One of my all time favourite genres in gaming is that of real time strategy games or RTS. Back in my Amiga and PC gaming days titles such as Total War and the Theme series (Park, Hospital) were really my go to games of choice. One aspect of this genre was that of world building games such as Populous and Sim City and I enjoyed creating my own mini civilization and all the micro managing that went into it with the deeper the system the better. Sadly since becoming a dedicated console gamer, this genre is barely reflected on console, with the often complicated control scheme via mouse and keyboard not transferring well or even at all to a controller. This past year, this genre has returned to the forefront with the combat themed RTS games of XCOM 2 and HALO Wars 2 proving that this genre still has legs on consoles and for my own personal favourite of city and world management, TEAM 17 has the perfect gift….Aven Colony!
Aven Colony is a real time strategy game that has quite simply one of the best control schemes and micromanagement systems on console right now. A colony ship is in orbit around the planet Aven with the goal set for the player to set up a new colony on world and create a successful and self sustaining city. Sounds straight forward but Aven has varying environments, each with its own challenges which will require a different strategy in order to make a thriving population. From supplying enough food, water and oxygen to providing adequate housing, services and protection; the challenges you will face when building and sustaining will keep you on your toes throughout which is something I really appreciated as it helped give it a high level of immersion.
The game begins with a rather basic but very handy mini tutorial to set up the basics of the control system and buildings. The control scheme has been designed especially to work on a controller with the colony management options set to the left trigger and building management set to the right trigger. D-Pad allows you to speed up game time or to check the statistics on the bottom of the screen. The camera can be panned around and tilted allowing for a top down view with the bumper buttons used to zoom in and out. It is really impressive to see such a dynamic control system feel so natural on a console controller and having seen the game played on PC, I can honestly say that nothing is lost in the transition.
Aven Colony has two game modes really, the Campaign side and the Sandbox side to the game. The Sandbox side simply allows you to pick any of the environments in the game and just start building your own city without the pressure of completing set tasks. The campaign side however is the bread and butter of this game for me and was a nice surprise. The campaign side will require you to set up a city in each of the planets environments. The only way to unlock an environment is to successfully complete the previous environment at which point the commanders on the ship in orbit will then ask you to move on to the next environment whilst a new leader takes over your city. At the opening to each new environment, the ship in orbit will ask you to carry out certain tasks, which will also act as a gentle hand holding exercise in getting the city up and running to start with. As you progress the leaders will set you targets such as population numbers and trade requirements between your city and the ship in orbit to exchange materials for food and vice versa. The hand holding will not last for very long and you will have the freedom to build the city as you see fit and complete responsibility for managing the city is on you the player. This something I found to be rather rewarding with the game giving you intelligent tasks and objectives that not only teach you in how environments and colony needs can be met but also partners it with the freedom to do run the city as you want with the chance to succeed and fail based on your choices.
The best way to start any of the environments is to follow the requests made to you from the ship to begin with as resources will be limited especially the main material used for building all structures, Nanites. Drones use a 3D process to build the structures you choose and the tunnels that will connect everything together. Getting carried away can result in using nanites up very quickly though completing some tasks and objectives set for you will reward you in more, not all of them do and you can easily find yourself out of nanites with the demands of the city mounting up. Slow and patient building at the very start will give the player enough time to get materials going through mining and nanite processing to help expand the city. Creating farms or greenhouses and growing produce along with water pumps will start the process of making food to keep the colony fed.
Soon the different buildings and resources will provide opportunities to evolve the city further such as creating a research centre to research new materials and products with the chemical plant and mill helping to turn what has been grown or collected into new products to traded or consumed by the city. All of which can be enhanced via upgrading buildings to high tiers which all takes nanites so you can start to appreciate already how good resource management is key to success. There really is no aspect of what it is required to run a city that Aven Colony does not feature within its system with many dangers lying in wait for getting things wrong such as making sure you provide an adequate air filtering system to keep the air clean, something that is key with the building of more industrial structures or just long tunnel systems.
Now it is when things start to go wrong that stress levels rise and this game becomes very challenging. As your city grows the population will begin to hold referendums which will see them voting on how good a job you are doing. If you are doing badly they may vote you out resulting in a fail. In fact keeping the population happy is vital to a successful colony. One of the clever and funnier aspects to Aven Colony comes in the form of protesting which the colony will do if they become unhappy, and you will hear them protesting as well and if you zoom in you will see them gathering together at a building to protest about what ever it is they are unhappy about from lack of food and water, air quality, crime levels and even moaning if the commute from their homes to their jobs is taking too long. The level of detail in Aven Colony is rich and deep and fun which ties into the storyline of the campaign which unfolds as you move from environment to environment that happens in and around your city building. Fortunately the game has an extensive overlay system which can track everything to enable the player to see different areas and respond accordingly and the warning notification system will give you a heads up on how things are going and any events you may want to take action on.
I have spent several hours per environment in building a city for the campaign side, learning from mistakes made but also just to ensure I have made the best city I can for that environment. Each of the campaign missions will have an ultimate goal that will trigger the Victory scenario where you will be given the option to say “job done” which will prompt the ship’s leaders to move you on to the next environment. What I loved about this feature is that the game will allow you to continue playing, so if there are tasks outstanding at the point of victory, you can keep going should you choose to with the option to claim victory at any time. You can also save the game at any point giving more freedom to dip in and out and to take your time in creating your city as you want.
Now on Xbox One, the second environment was a desert one, Sandy Gulch and on this environment I pushed the game to its limits to see what it could take. This was the one time that I experienced any slowing down of the game engine but then I had been playing close to four hours and had reached the very limit of the number of structures you could have as a colony. At this point the population was over 1000 colonists and 299 buildings had been constructed and connected via tunnels and the game engine did start to stutter with such a massive infrastructure running in real time. Visually the console version is not as sharp as the PC version and is noticeable but never to the point where it looks substandard and all the little animations are still clearly there such as the sprinkler systems on the farms and population moving through the tunnels.
The fact it took four hours and all that infrastructure to make the game engine wobble is very impressive for a console RTS title like Aven Colony so even though it did crumble a little, unless you are in sandbox mode, it is highly doubtful that you would go that far beyond the claim victory point and could be improved with future game updates.
I am really impressed with Aven Colony and how it captures every component of the world building, city management games like Sim City and does such a great job on console of transitioning what should be a complicated mouse and keyboard system so well to a controller and is one of the successful results in doing so I have seen in this genre on a console. The depth that you can go into with this title is remarkable and with the varying difficulty options as well as environmental challenges and mission objectives, Aven colony just has so much to offer fans of this genre. It has such a level of satisfaction when you create a successful city that spending hours on a single campaign level never feels like a grind. When things go wrong you can easily see how it happened in order to learn from mistakes to do better on the next environment or should you need to start again. I am having a blast playing this game, and it speaks volumes for the diversity in games that TEAM 17 are bringing to console as well as PC right now.
I fully recommend Aven Colony if you enjoy micromanaging and creating your own city and with the setting of running the colonisation of a new world and the lovely little back story elements in the campaign just add so much to a game that already has so much content in it to give it lasting gameplay.
I am just hopeful that a future update or even DLC may add the option of blasting protesting colonists into orbit!