with similar games such as Cities: Skylines there are radio stations that you can choose between whereby music is accompanied by the chat of a DJ. The main Surviving Mars soundtrack is composed by Bulgarian George Strezov who is also responsible for the music behind the dramatic Victor Vran score, SpellForce 3 and also conducted some of the music in Netflix’s “The Crown” season 2. Other notable tracks feature on the radio from the likes of “Dr Pops”, “Ivan the Cosmonaut” and “Profet Sobre” that bring with them a different style from 80s electro pop to 90s indie music. The full soundtrack can be listened to here.
Sound effects such as the rocket landing, drones constructing and buildings working get louder as you zoom in closer to them as you would expect. You are kept upto date of your building and research progress by a friendly female voice that softly interjects during gameplay, making you aware that it is time to move onto the next part of the colonisation project. Discovered anomalies are reported back in a diary style way leaving you to make decisions on what to do next with your findings.
Replayability is strong with Surviving Mars due to not only the amount of failed attempts you may have in trying to successfully build a colony but also with the amount of ways that the game can be configured at the start. Choosing the sponsor affects the amount of money and resources that you have while turning on mysteries adds a plot line to the timeline. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge for you then the landing location that you choose greatly affects your early game play too. The way that the research system has been designed certainly keeps the gameplay fresh as the subsets always appear in a random order for each new game that you play. One breakthru technology that you used last time to completely alter your colonisation experience may not be available as early as it was, therefore you must adapt your playing style to suit the latest tech that you researched instead.
An expansive mod support accompanies the PC version of Surviving Mars that allows you to craft your own awesome buildings, recreational parks and even your own mysteries which can all be shared through the gaming community. Will there be modding available for consoles in the future? I wouldn’t hold your breath however it hasn’t been ruled out by the devs. A season pass will be available for Surviving Mars that will bring with it two new expansions and two new content packs, however the details of these are a closely guarded secret at Haemimont HQ.
Overall Surviving Mars is an epic construction/management/survival game that will certainly test your skills to the max through trial and error. Could we be playing this game actually on Mars in a few years time? Who knows, but it would be kinda cool! Surviving Mars achieves a Gold Thumb Culture Trophy!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.