In Aven Colony the mission is clear. Establish various colonies on Aven Prime, a planet light years from earth whilst winning favour in the eyes of your superiors. You are tasked to construct and maintain viable settlements all over the planet, battling the relentless barrage of bad weather, rabid viruses and aggressive wildlife.
I usually avoid playing in real time strategy on a console. I never been a fan of the controller, never finding them it work properly. That there are so few titles of note is another reason. In all honesty, I played Halo Wars on the old 360 for about two missions and stopped there. Prior to that, Civilisation II. On PSOne. In 1996.
Aven Colony has made me rethink the RTS on a console.
Team17, the geniuses who brought us Worms and Overcooked (the former a childhood favourite), have published Mothership Entertainment’s RTS which pits Player against Planet, and Aven Prime is as welcoming as it is unforgiving. Just when you think you’re beginning to master this new frontier, the situation turns on a penny and a flourishing utopian vision, complete with solar panels and wind turbines, can be devastated almost instantly by endless darkness or destructive cosmic meteor showers.
Aven Colony is brilliant at catching you out. Punishing you for trying to speed through. In one such scenario the atmospheric conditions on Aven Prime had reduced my colony to a complete stand still. I was turning over enough energy to keep my settlement going, but not producing any extra energy to complete mission targets, complete trade deals or attract potential colonists.
It took me a short while to get to grips with the controls and menu systems, but Aven Colony is pretty fluid with easily navigable menu systems. I do have to note that even though the PS4 controller just about does the job, I got the impression that a PC based experience would be vastly superior. Certain menu options and overlay toggles are pretty rigid and deactivate other useful viewing options when enabled which can be a bit frustrating. It also has the somewhat annoying habit of zooming in on the map when you select a building to construct which I don’t think would be an issue on PC.
For a game of its size and scale, Aven Colony delivers an impressive and comprehensive selection of structures and technology avenues. Whilst a lot of technology is made available to you, simply because you have the resources, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should build them and I often found myself in sticky ground by getting ahead of myself too fast.
This non-linear technology tree makes a refreshing change from the “built this to build that” formula of most RTS’s as it forces you to be utilitarian as opposed to obedient. You can be creative or technical and have both serve you equally well or lead you to ruin. Nothing on Aven Prime feels like a foregone conclusion and the folks back at camp remind you to think for yourself and make improvements while issuing orders.
As the Colony Governor you report to head office, who are continuously on your case. They’re a very expansionist organisation and need you to be attracting workers and maintaining their wellbeing. Appeasing the mob can be done in any number of ways, from installing bars and shopping centres, to researching various plants and concocting drugs to dope them up with. Legal narcotics along with free home VR game systems gifted to the populous help suppress protests.
One sure fire way to stack the odds against you is by failing to prevent the unhindered transmission of diseases and virus early doors, which when they come, spread ludicrously fast. When a plague is unleashed, Aven Colony invokes Pandemic/Forbidden Island style qualities, coming off more Matt Leacock than Sid Meyer. Building after building rapidly falls to illness or disrepair as you scramble to keep things afloat.
One of Aven Colony’s many great qualities is it forces you to continuously rethink your infrastructure based on the environment and allows you to recycle buildings and shut down entire industries to free up energy and resources to get out of these tricky situations.
As I gradually make my way through the initial campaigns there doesn’t seem to be any overarching narrative to speak of. Aven Colony seems to be more about survival, the main enemy being the planet itself. It’s really up to the player to climb the ranks of the organisation, winning favour by keeping the public in check, completing given objectives by your superiors and delivering economic and structural growth. Whether or not I’ll come across any local inhabitants who fancy starting some ruckus in later campaigns is yet to be seen.
Team 17 have always in my experience produced entertaining gaming experiences and Aven Colony isn’t any different. It’s full of Worms like humour, allowing you to snoop on your residents with CCTV and listen to them bitch and moan about you. There are undercurrents of social satire and political sarcasm at play in Aven Colony; the first campaign being to establish a colony that can support a Museum of Human History is one of many examples.
That things only ever get worse is a law of the universe and to have it in play as a game mechanic is a fantastic touch as nothing you seem to do or select has a direct positive effect on the public’s morale. You can only satisfy boredom and take the risk that spending that amount of energy might perk things up a bit. It’s like a Physicist’s joke. In the universe things only get worse.
In Aven Colony, Team 17 have crafted a wildly exciting and dynamic city builder. It’s technical without being mind boggling and it cracks on at a great pace, despite the inherent controller limitations and occasional menu inconveniences . The planet itself is simple and beautiful with exciting organic weather effects and a decent enough soundtrack to not drive you completely nuts.
Puzzling, challenging and unpredictable Aven Colony has laid the foundations of what could be a great series.
Aven Colony is out now on PS4, PC and Xbox One.