Gaming gives you wings – the wings of imagination. You get to travel to vast imaginary lands, inhabited by imaginary creatures and is home to powerful magic and whatnot. Or, you get to travel to a realistic location in this universe, and see it – differently. Why stay stuck on Earth when you can send your dreams and imagination soaring across the Solar System, trying to do stuff humanity always tried to do? Like colonizing Mars? Surviving Mars is a game which lets you do exactly that. You get to travel to the Red Planet (nope, not in a Tesla, in a rocket) and support the initiatives of the nations back on Earth to develop a working colony there.
Surviving Mars is a city-building simulation game developed by Haemimont Games and published by Paradox Interactive with a release date of March 15, 2018.
The game is primarily a singleplayer game, giving the player complete freedom to play the game at his own pace and not be stacked by angry messages from neighbouring colonies on the Red Planet, requesting for resources, colonists or drones. Yup, no annoying neighbours – Mars is all yours. However, it does mean you need to invest your resources where and when it counts – you would not have anyone to help you out. Mars has lots of minerals, but a very hostile environment, and conquering it will require some skill. You don’t have an infinite amount of funding to back up the colony, so every step taken to expand the colony counts.
The game sees a Mars mission take off with customized difficulty settings, which can be adjusted as the player sees fit. The difficulty screen has several parameters, like the amount of initial funding, the background of the leader of the Mars colonization project, as well as cosmetic choices like the colony logo. You can also select the scenario for the Mars colonization mission – can be just a casual science mission or a desperate way for humanity to escape the problems on Earth. The storylines allow progression in different ways and have different victory conditions. That’s a great way to begin your journey to the Red Planet! The mission funding you grants a specific amount of funding that you can use to buy rockets, resources, drones, and so much more. The greater the funds, the longer you can sustain your Mars colony by sending resources from the Earth before the colony on Mars starts sustaining itself (which will take quite a few Sols to establish).
The game is just like any other city simulation, you need to get a fully functioning city running. However, the stakes are much higher, and the resources lower. Your first rocket to the planet consists of three rovers – one explorer, for exploring anomalies on the planet surface, one transporter, for collecting resources on the go, and one controller, which is used to remotely control the drones (basically like a hive mind) – and quite a few drones. These drones are the backbone of the colony on Mars. Any of them get damaged, and your work gets slowed or eventually stalled. Once you manage to gather enough basic resources to start off a colony – the domes with an artificial atmosphere inside them – people will come in, and help you move on to more advanced resources, reducing the dependency on drones. However, humans are not capable of living without water, food or oxygen for a long time, and cannot traverse the surface of Mars freely like the drones. Man and the machine don’t fight against each other, they fight together against the harsh atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The atmosphere of Mars may not be as stormy as that of Jupiter’s, but it still packs some punch. You get the occasional dust storms, which destroy buildings and render many useless, sometimes puncturing a hole in a vital supply line. Either a solar panel is blown away, powering down vital production structures, or an oxygen plant is damaged, reducing the saturation of the artificial atmosphere inside the domes, resulting in your people suffocating and ultimately dying. Anomalies within the planet’s surface can be explored to discover the many secrets of the planet – revealing secret deposits, secret discoveries or breakthroughs in research, leading to further events like more funding due to an increased activity on the Mars colony. This is an innovative way, and a decent way to capture the attention of players, so that they explore the map with their rovers besides scanning it from orbit – the incentives are quite decent.
What’s most unique is the building system. This isn’t a traditional game, it’s an extraterrestrial city builder. You don’t put zones on March for rockets to land and expect houses, farms and factories to plop open automatically – you have to manually set the construction of every building. That’s what differentiates the game from most other city builders. The building mechanics borrow heavily from the Tropico series, where you lay the foundation of a structure, and the drones come, gather the resources at the building site, and start building it. You don’t expect them to be done immediately, you wait and watch for the building to plop up once the resources are supplied and the drones start construction. This adds an added difficulty layer to the game. You can’t plop in structures whenever you wish to immediately fix an issue with the colony, you need to wait for the construction to be done, so planning ahead is essential if you want to build a colony that withstands the test of time. The structures you can build are divided into infrastructure, basic structures needed for smooth functioning of the colony. Power structures are used to generate power. Production structures are used for the extraction of raw resources, and for turning them into finished materials which are further used up for maintenance of structures, or for construction of new structures (at some point, you need to stop depending on Earth for resources, right?) Life support structures are used for the sustenance of the colony through production of food, water and oxygen. Besides that, there is the actual stuff you find in all other city building games – farms, hospitals, research centres, gardens, residential buildings, all of which can be constructed inside domes, where an artificial atmosphere has been made for you.
In case you don’t want to slog through an hour of drones constructing structures, or an anomaly being examined by a rover, or a rover transporting resources, then you can unleash a hidden power – the power to control time itself! You can increase or decrease or totally stop the flow of time to examine what’s going on in your colony. This seems a bit unrealistic for a game which otherwise tries to make things interesting and realistic – it’s a bit too hard to swallow that humans have unlocked the technology of controlling time itself in the future. But then again, players are mostly impatient, and giving the option to actually stop the time and gaze at a meteor striking down a dome is more exciting than thinking about how many people were killed in the process. (You, are a terrible person.)
If you run out of resources near the initial landing spot on Mars, you are always free to request another rocket from Earth, loaded with goods or with people. This is a good way to ensure a steady supply of resources in the initial stages of the colony when self-sustenance is a difficult concept. This chips away gradually away at your funding though – you need to earn it back through maintaining a successful colony, and occasionally, by random events (especially anomalies, which lead to breakthrough discoveries, prompting Mission Control back on Earth to approve more funding for the colony).
The game features a prominent mod editor, which you can use to design your own scenarios or even your own mods. Built-in mod support is something of a rarity these days, with mod developers coming into conflict with big developers occasionally. The mod editor allows you to load mods from the Steam Community, or something dumped in your hard drive. You can load cheats too, and technically that won’t really count since the game is a singleplayer game with no multiplayer where mods can be used to insert hacks to get people an unfair advantage.
Sound and Music
The music of the game is an otherwise extremely relaxing one, helps you calm down when you’re being showered with meteors from high orbit, and focus on how to tackle the destruction that will follow it. It’s definitely an improvement over its brother Cities Skylines, though not enough to beat the wondrous Tropico 5, whose building mechanics have heavily influenced the building mechanics of this game.
The game is awfully quiet – there is no sound, other than maybe a notification that a research has been done, or that a sector has been scanned. Maybe this is because the environment on the Red Planet is devoid of a proper atmosphere, implying that sound waves can’t travel along the atmosphere? If that’s the reason, that’s realism beyond words.
Graphics and Optimization
The graphics are a place where the game scores really well. The game is detailed really well, you can zoom in on the rockets, drones, and all the way down to the dirt on the surface of Mars. For graphics freaks, the game is definitely going to be a member of the game library or at least the walls of their wishlist.
Delivering pretty visuals while not compromising on optimization is pretty hard, and Haemimont Games had shown people how to do it. The game runs smoothly without any form of frame drops on even an older system, which is saying something, considering the fact that most games in modern times do not run decently on PCs having better specifications than the recommended requirements specified. The game was tested on a PC with the following specifications :
CPU: AMD FX 8320
GPU : NVIDIA GTX 660 2 GB DDR5
RAM: 6 GB RAM DDR3
As already mentioned, the game ran smoothly without any slowdown even when you have a lot of structures on screen. That is saying something, since Cities Skylines, one of Haemimont Games’ older titles, used to have slowdowns when your town grows to become quite a big city. It’s always good to see developers correcting fundamental flaws in later titles – which mean that they take the community’s feedback seriously.
The game is worth a buy even without a sale if you can afford it, and is priced at 30$ (900 INR in India), the game’s not really one that breaks the wallet. You’re going to spend countless hours on the Red Planet, expanding, and perfecting the colony, making it another haven for humans – another Earth.