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Strategy RPG from the studio behind Super Robot Wars.

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AVEN COLONY REVIEW

AVEN COLONY REVIEW
4.5
Game Name: Aven Colony
Platforms: Xbox One (Review), PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Team17
Developer(s): Mothership Entertainment
Genre(s): city builder
Release Date: July 25, 2017
ESRB Rating: E

Team 17’s new indie download is a SimCity style city builder that actually works really well on consoles.

Being in charge of everything is a pretty natural fantasy to want to play out via a video game. The strange thing about it though, is that those few games that do allow you that power rarely cast you in the role of rampaging warlord, but more often a faceless civil engineer. That probably says something positive about the sort of people that want to spend their time playing complex games where the emphasis is on creation rather than destruction. Although Aven Colony is accessible enough that anyone can enjoy the pleasure of building your own city.

If you hadn’t gathered, Aven Colony is a SimCity clone. Which is neither an accusation nor an accident. The game puts you in charge of building a sustainable human habitat on the planet of Aven Prime, starting from scratch with basic life support and trying to discover the secrets of its alien landscape.

Aven Colony tells the story of the human colonisation of an alien world, and each mission of the fifteen hour campaign is a variation on that one, singular idea. Like Earth, the planet offers everything from frozen tundra to lush, fertile landscapes capable of supporting the growth of crops like corn and wheat. The aim of the game is to take over a fledgling colony ran by a skeleton crew and expand it by correctly managing resources, monitoring power consumption, and providing enough living space and employment opportunities to encourage immigration. Colonies begin with a dozen or so engineers and a few solar panels to generate power, but under the right leadership, they can grow into vast metropolises supporting skyscrapers, army bases, and sports stadiums.

During the course of a mission you’ll have advisers pop up on the comms to offer optional objectives. These act as both a tutorial — the objectives are optional, but they’re frequently the best course of action — and as a method of accruing resources since successfully ticking one off the list will usually yield a reward of extra colonists, food, or nanites. Nanites are an incredibly important consumable item that are used to build everything from farms to automated police drones, and running out of them will usually result in the swift collapse of your settlement. Following the objectives will guide you toward completing the mission and maintaining a stable colony, but if you know what you’re doing you can go off-book and work towards the primary mission goal yourself, and likely get it wrapped up more quickly.

Aven Coloy manages to keep missions interesting by throwing different conditions at you — both in terms of the requirements for victory, and in the varied climates and hostile environments you’ll encounter. There are missions to expand your colony to a size capable of supporting an enormous museum dedicated to the old Earth our explorers have left behind, and another to build a colony in a barren wasteland that must remain sustainable via trade since there’s little soil conducive to farming in the surrounding area. One tense mission involves rapidly building a colony to act as a refugee camp after an accident leaves a thousand colonists stranded, replete with a grim, ever-decreasing time limit signifying their impending doom should you fail to build housing quickly enough.

You’ll see your power stations – whether they be solar, wind or geothermal – halving in capacity, your farms full of vital food sources freezing over and even your greenhouses struggling to create any food substances worthy of your citizens’ time.

The winter also brings lightning storms, shard showers and more, destroying your precious structures should you not have bothered to take precautions. But even when the coldest of winters has passed, you’ll need to ensure your new found home is safe from other hazards that Aven Prime brings – most notably deadly plague spores and fungal diseases which infect your people and the giant sandworms which inhabit the world!

It’s all well and good just slamming defensive structures every few yards in the hope that these will see off any hostility, but in order to build them, or indeed anything pleasurable, you’ll need drones and Nanites. The former of these can be created, but the latter needs to be made slowly, by harnessing the world which you find yourself in, with mines, mills, chemical plants and research facilities proving invaluable. The scope for research and creation is huge, with a massive number of projects just sitting and waiting for you to spend a little time and resources on.

But you’ll need to think about each and every placement of your structures, and every single action and reaction you make, as those Nanites – and the drones which you use for creation purposes – are a rare resource. You’ll seldom be able to push your colony expansion on willy nilly without thinking about the consequences, but thankfully, being able to speed up and slow down time as you see fit is an included option, never letting Aven Colony push you into periods of boredom.

In fact, there is always something to do in ensuring your citizens are happy; whether it be creating new tunnels so they can get from their homes to their jobs easier, cleaning up pollution by installing air vents or just scouring the landscape for prime farming spots.

New structures and activities open up at a brilliant rate, always putting you on the verge of new unlocks, teasing you to keep playing and to keep you going back even when you think you have had enough. Aven Colony really is one of those games which see the hours turn to days and the days to weeks, as you easily lose track of real world time, instead involving yourself in the new Sols. There is real pleasure to be had too, especially as you first open up new trade routes with orbiting ships, or when you send your worshippers off on long distance expeditions to the deepest darkest corners of space. It is only by spending time with Aven Colony in which you’ll really discover everything it has to throw at you.

But you’ll need to think about each and every placement of your structures, and every single action and reaction you make, as those Nanites – and the drones which you use for creation purposes – are a rare resource. You’ll seldom be able to push your colony expansion on willy nilly without thinking about the consequences, but thankfully, being able to speed up and slow down time as you see fit is an included option, never letting Aven Colony push you into periods of boredom.

In fact, there is always something to do in ensuring your citizens are happy; whether it be creating new tunnels so they can get from their homes to their jobs easier, cleaning up pollution by installing air vents or just scouring the landscape for prime farming spots.

New structures and activities open up at a brilliant rate, always putting you on the verge of new unlocks, teasing you to keep playing and to keep you going back even when you think you have had enough. Aven Colony really is one of those games which see the hours turn to days and the days to weeks, as you easily lose track of real world time, instead involving yourself in the new Sols. There is real pleasure to be had too, especially as you first open up new trade routes with orbiting ships, or when you send your worshippers off on long distance expeditions to the deepest darkest corners of space. It is only by spending time with Aven Colony in which you’ll really discover everything it has to throw at you.

Once I suffered a few of these game-breakers, I attempted to circumvent the issue by trying to complete the main objective of the level as quickly as possible and without more structures in play than necessary. While this got us to the next stage without any hiccups, we felt like we were meeting the developers more than half way since the conditions for victory were needlessly obtuse, and one of the primary goals of said mission was to build a huge colony. There are also a few niggling issues with the UI on occasion, which is notably cumbersome when sending military teams out on missions, but otherwise the game runs smoothly and most of the systems are simple to navigate. Similarly, the game is well optimised for controller, with most functions being quickly available with just one or two button presses, and lateral thinking required only occasionally to navigate the many in-game menus.

Conclusion

When Aven Colony is at its best, it’s making a strong case for the viability of the real-time strategy genre on console via an addictive mix of easy-to-grasp city building mechanics, a surprisingly intriguing sci-fi story, and a tight campaign that offers variety and never outstays its welcome. Unfortunately, it has a number of annoying technical issues which — while they might not affect every player — are persistent enough to undermine the experience depending on your tolerance for slow down and hard crashes. If you can weather the storm of technical shortcomings Aven Colony throws at you, you’ll find an impressive, accessible strategy game that feels right at home on XBOX ONE

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