Review | Surviving Mars

Life on Mars

With all of the wars I’ve been through lately, I’m needing an escape. An off-world breakout, even. I need to get out of the trenches, away from Waterloo and the Eastern Front, away from the Blorg (which is still technically in space) and the Holy Roman Empire. Where I need to go is someplace uninhabited. I require a destination like Mars. Fortunately, Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive have provided such an escape with Surviving Mars.

My time with Haemimont goes back quite a long while: from Nemesis of the Roman Empire, Imperium Romanum and Grand Ages: Rome; to Omerta: City of Gangsters — with some Tropico (3 through 5) thrown in for good measure. Also, for full disclosure’s sake, I’ve probably paid quite a few of the electric bills for Paradox, as I own almost their entire stable (all my profile badges won’t fit on their forum — I have to choose the few [I believe fifty’s the limit] I want to be displayed). Needless to say, my excitement level was through the space hatch when this review opportunity finally arrived.

Surviving Mars is a real-time colony simulation in which you are sent to Mars to become the first (Terran) humans to build and manage a colony there. Obviously, this won’t be an easy walk through a domed, Martian park. There are obstacles to thwart your progress including, but not limited to, dust storms, meteors and cold waves.

Since no infrastructure exists on the red planet, actual colonists cannot simply climb aboard a ship and fly to Mars. Your first rocket contains only drones as workers. Also supplied are three types of rover, but your drones will do the bulk of the groundwork for future pioneers.

Surviving Mars
Starting drones and rovers.

Preparing for human beings is not as easy as simply laying a couple of cables and a few pipes, either. People need all types of equipment in order to survive the harsh, Martian climate. While drones can plow through almost anything, citizens are all ‘needy and whiny’ (air quotes there). Your populace require food, oxygen and water to be built — all before even attempting to fly to the planet! All of these systems have to be in place and fully operational before a rocket-full of inhabitants can even consider going to Mars.

While a tutorial like most games feature doesn’t formally exist (you know, the hand-holding, step-by-step, place-this-here-and-that-there string of events…), there are thousands (maybe not really, but possibly) of hints to help you along with your excursion. These hints are there to prod you into building the next requirement(s) for future citizens.

As a guy who got used to reading printed manuals during my 138 years of PC gaming, I actually read through all the hints before I began Surviving Mars. In retrospect, that was all quite unnecessary. One can easily fire up the game and go. The hints pop up whenever needed. If you try to build a dome too early, for example, Surviving Mars will literally tell you that you’re not ready — as well as tell you why it’s not time yet.

The whole idea behind all of the drone progression is obviously to get your humans to Mars. Once you have all the infrastructure in place, it’s time to both build your first dome and request colonists from Earth.

Once they arrive, you can start to build more complicated structures and machines — ones that need people to work at them. Of course, this also leads to better materials being produced. Eventually, you can actually sell products back to Earth to counteract all of the spending you have been doing since you started. Sending folks to Mars is not a cheap endeavor, by any means.

People need to be satisfied in a myriad of different ways. Purely pumping food and water into them will not get you very far with appeasing them. There are all kinds of attributes and luxuries they require to keep them happy and not Earth-sick. Most importantly, each individual has certain requirements to keep them happy while living on Mars. One of the greatest parts of this game is the fact that your citizens are individuals.

Each person is not only a certain age (which progresses), but also has specific needs as well as levels of health, sanity, comfort and morale. Some have certain specializations that should be exploited to put them into their particular area of expertise for maximum work/job efficiency. They have specific perks, as well as flaws, too. Some can even develop rare traits as time moves forward. From children to seniors, all have different requirements to be addressed that change as they age. If they are in the right living conditions and workplace, they will thrive and be happy. If they are sad and/or miserable, you should take the appropriate steps to fix those situations as they arise.

Surviving Mars
We love her enthusiasm!

Along with concentrating on all of this building, preparation and spending, you should be researching different technologies to help you gain an upper hand in Surviving Mars. In addition to each playthrough being randomly generated, the tech tree is as well. Just because you may have finally found a formula for research that worked well ‘last time’, don’t expect the technology to be in the same place or sequence now — because it won’t be.

The randomization of the planet and the research leads to virtually unlimited replayability. There are many who like a finite start, middle and end to games they play — which is fine — however, I have never been in that camp. My preference has always been for games that can be replayed indefinitely. Surviving Mars is one such experience.

Surviving Mars

Needless to say, I had an absolute blast(-off *cough*) playing Surviving Mars. Obviously, I have left out an incredible, nay phenomenal, amount of the shenanigans, mishaps and environmental — as well as human-error-led — occurrences which happened to impede my craving for a triumphant and ultra-grand settling of Mars (accompanied by all the bands of Earth playing a special congratulatory song, written for… well, never mind).

Some of the disasters are natural, some are merely from being pinheaded — there are loads that fall somewhere in between. However, before I give up on my current playthrough, I am going to dive back in and salvage whatever remnants there are of the mess I have made. After that, and once it all works out for the best (if it does), I will go right back in with different settings and see if I can destroy… err, I mean settle Mars once again.

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