When humanity sets foot on other worlds, it’s up to the former mayor of New York–which was rebuilt after wars, apparently–to manage our very first colony. This is the beginning and end of Aven Colony: an attempt to graft story mode onto a thoroughly competent sci-fi colony management game.
Developer: Mothership Entertainment
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4
MonsterVine was supplied with Steam code for review
Managing the first tentative steps on a new world follows the familiar colony management pattern. Gather up the planet’s resources to turn them into useful things like construction drones, buildings, and defenses. Even in the far future, with star-spanning technology, planetary governors will be stuck mining iron and copper to build their whatsits. Likewise, farms are, as per strategy game rules, mandatory for the citizens to survive. It’s good to know farming continues even when humanity goes galactic. Once the basics are built, it’s all about upgrading and building things and watching drones glide about building things.
It’s familiar to anyone that’s built a base or fussed over a budding colony, though Aven Colony sets it against a colorful backdrop of alien worlds. This familiar gameplay leads to familiar problems with the genre, however, like running out of things to do and long stretches of downtime.
For example, the upgrade track for buildings simply requires building a tier one version, which opens up better tiers without much further effort. The problem that arises is these higher-level versions are so much better that there’s never again a reason to build a smaller one, aside from cost. Farms can’t produce food in the winter, but Greenhouse Farms can produce 50% of their base food in winter. There’s no reason not to save up and plop down a Greenhouse Farm aside from cost, and it’s so much more useful that it makes more sense to wait. That leads to the familiar dilemma where everything has been built that needs to be built and time just has to pass until there’s enough resources to build something else.
Likewise, there are the occasional challenges a planetary governor faces. Citizens may get rowdy just because they can’t breathe in all the smog. Alien organisms may invade and begin devouring buildings. Ice shards may rain from the sky overhead. Unfortunately, the only solution to these problems is throwing buildings (which means money) at them. There’s no compromises or trade offs. Build a new air purifier. Build a new hub for repair drones. Deploy more laser turrets. Oh, sometimes a trade mission may require futzing with crop allocation or building a new production facility, but that’s it.
It takes the excitement of humanity’s first leap across the cosmos and renders it mundane. There might be a sandworm here or there to deal with, but the shady guy that will trade barley for candy is incredibly earthbound. It may be possible to harvest strange alien plants and develop strange alien foods and beverages, but it’s also possible to turn your planetary colony into Willy Wonka’s Space Chocolate Factory, churning out corn syrup and soda for the shady guy on the trade ship.
This could ostensibly be livened up by the story missions, but they serve mainly as gentle nudges. There are the occasional breathlessly voice acted scenes where it’s clear they really wanted caring, but it’s hard to care about a disembodied voice that’s been focused on building storage facilities when it starts shouting about giant worms. As with the seemingly-random mention of New York in the opening, a lot of it is just sort of there for the taking. Even the missions seem to run out of ideas every now and then. “Build more buildings of any type” is fairly common. Well…great. Thanks for the advice.
Aven Colony falls into a familiar trap with its story mode, loving it just enough to put it out there while not putting the time in to really go somewhere with it. There are characters the governor will have no connection to. The governor has a backstory of some sort, but it’s hard to care about when ice shards are raining from the sky. There’s a core of very solid colony-building gameplay here, but the stabs at telling a larger story fall flat. The actual building and management could also use a little more effort. There’s a ready resource bottleneck in being the first planetary colony ever, such as having to pick and choose what resources come in the next supply drop. More people or more nanobots to build things? More food for the existing colonists or more housing for the existing ones?
In that, Aven Colony is both not futuristic enough and too futuristic. While humanity is making its first effort in the stars, it’s apparently easy enough to set down a lander and send out a bunch of drones to build things. That’s fair enough, but why on Earth (or wherever) are space-peasants still building farms and greenhouses in lieu of hydroponic farms or a tasty protein slurry? Why do those ungrateful weasels demand a bar and grill when they could theoretically be replaced by robots?
Outside of the campaign, sandbox mode provides ample opportunity to stretch out and relax, though there is the minor complaint that they do not allow picking a particular landing spot. Still, sandbox provides the same gentle nudges with missions to keep the colony growing, but also allows a little more freedom to hang out and build things in a serene, calming alien landscape where breaching the fully-sealed walls means instant death.
The Final Word
Aven Colony is thoroughly competent but uninspiring colony management game with overly-familiar mechanics. It’s an interesting diversion for fans of the genre but breaks no new ground.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair