Thursday, 27 July 2017 00:00

Aven Colony Review

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Aven Colony is a planetary colonization, city building simulator that salutes the memes of classic sci-fi while making a memorable impression all its own [1]. Welcome to Aven Prime, humanity's first foothold outside the solar system. Pack your bags and prepare to eat quori spore beans in this release from Mothership Entertainment LLC, a team of four people based in Austin, Texas.

Aven Colony offers both a campaign and sandbox mode, although some maps can't be your happy-fun sandbox until you conquer them in the objective-driven campaign. It's in your best interest to play the campaign anyway, as tutorials are bundled into it, so you learn new mechanics in each successive map. You face a smooth difficulty curve without spikes, and you control this curve's slope organically by how fast you expand and what risks you take — such as whether you, like me, in impatience, gamble your city's long term stability in your last push toward the ultimate objective in a mission.

The old city-builder genre staple of your 'council of advisors' appears, and they're real and credible characters who don't always responsibly use social media. Story missions feature SHIPE calls with these advisers that add beautiful flesh to the Aven Colony universe, and as often as they explore big themes, they'll also make you laugh (SHIPE, by the way, is Skype, and Twertle is Twitter). Pop quiz, use your new vocab in a sentence: Your chief botanist accidentally Twerts a photocopy of his butt to the entire mothership while on a SHIPE conference call with the Minister of Trade, plus his boss, plus his I'm-Agent-Phil-Collins-And-It's-An-Honor-To-Meet-You-Captain-America bona fide professional hero: you. Apparently, you're the legendary former mayor of New York City from a time when everything was falling apart on Old Earth; you're the city-builder version of Commander Shepard [2].


Aven Prime hits you with flavorful threats, including lightning strikes in winter, violent ice storms, virulent plague spores, and the Creep. The initial novelty of each wears off quickly, however, once you figure out you can ignore them after constructing the right buildings. When I start a new city on a new map, I rush complete coverage of my colony against all ills via a single strategically placed scrubber drone, hospital, and lightning rod. Ice shards can be ignored; their damage is insignificant. In more advanced maps, you also face robot attacks, but by the time the bots show up, you always have enough plasma turrets to steamroll them.

The only real threats to your colony hatch within it, and you weave your own noose. In grand echoes of the Roman Empire, and indeed every city or city simulation ever built, your sprawling space colony inevitably collapses under its own weight. You can't expand fast enough, can't seize enough new resources, to fuel the beast that your city becomes. Desperately, you feed it, and it gets fatter. Your monster's next meal must be bigger; heap the plate. Spike it with the drugs of an alien world that you once fancied you'd make your own. Genre veterans, especially those who played Banished [3], will appreciate the realistic results of rushed expansion here and the paralysis of poor urban planning.

In other build-a-settlement titles, I immediately go full Negan and Breaking Bad, subsuming all life forms within my totalitarian regime and forcing them to produce drugs, most of which I trade. My colonists then consume the surplus drugs, develop addictions and tolerance, and throw raves. My methods may be harsh, but in the end, everybody wins [4]. As you might expect, I couldn't wait to bring my pragmatic management to Aven Prime, where humanity has learned to grow alien plants and refine them into a veritable pharmacy of “enhancer” drugs.


Each enhancer applies single-digit percentage effects, none higher than eight percent, to health, productivity, crime, happiness, and so forth. Even after you dope your colonists up on everything, you won't see significant changes that justify such a largescale, industrial investment. You might still do it for trade, but here, too, the substance abuse strategy falls short; trade opportunities are limited, and you exercise zero control over what you get the chance to buy or sell. Most repeatable deals aren't profitable, so you might as well just distribute your drugs locally, even though their effects are underwhelming, to say the least.

Second only to my excitement about drugs in this release was my anticipation of “expeditions.” Expedition vessels allow you to explore outside your city's borders. You can destroy Creep nests and plague spore fens; rescue stranded explorers who, in gratitude, join your colony when your expedition ship returns; retrieve tasty sandworm meat and haul it home for a feast; and earn commendations.
Commendations are medals that serve no purpose except as a mark of how many expedition errands you complete, and you earn rewards when you hit specified, ever-higher numbers of them. Of course, another important function of expeditions is the ability they afford you to order crew members into situations for which you didn't prepare them… in order to ‘thin out’ your surplus population (or maybe that's just the Dwarf Fortress addict in me talking).

Alerts pile up on the side of your screen and, if your colony's in “crisis,” the relevant alerts flash red. Crisis mode activates under any, or all, of the following conditions: low food, low water, low air quality, plague infection, Creep infestation, and ice storms. The low resource count alerts pop up when your consumption exceeds your production, or your stockpiles fall below a certain threshold. In theory, such alerts can save your life if you get distracted and forget about farming while you're busy building geothermal generators. However, in practice, crisis warnings prove misleading, annoying, and unhelpful. They show up when you have no reason to worry, so you learn not to care about them, and then when your colony hits actual crisis, you once again ignore the boy who cried wolf. Luckily, you can turn some of the audio cues related to crisis alerts off, in case you get tired of your boss asking, “Is everything all right down there?”

The interface spoils you with stellar quality of life. Hotkeys are intuitive, alerts can be dismissed en masse or individually – as well as re-summoned – and the display, audio, control, and gameplay options are customizable to your heart's content. Overall, Aven Colony delivers an eminently enjoyable experience, and my main complaints concern systems and features which aimed in the right direction but should have gone further. The mysteries of Aven Prime, revealed through campaign mode, treat you to an engaging story, distinguishing this entry in a genre not generally known for narrative. Genre newbies will find this release easy to pick up, and may even find it an ideal introduction to city building, but it takes a genre veteran to appreciate all the small details that went into Aven Colony's design.

1. Aven Colony. Steam.
2. “Cmdr shepper”. YouTube.
3. Banished. Steam.
4. “Rimworld Negan”. Reddit.


The Verdict

Aven Colony is a planetary colonization, city-building simulator that salutes the memes of classic sci-fi while making a memorable impression all its own. The objective-driven campaign mode introduces mechanics and controls on a smooth difficulty curve which you can manage organically by how fast you expand your city and how rigorously you prepare for threats. While at times shallowly implemented, the trade, production, and expedition systems offer a variety of options for you to complete your goals. Simulation noobs will find this release easy to pick up, but only veterans can appreciate all the small details that went into Aven Colony's design.

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Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.