OOOOH BABY, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT’S WORTH?
OOOOH, AVEN IS REPLACIN’ EARTH!
Game: Aven Colony
Developer: Mothership Entertainment
Publisher: Team 17
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
As we continue our existence on this dirty little sphere (or dirty little disc/flat object, I’m not discriminating here) that gets closer to irredeemable madness every day, the chance to leave earth behind and set-up camp on some distant planet seems quite appealing thank you very much.
Thankfully, Aven Colony presents the opportunity to do just that. A sort of mesh between Sim City and Avatar, Aven Colony is here to let you play as a demigod, or at the very least an intergalactic town planner. The environment you get is indeed reminiscent of James Cameron’s bizarrely successful CGI blockbuster, all colourful alien plants and extreme environments. However, as the atmosphere isn’t breathable, everything you erect in your new space-town has to be covered up and linked by tunnels, so it’s perhaps more like a sequel to Avatar when the humans won and beat down the big blue people. What becomes of the poor natives of these planets we’re building all over? Are we humans just locusts now, moving from planet to planet and buggering everything up in our own special way?
Anyway. Hiding all your city’s people behind grey glass walls and ceilings is an apt (albeit quite tenuous) analogy for my main issue with Aven Colony, which is its lack of personality. There’s nothing in the way of character or atmosphere (pun intended) about Aven. You ‘play’ as a nondescript city manager, but you could just be embodying several people on a council or something, and the people who suggest new missions and guide you in the early stages are just static, derivative cartoons of people in formal space-attire leaning against desks like cool space-bosses. Even the title screens and menus are about ten years out of date and devoid of anything memorable.
The early areas see you getting guided through things and how to use the menus to get moving. Aven Colony started life on PC, and this makes sense. Its got ‘PC game’ written all over it, with its intricate layered menus and wealth of stats. To Mothership Entertainment’s credit, they’ve ported these to console well and I never fumbled or struggled to find what I was looking for after the tutorial. Selecting what you want to build is done via some pop-up radial wheels accessed by R2, while tapping down on the d-pad brings up stats ranging from food supplies, electricity resources, jobs and population numbers to the happiness of your colonists.
And this is basically what this game is about; it’s numbers. If your supply is higher than demand then you’re a hero, and will win the referendums and keep your people happy. If things go the other way, your colonists show their dissent by protesting and chanting for more jobs and whatnot. The lack of character makes the fact that this is a glorified spreadsheet very pronounced, and the tasks just seem procedural, like running through a checklist rather than playing a game. Moreover, when the training wheels are taken off and you’re given some autonomy things go to shit far too quickly. For example, you receive warnings on something that needs improvement, such as air quality. My place had turned into an intergalactic Hong Kong really quickly, according to the danger messages I was getting, so I add an air filter and check the relevant overlay. No difference, and I note the air quality doesn’t even seem that bad. But those warnings keep coming, so I add more air filters. But it makes no difference to the air quality and the warnings keep coming. I’m not sure whether the warnings are perhaps a little too keen to pop-up in your HUD, but it’s a level of anxiety I didn’t really need when I’ve already got the continuance of the human race in my hands, lads.
The level of detail to hand here is quite impressive, however. It’s easy to get lost in that smorgasbord of menus, even though navigating them will always feel like you should be using a mouse rather than a Dualshock 4. Even so, the options for resource management are a step above most life-em-up sims, to the extent you can set rations for your populace. There’s even a whole menu for overlays to add on the map showing air quality, satisfaction, power, and generally how much your people hate you.
The game isn’t without it’s bugs too, sadly. There’s an option to look through your colony’s CCTV cameras and select some of your residents to bring up stats on how individual folk are doing, but for some reason this only worked on the very first area for me. After that, the button
on-prompt and option remained but it never actually worked. Also, on loading saved games some of the connecting tunnels I had previously built didn’t appear on screen. It was only on going to the tunnel building option in the menu that they popped back into existence. A minor bug, but not ideal.
I’m willing to concede that some of my issue with Aven Colony stem from that I don’t see the appeal in just racking up numbers during video games. I don’t go in for ‘cookie clicker’ games, and this sort of city-builder feels like a fancier version of that. It’s possible that if it had some more personality or conflict I would perhaps feel more compelled to dive back in, but as it is Aven Colony feels derivative and uninteresting. It is, however, impressively detailed. So there you go, fine if you want to trade personality in for detail. One for the F1 fans, maybe.