Aven Colony is the debut effort from Texas-based developer Mothership Entertainment. It’s a city-builder, where you’re tasked with building and managing colonies on an Earth-like planet called Aven Prime. You’re out in the middle of nowhere galaxy-wise, and you have to deal with the unusual flora and fauna of the planet — not to mention the fact that the air isn’t breathable — so can you keep your colonies afloat, or will you succumb to disease, starvation, the “creep,” or maybe just plain old mismanagement?
Despite its exotic location, Aven Colony has a lot in common with other city-builders. You have to keep your colonists happy by providing them with food, water, air, entertainment, and healthcare. You have to run an economy by producing nanites, which are used to construct new buildings. You have to trade with an orbiting colony ship so you can acquire goods not producible by your colony. You also have to keep your buildings powered, research new technologies, explore your surroundings, and defend against aliens. So there is always a lot to do.
Aven Prime is an interesting planet. The days last for well over 100 hours and are divided into four seasons, and so they feel more like years. And while three of the seasons work about how you’d expect, during winter there isn’t any sunlight available, and so your solar panels and farms don’t work as well. So you have to store up supplies during the early part of the day so you can survive at “night.”
When you start a new colony, you only begin with a lander (which produces some basic resources) and maybe a few other buildings, and from there you expand as your nanites and colonists allow. You only produce nanites by building mines so you can harvest ore, or by building chemical plants so you can distill one of the alien plants. You only gain colonists by building an immigration center so you can accept new arrivals from the colony ship. Your colonists aren’t allowed to go outside, so you have to connect all of your buildings together, or use special sealed tunnels as “roads” between them.
Aven Colony is a fully functional game, but it has three main problems. The first is that once you get past the alien planet trappings, everything gets pretty generic. You build a lot of the same things for the same reasons — like a habitat for housing, a geothermal generator for power, and a hospital for health — that you’ve probably seen in countless other city-builders. Building a colony on an alien planet shouldn’t feel anything like building a major American city or a township in ancient Rome, but it does. It just looks different.
There is also an issue with variety. You get seven Earth-based crops (including corn and wheat) and five alien crops that you can farm, which is a nice selection, but everywhere else in the game there are only minimal choices, and it usually comes down to a cheap, less effective option versus something that is more expensive but better. For example, for harvesting crops, you can either build a cheap farm (which sprawls all over the place and doesn’t produce anything in winter) or a more expensive greenhouse (which has a fixed location and produces at a 50% rate during winter). If resources were really tight, or if the difference in pricing were more extreme, then maybe the options would be more meaningful, but those weren’t ever the case for me, and I always went with the better option.
Finally — and this might be the worst problem — there isn’t much in the game to put any sort of stress on you. Only one of the missions in the campaign has any sort of time limit. There are natural disasters (like lightning and meteors) and hostile alien spores (that can infect your colonists and buildings), but they’re almost trivial to defeat, so if they don’t get you early on then they won’t get you at all. You have to win referendums from time to time to stay in power, but winning only means keeping your happiness rating over 50%, which isn’t much of a challenge. And strangely, the seven difficulty settings in the game barely change the difficulty at all. They mostly only affect the rewards you get for completing objectives, when really they should change how difficult it is to keep colonists happy, or what happiness percentage you have to maintain for the referendums. And so even going to the “insane” setting doesn’t make the game much tougher.
Still, Aven Colony isn’t a bad game. It was just sort of meh for me. Luckily, the developer is staying involved with the game. They’ve already released multiple patches even though the game has only been out for a week, and they’ve promised to add new content eventually — and for free — so maybe things will get better over time. But for now, Aven Colony isn’t really a game I’d recommend. It’s only for you if you really like city-builders and you’re not too choosy, or if you haven’t played many city-builders before.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
This review is based on a digital copy of Aven Colony for the PC provided by Team17.