STAFF REVIEW of Aven Colony (Xbox One)

Monday, August 21, 2017.
by Brent Roberts

Aven Colony Box art I'm an avid fan of tactical sim-like games. I love trying to figure out strategies that not only set me up to beat the level and win the game, but also set me up to keep building and improving after I've moved on. Thankfully the team at Mothership Entertainment has released a game called Aven Colony, and while the $29.99 price tag may give you initial reason to pause, let me explain to you why this may be one of the best city-sim type games to come along in quite some time.

The overall premise is the same as any building game you can find out there. Pay attention to your resources, manage your population, think long term development and continue this line of thinking throughout every single level you play, and simply alter it to fit whatever terrain you're faced with in the level. While it may seem incredibly simplistic on the surface, underneath is a remarkably deep system that, despite some of its drawbacks, can provide a deep gameplay experience that spans many, many hours per level. This is where those who enjoy any sort of city simulation game will get lost for days and weeks at a time, and here's why.

For starters, you're given the opportunity to either go into a free build or can jump right into a campaign. During free build you can pick your level and setup the game however you see fit, so it's pretty self-explanatory. As for the campaign, it will set you against numerous levels, each of which have their own unique challenges to complete and certain "end points" that, when accomplished, signal the end of the level.

A little gripe of mine is that that when you beat a level and you feel accomplished and want to exit out, there's no way to select another mission until you completely exit the campaign and then select new game. A small gripe, but very disorienting when you want to go back to the mission selection, but instead you have to go all the way back to the very beginning.

When you play you have to be mindful of many things that you would find in a sim of a similar nature. You need citizens to reside in your colony, all of whom will require a few things to maintain their happiness. For starters, they will need the basics such as clean air, water and food, but as you progress you'll need to focus on entertainment, safety and well-being.

While these types of things are basic, as you progress through the game you'll unlock different laws and governance options to have at your disposal. For instance, when your citizen decides to take a job they have the ability to transfer to other jobs should they like the other career better (or you increase the desire to work at a different place). You'll have an ability to govern by making a rule that once citizens have a job they cannot switch out. You can even instigate an immigration ban that can't be challenged. Heck, to help your citizens improve their happiness you can even allow for improved gaming at home so that when the citizens are unemployed they can still be happy. This will come at a cost of raising the overall power consumption of the entire colony, but you have to make the citizens happy...right?

The reason for this is that after you've hit a certain point in your campaign level, your colony will vote to see if they want you to continue governing them. If you're a real jerk, you can decree mandatory overtime, increased taxes on everything, and even set in food and water rationing. You probably won't be re-elected, but if you've ever wanted to see a mass exodus, well, that's one way to get it done.

I do have some issues with this system for a few reasons though. The largest problem though, by a mile, is that the civilians haven't got a clue of what they want. Case in point, I built a residential outpost and an immigration center so I could start accepting more people into the colony. I decided to put a Nannite Processor plant next to the outpost (like literally right next to it.) and the people were upset. However, it's the reason they are upset that had me shaking my head.

They had to walk too far to work it. The outpost literally shared a wall with this processor plant and they said it was too far to walk. How does this make sense? I recycled the Nannite Processor plant and moved it one square away. Yes, I said one. Not halfway across the level, but one single square. In between them I put a tunnel, and guess what? They became happier citizens who say that they love working there because it's so close. Really? This is the way it is constantly.

I once flooded my colony with fans and air regulators and brought the overall quality of air to over 95%, yet according to my citizens, they hated the air quality. I even surrounded a police station with numerous residential areas and they complained of crime. Ever hear of the phrase "you can't please everyone"? Well, Aven Colony is a physical interpretation of that exact statement.

As for the mechanics of the game, they are fairly simple, but parts are overly sensitive and can be of some annoyance. You use left and right on the D-Pad to control time. You can pause it or have it accelerate to 8x the regular speed, which means less building time, but you have to think quicker and act faster to accommodate the actions. Once you have the form and function down for Aven Colony you should be able to have a 4x speed going relatively smoothly and without problems. You use the Right Trigger to bring up the radial menu for building and use the Left Stick to open up whatever building option you want, and press A to select. You then use the same Left Stick + A button to select the exact thing you want to build. You'll come to find out that this process can feel a bit awkward because the Left Stick feels overly sensitive thus becoming very hard to control.

Your Left Trigger will open up menus for you that act as outlets for your colony management. You can use the overlay menu to see what aspects need to be addressed, or the trade menu to barter for goods and services, and when you get far enough along, the expedition menu can be accessed, which takes you into a whole new aspect of Aven Colony.

One of the things that makes Aven Colony so deep has to be the characteristic that a vast majority of the buildings have multiple uses. Wind turbine fans can consume more power but can act as a fan to blow toxic gas emissions away from your buildings. Water pumps can be set to produce water only at various levels (to manage power consumption), and even research facilities can be used to not only improve your ships on their expeditions, but can also unlock methods to produce Nannites without any ore or metal fragments.

Switching gears, the music was a hidden gem, in my opinion, that I didn't expect to find. I'm not saying it's one of my top game soundtracks, but I never turned it down. There was an ominous, minimal structure to the opening of the music, and as I progressed there's only one sound that got on my nerves, which is the notification tone.

Every time there's a notification of any kind there's a chirp and a notification that you can access via the Y button. Immigration ship docks, chirp. Trade ship docks, chirp. Lightning strike, chirp. Low water, chirp. New mission, chirp. Mission complete, chirp. You get the idea. I tried to dismiss it but there's no way to calibrate it so you don't hear chirp, chirp, chirp, constantly.

While the music is good and can also report that so are the graphics of Aven Colony. Each area feels unique and offers up its own individual strengths and weaknesses that will determine how you play the game. The buildings become larger and more advanced and the graphics on the map showcase it in great detail.

One thing that I did have a problem with was trying to follow my civilians around. One of the aspects of Aven Colony that I found interesting is the ability to go down to what they call "tunnel view" where you can watch your citizens move around and interact with each other and the buildings. While this sounds rather entertaining, there is a massive problem with it; you are supposed to be able to click on one while in this camera mode but I never actually got it to work. There are ways though, through your management menu; however, the task became more of a chore to go out of my way to do it. So, while it was a creative idea, it never was utilized very much.

Despite some of the hiccups mentioned above, it goes without saying that Aven Colony is one of the premier city simulation games that you can find on the Xbox platform, and for $29.99 it should be a must buy for anyone who enjoys these types of games. There is a colossal amount of stuff to do, and a user interface that aids in creating content and playing experiences that will forever make you smile. Take a bow Mothership Entertainment because Aven Colony is truly an amazing experience.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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