STAFF REVIEW of Planetbase (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Planetbase Box art Developed by Madruga Works, Planetbase released on PC back in the tail end of 2015, and here we are two years later with their console adaptation of their popular planetary colonization title. Now Xbox One, gamers gets to experience the trials, tribulations and hardship that is required to survive on another planet. Be prepared to fail a lot and have endure many citizen deaths, as Planetbase is as harsh as the planets you’ll try and inhabit with its difficulty, but the payoff comes twofold once you understand all of its intricacies and mechanics, learning to use them in your favor.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to colonize Mars, or some other foreign planet, Planetbase is a great rude awakening to how difficult survival is when starting from nothing, let alone creating a civilization. Humans have ventured to the far reaches of space to inhabit neighboring planets, and you’re tasked with taking a handful of humans and helper robots to create not only a community, but to fully colonize a planet with your very limited resources.

You’ll need to prioritize everything you do, balancing what you can and can’t live without to continue survival for your people. You not only need to worry about oxygen, but power for your settlement, food, water, rest areas and more. You’re given enough resources to get a few things built and started, but how you do so, and in what order, are completely up to you, and you will fail the first few times quite quickly, even after completing the tutorial, as it’s a very fine balance of survival and expansion.

This is where Planetbase falters at first, as while there is a tutorial, I followed it almost exactly to a tee during my first real playthrough attempt and everyone ended up dying quite quickly. The first time they didn’t have enough oxygen, the second was not enough power, then a lack of food, etc. Planetbase is a lot about trial and error, and the very steep learning curve may be a little too high for some, as I know I got frustrated to the point of having to resort to watching a few 'beginner' videos on YouTube to help my early game start off much more efficiently. Once you have the basics down though, and understand the “proper” order and manner in which to build and expand, Planetbase truly opens up and becomes a lot of fun.

Each colonist has their own specialty which determines their specific job at the base. At first this is infuriating, as you only start out with a handful of people, and should they perish there’s not much you can do to recover at that point, as other people can’t take over someone else’s job. Medics can only heal, workers move items, biologists handle the crops, etc, so you need to make sure you have the right amount of each type should the worst happen, which is almost inevitable.

Just like people in the real world, your virtual people need to be kept fed and happy or else they won’t work. This is where your building skills will come into play. You’re in charge of creating the base however you deem fit. You determine where you want to build each type of room and corridor, but be aware, there is an ideal placement for nearly everything you do, as you want everything to be as efficient as possible.

You’ll also start with two robots to help your colonization get started. These helpful androids can carry materials and are the ones responsible for actually building your structures once you’ve placed them. These are simply robots though and can break down, and this is where your engineers come into play, as they need to not only repair them but also repair your worn down structures like solar panels and wind turbines. Nearly every structure or unit somehow relies on another unit or resource, and this is where the deep meta of the game comes into play.

Before you can build more structures and expand, you’re going to need to gather resources, but to gather resources, you’ll need even more resources and manpower, so it’s a constant cycle, one that takes some time to learn how to do properly. There’s such a thing as building too quickly, as expanding rapidly will deplete your resources like food, water and oxygen faster than you’re producing, which will require you to expand more, thus making the problem worse.

Power is one of the most important components you’ll need to focus on creating right away, as without electricity, nothing in your base will function. The two main sources for energy are solar panels, which is great in the daytime, and wind turbines, which generate electricity when it’s windy. You’ll need to create both if you want enough energy for your ever expanding base, as solar panels don’t help you at night, and turbines only work when the wind is blowing. You’ll also need to create energy capsules to store your energy, for those times when it’s night time and there’s no wind blowing.

When creating any building or structure they need to be placed close enough to another building so that it can be connected, the problem being that you don’t always know where you’re able to place buildings due to uneven land or not enough room before trying to do so. Structures can be made small, medium or large, but the larger versions take more resources to do so. This is just another example of how a simple decision can be your undoing, as making a large structure might have used the last resource you needed to build something else critical.

To net more resources you’ll need to mine, plant, and refine, which of course takes certain types of workers to do so, along with an area for storage. Nothing happens quickly though, and this is where planning the layout for your base comes in. The longer it takes for workers to walk to and from places can be the difference of survival and extermination. You need to plan your base layout strategically for the best possible results.

Should the need arise to construct a building in an emergency, you’re able to prioritize a structure over others if the need is dire. You’re also able to cut the power to any building or area if you start to run low and need to conserve it for any reason. In the beginning, before your base is completely self-sufficient, you’ll need to learn these strategies quickly if you want to start your expansion.

Building a landing pad will allow other colonists and visitors to come to your settlement, and this is how you’ll gain new members to your colony and workforce. You’re able to set exactly what type of workers you want to land, and every so often you’ll see a drop ship come with new people to add to your settlement.

You start out with only access to one Mars-like planet, and to unlock the others you need to hit a certain amount of milestones. These can be certain objectives like reaching a specific population, building a number of structures and so on. Unlocking these is how you access the other planets, which become more challenging as you progress.

So, how does Planetbase fare with a controller in hand instead of its native mouse and keyboard? Well, I’m glad to say that it seems developer Madruga Works has taken the time to make their game very controller friendly. They’ve redesigned the controls to make use of the controller in a logical way. You can move the camera with the sticks and the bumpers are how you access the numerous menus. Poor controls can be a death sentence for a PC to console port, and I’m glad they’ve taken the time to do it even though there will be more frustration than not until you learn all of the intricacies of how everything works together.

That game is also a constant balance of resource use and expenditure. You’re going to think the AI of your workers is broken, but it’s not. You’re also going to learn the hard way, many times, that you need to watch over everything. I had a little over 60 people in my colony and was expanding when needed, but I wasn’t watching my workers’ numbers and expanded too fast. I started to run out of food, then energy and finally oxygen. I went from a thriving colony to everyone dead in a matter of minutes simply because I forgot to turn off new visitors on my landing pad, unable to keep up with the expansion. One small mistake will be your undoing, so make sure to save often and learn from your faults, as the next attempt will go much smoother, although you'll find lots to learn.

The game can seem unforgiving, forcing you to learn how to play properly on your own through trial and error, but once you learn how to play correctly though, the game opens up and is very entertaining; it’s a large hill to climb to really figure it out in the beginning but it can be done. I know if I didn’t make an effort to look up some tricks and beginner help videos I would have given up quite early on. After learning what and how to prioritize when starting out, my opinion completely changed once I started enjoying myself.

Once you learn how to build a self-sustaining colony, there’s a lot to do, but you simply have to remember not to do it too fast or you’ll expand too quickly and will suffer for it later on. There’s nothing like being well on your way to expanding, only to have a meteor destroy your oxygen tank or other life support system. Planetbase starts out incredibly infuriating but becomes really enjoyable after you make it over the steep learning curve. If you’re looking for a colonization simulator that controls well on console, look no further than Planetbase.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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