Aven Colony, developed by Team 17, is a city builder, like Sim City or City: Skylines but with the goal of colonizing an alien world. Instead of building parks and skyscapers you can build, well, parks and skyscrapers…but in space! More precisely, you’ll be building these colonies on an alien planet called Aven Prime. The goal is to grow food and maintain a colony on an alien world while fending off harsh storms, alien infestations, plagues, and giant worms that spit acid. It’s easy to pick up after a minimal learning curve, which makes it great for people who might be newer to the genre, but it might turn away those looking for a meatier experience. The mechanics can feel shallow, but Aven Colony is ultimately rewarding and fun.
Aven Prime can be a harsh and inhospitable, but that doesn’t stop humanity from blowing up the local fauna and setting up shopping malls in the name of progress. Since Aven Prime lacks proper oxygen, you build enclosed walkways instead of roads so your colonists can walk from one hermetically sealed building to the next. You’re able to build defensive structures, mine resources, and direct ships in features that sometimes make it feel more like a real-time strategy game than games in the city building genre. But despite those ways that Aven Colony sets itself apart from other city builders, most of it is familiar territory. You have to juggle various aspects of your citizen’s lives to ensure they are happy, fed and entertained while balancing space and natural resource to maintain a an efficient city.
To be a good mayor in Aven Colony means you keep your colonists alive and happy. That way, they can keep you in office when they vote in the next referendum. All of the building is done by drones which are limited to a certain radius – if you want to expand, you have to guild more drone towers. To build anything at all requires nanites which can be traded for with the colony ship, or synthesized from ore. To maintain a good atmosphere in Aven Colony’s sealed environment, you have to make sure there are enough intake fans or air filters to keep the oxygen suitable. Water must be extracted from the ground or the air to hydrate crops and people, and also serves as an ingredient in manufacturing. You can build farms and greenhouses for food – but not all food can grow everywhere. Food doesn’t grow as well during Aven Prime’s harsh winter, but food stores, growth boosting fertilizer and trade help to ease the burden. You can also prioritize a building over others to increase the amount of workers working at it, therefore increasing its output. This adds little to the complexity on easier modes, but in harder difficulties sometimes you have to put all hands on deck in the greenhouses to feed your colonists through winter. You’ll also have to ensure that your colony buildings aren’t destroyed by winter’s harsh lightning or parasitic creep spores by setting up defensive structures for your colony. Coupled with the ability to send out expedition craft to areas surrounding your colony, Aven Colony sometimes looks and feels like a genre it isn’t.
Aven Colony’s plasma turrets, ore extraction, and expedition modes feel like they’re borrowed straight from real-time strategy games. There aren’t Zerg rushes or heavy strategy involved, but setting up defenses against creeper spores and extracting resources for manufacturing feels a bit RTS-like to me. Alien creeper spores will attach themselves to buildings if not shot down, and spread through the colony. To get rid of them you have to build a drone tower that employs specialized scrubbing drones. Despite the airtight nature of your colony, plague spores that get past turrets can get in through vents and other means to infect your colonists with the plague. To combat it, you have to manufacture the proper medicines and have adequate amount of hospitals set up nearby your sick residents. Plasma turrets also help shoot down glass-like hail during shard storms, and scare away humongous acid spitting worms. If you get bored fending off creatures, famine and plague you can even do a bit of fighting. Well, not really, but you can build expedition facilities that allow you to send off ships to run into all sorts of distress signals, rebel colonists, and even alien artifacts that can give your colony temporary buffs.
There is the usual sand box mode with different maps, difficulty, and starting resource settings, but Aven Colony also boasts a surprisingly engaging single-player campaign. While the story and voice acting is sometimes bad, the campaign scenarios themselves are great. Many campaigns had me leaving my comfort zone as I had to change my playstyle to adapt to their unique challenges. In one campaign, there was no way to grow food in my starting area so I was forced to set up a trade hub. Other missions had me hunting religious fanatics with my expedition ships – all while maintaining happiness and order back at my colony. The singleplayer campaigns can be tricky, and their length means that failing late into a scenario can be frustrating. But if you save often enough, success can mean just reloading back to a better point since you can save anytime during a mission.
Aven Colony is an engaging, relaxing, and fun game most of the time, but with enough colonists and manufacturing buildings, even setting the game to its slowest speed and pausing frequently can feel hectic. I also ran into several bugs such as a graphical glitch that would make my tunnels disappear, and another bug where switching to expedition mode would sometimes completely freeze my mouse, forcing me to unplug it and plug it back in to get it to work again. The UI tends to feel cluttered and dated, with no way to easily discern the order in which your research or other queued items will finish. Team 17 has been active on the Steam community forums promising bug fixes and gameplay improvements as well as additional free content, so hopefully these issues will not persist.
What I hoped for when I saw Aven Colony the first time was The Martian – what I ended up getting was closer to Sim City with a sci-fi theme. That’s perfectly fine with me. Despite early mixed Steam reviews, Aven Colony is a solid city building game, if not a fairly simple one. It’s definitely worth checking out for any city builder fan, or those just wanting to tame the wilds of outer space. Aven Colony is available now on Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This review was done using the Steam (Windows) version.