Colonizing Mars is still a pipe dream in the real world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine the process of creating a Martian colony for the human race. Haemimont Games' upcoming Surviving Mars aims to do just that, and we played an early prototype of the so-called “survival city-builder” at E3.
Most city-building games have a simple beginning act: The map is placed in front of you and you immediately start the process of building roads, utilities, and buildings. That isn't the case withSurviving Mars. Because you’re building on a completely different planet, you’ll need to pick a commander to lead your colony and, more importantly, choose a space agency to sponsor the trip. Choosing the agency is important because your chosen organization will provide you with the necessary funds to get your colony rolling.
Before you blast off, you’ll need to choose what goes into your payload on the maiden voyage to Mars. This can include raw materials for construction, generators to power your buildings, and even a few rovers to build structures. The only limit to your payload is the cost, which is determined by the amount provided by your space agency sponsor. When you do arrive on Mars, you’ll have to pick a landing zone. We were told that we could pick any location on the planet. Within our chosen landing area was a spacious piece of red land spread across a massive grid, and we had to choose our starting point based on the resources available on the ground combined with the percentage chance of establishing a colony on any given tile.
With a landing zone picked, our spacecraft landed. Dust kicked up in the wake of the thrusters that slowed our descent, and when the shuttle finally made contact with the Martian surface, two rovers emerged from it ready to take our commands. The first order of business was to construct a power source--solar panels--as well as another structure to store the solar energy. The game featured day and night cycles, so the panels only worked when the sun was up. Based on our available resources, we couldn’t build a massive farm of solar panels. This meant there was limited energy to power our buildings, so we created shifts for each building to make sure they were only active during the daytime. We also constructed additional pylons (see what we did there?) to connect the power source and the reservoir to other buildings that required power, such as our excavator, which was built to gather additional resources for construction.
The Human Element
One more thing: these first steps to building our colony didn’t even involve any human settlers. We were commanding mechanized vehicles to lay the groundwork for the eventual arrival of our first settlers. Once a power source and excavator were constructed, we created water reservoirs and massive oxygen tanks for our future inhabitants. We even built a fuel refinery to mine for additional resources so the shuttle that brought the rovers and buildings materials could leave and bring humans to Mars. With an air, water, and power source available, we built a domed habitat to house future residents.
This is a change of pace for a city-builder game because it emphasizes infrastructure before adding residents. Similar titles, such as Cities: Skylines, which is also from Surviving Mars publisher Paradox Interactive, will have you juggle the increasing resident population while also expanding your city. Then again, creating a city on Earth is easier than settling a new planet, so it’s probably best to take things at a slower pace.
Our first dome had space for a few structures, but we were told that there were different types of habitats that ranged in size and shape. Furthermore, we could specialize the type of people or economy that existed inside each dome. For example, we could create a dome specifically for researchers of new technology and then build an even larger dome for our very own Las Vegas on Mars. As you build more and more domes, you’ll also have to monitor individual people's needs, which include food, health, sanity, and morale.
For the most part, you’ll simply have to ensure that you have a thriving population on Mars, but there are also some additional challenges that you can tack on to keep it interesting. Creating your first colony on a foreign planet means that you’ll have to contend with new forces of nature, such as heavy dust storms and the occasional asteroid bearing down in your new backyard. There are also so-called “mysteries” that you choose at the beginning of the game so your settlers can investigate it with the proper technology and resources when they land. One of these mysteries is an unidentified rock formation that’s different than anything else seen on the Martian surface.
There isn’t an endgame, per se, but the idea of setting foot on another planet and then creating a self-reliant colony should be challenging enough. The work required to make a habitat for humans requires time, resources, and funding. If you lack one of these three elements, the human survival rate on Mars can drop to dangerous levels, but it’s additional layer of danger that makes Surviving Mars a potentially captivating city builder. The studio provided an interesting demo, but there’s more work ahead before the game is available sometime in 2018.
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