Not great, but it’s not bad either.
Surviving Mars is a city-building/colony sim RTS with a heavy emphasis on micromanaging absolutely everything. Right from the start, your primary goal is to manage every facet of your budding Mars colony into something sustainable. From water, food, drones, building materials and even the colonists themselves, everything in Surviving Mars is effectively another bar, or maybe a number that must constantly be monitored.
For starters, Surviving Mars is developed by Haemimont Games and published by Paradox Interactive. It was released just a few days ago on March 15, 2018, and so far has a mixed review rating on Steam with only 63% being positive.
It’s a city-builder/colony sim with a lot of RTS elements, mostly just the micromanagement aspects without mass selection of units. You start out with nothing more than a rocket loaded with whatever supplies you decide to bring, maybe some building materials, some prefab buildings, and a handful of drones. From there, your primary objective is to create a thriving colony. Your landing crew of drones, with your help, will build out the foundations of what will eventually become a city to rival those back home on Earth.
Eventually, it’ll be time to call in a load of colonists from Earth, at which point things start to get very interesting. No longer do you only have to worry about power and basic building materials, now food, oxygen, and water are all thrown into the mix as well. Not only that, but each colonist has their own specializations, traits, and flaws that’ll either help or hinder their performance on Mars. Picking the right group of Founders (your initial group of colonists) can really make an impact on the initial growth of your colonization efforts.
With the first colonists on the ground, it’s time for the real work to begin. The initial 10-days of their existence on Mars will be used to prove the sustainability of your colony. If your colonists survive, you’ll be able to call in more. If something catastrophic happens and they perish, well… With some careful planning and a good starting position, it shouldn’t be too difficult to have completely sustainable dome put together for your first colonists. However, bad planning, misusing resources, or bringing in colonists too early can quickly put your colony in a dire position.
After your colony proves its worth, you’re free to bring in more colonists from Earth as you see fit. Just don’t overextend your rockets and fuel reserves early on! Always keep some in reserve just in case you need an emergency of a vital resource! Now it’s time to really start building your colony out and showing everyone back on Earth what Humans can do! Maybe…
Right now, Surviving Mars is very much a playable game and doesn’t suffer from many bugs. What it does suffer from are a handful of unintuitive mechanics that constantly get in the way and some occasional balance issues. Apart from those downsides, Surviving Mars is a really good looking and good performing city-builder with the twist of colonizing an inhospitable alien planet, but without the aliens.
Get ready, this is going to be wordy.
The sheer level of micromanagement starts to borderline on excessive around the mid-game. By the end-game, the insane amount of colonists and drones you’ll be individually dealing with will have become all but completely unmanageable. I thought They Are Billions had a lot to monitor, and then I played Surviving Mars.
This is only exacerbated by the fact that you can only select a single entity at a time. Want to move half of your 50 drones from one hub to the next? Well, get ready to individually select each drone and then individually move them to their new work-site, there’s no control click here nor is there a drag and select. It’s the same with micromanaging colonists and you’ll be managing them one at a time. The fact that there’s no way to mass select a group is kind of counter-intuitive in a game like this. This isn’t so bad in the beginning when you might only have a total of 50 drones and a handful of colonists, but once you’ve racked up say 200+ drones and 200+ colonists it becomes way too much to deal with.
A lot of the systems and mechanics seem very counter-intuitive as well. For instance, logistics. There is a special type of drone (called shuttles) you can unlock through the tech tree around mid-game that work to spread out your resources and transfer colonists between domes. This would be an awesome system, if it worked. Maybe it’s just me, or the way I had my logistics network setup, but the shuttles seemed to be much busier moving resources for no good reason than actually supplying sites where the resources were needed. The only way around this was to spam shuttles and make sure I had way more than I actually needed; which results in A LOT of the expensive advanced resources going to waste.
The colonists have traits and specializations that you can selectively choose to avoid or bring to Mars. Some will be engineers, some will be medics, some officers, some botanists, some geologists, and some will have no specialization at all. Their specialization is going to help them work better in their appointed job, but if you’re not micromanaging every single colonist than you’ll find that soon you’ll have all of your botanists working the mines and your engineers working the farms. So, you go through and one-by-one move them over. This isn’t so bad when you only have a handful, but when you get around 200+ colonists it becomes way too much of a hassle unless you like that kind of torture. Colonist traits can be either good, or bad, and like specializations, you can selectively choose who to bring and who to leave behind.
The domes and usage of the domes makes almost no sense most of the time. As an example, colonists WILL NOT use the services of a dome they don’t reside in. Meaning, every single dome you build MUST contain all of the ammenities or the colonists within will either leave or go insane. Basically, in the beginning this leaves you with 1 production slot in each of your small domes. Once you progress to the point of having access to medium and large domes things get more logical, but initially it makes no sense. Why would each and every dome require a casino when you could instead build a “services dome” containing the key services for the residential/production domes within its vicinity? Makes no sense.
With those caveats out of the way, what does Surviving Mars do well?
Quite a bit, actually.
Surviving Mars manages to hit the nail on the head when it comes to building a colony on Mars. Or, I mean, as far as my Earthling opinion goes. From ordering up resupply rockets from Earth laden with resources needed to expand your colony, to bringing in a new group of engineers, botanists, and geologists, it just seems legit. Scanning the surface, sending out explorers to scan anomalies, and building new outposts because you’re almost out of water all help to make Surviving Mars feel like you’re actually doing what the title implies, surviving Mars.
The graphics are very similar to Cities Skylines if I had to make a comparison. Meaning, they’re cartoony to an extent but still look really good and most importantly convincing.
When the AI systems work like they were intended, everything seems to flow well and it’s very satisfying to see your new engineering dome turning all of the metal from your “mining domes” into useful machine parts and the like. I found that it helps to set filters on your domes once you have a good foundation, set one for only engineers, one for only scientists, etc.
At the end of the day, Surviving Mars isn’t great but it’s not bad either. It reminds me a lot of early Cities Skylines which we all know turned out to be one of the, if not THE best city-building game to release in the past few years. But, it didn’t start out there, it started out rough, buggy, and needing a lot of polish. Surviving Mars is very similar and within a few months it could play completely different than it does today.
That’s why I’m going to hold off on actually reviewing it for the time being. This “first impressions” piece will be it until a few patches have been rolled out. I mean, it’s 2018, practically every single game is released broken now and they all require at least a couple of patches to fix bugs and balance things. Might as well wait until that happens to review games anymore.
Have you played Surviving Mars? Did you enjoy? Didn’t like it? Let me know in the comments!