Surviving Mars is a city builder set on Mars. It’s developed my Bulgarian video game developer Haemimont Games (Tropico 3, Tropico 4, Tropico 5), and published by Paradox Interactive. This combination made every science fiction, and city builder fan go a little giddy when the game was announced last year. Haemimont Game’s run with the Tropico franchise was quite successful, and Paradox Interactive also published another great city builder, Cities: Skylines, that one set on Earth.
Unfortunately, Surviving Mars didn’t quite live up the hype when it was released. The game received mixed feedback from the players, who cited bugs, a rather terrible UI, and even more bugs as their major gripes. Not the kind of ticker tape parade you hope for when you release a game. There have probably been some long days at the office for the Haemimont Game developers since the game was released in March, as the game has received three major updates.
They have addressed many of the issues raised by the players, but has the effort turned Surviving Mars into the game we wanted?
Mars Is Not Your Friend
You start the game on the dusty planes of the Red Planet. All you have is a few billion dollars in your pocket from your sponsor, a couple of drones, some basic prefabs, and the resources necessary to get the most essential buildings up and running. You’re not completely on your own, though. New cargo rockets can be ordered from Earth in case you run out of resources. At least that’s the case as long as you have any money left. When they run out you can only hope that you’ve got a sustainable colony going already.
Life on Mars is in many ways similar to the life your colonists are used to from Earth. Play your cards well, and they will have access to everything they need. A bed, a place to work, bars, hospitals, grocery stores, and gyms. All the luxuries they ever wanted, available just a short stroll from their apartment inside the pleasant, cozy dome. A few missteps along the way, though, and you might be quickly find yourself knee-deep in do-do. There’s a thin line between success, and failure in Surviving Mars. An unfortunate meteor strike, or a raging dust storm might be all it takes to turn your Martian utopia into a oxygen-deprived nightmare.
Life on Mars
I didn’t jump on the first rocket to Mars when the game was released. The concept of a city builder on Mars was interesting. But there was something about the graphical style of Surviving Mars that put me off. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was, though. Also, the mixed reviews coming in didn’t make me want to throw my hard earned money at the developer on release day. But Surviving Mars have already started popping up in a few sales, and when the price dropped below €12, I was in.
Even after the three major patches, there are quite a few annoyances in Surviving Mars. Rover orders can’t be queued, for instance. This means that if you send your transporter off to collect some resources, you can’t queue any more orders. It would have been great to tell it to come back and unload the resources when it had a full load. Since everything in Surviving Mars happens in slow motion - unless you’re playing on the fastest speed - collecting the resources takes some time. Because of that, I’m usually busy doing something else when the rover is done, and I’ve forgot that I even sent it out in the desert. So now it’s just idling, collecting dust.
Another example is building upgrades. It’s hard to figure out which one of your buildings can be updated when you research new technologies. There are no immediate indications, instead you have to click on every single building. This leads to a lot of unnecessary micro-managing, which, unless done right, can suck the fun out of any game.
Despite the game’s potential, I’m feeling underwhelmed. I find myself building structures, and selecting research more or less at random. It doesn’t feel like the game gives the players and tangible goals to deal with, except for the ultimate goal; Martian colony. I’m honestly having difficulties finding the game engaging on any level. Perhaps I’m playing it wrong? I’m pretty sure I’ll come back to Surviving Mars in a few months to give it a another try. After a couple of more patches, the game is hopefully delivering a better experience.
I really want to like Surviving Mars. In it’s current state, however, the game is making it hard.
This review is based 6 hours of gameplay with the free Mysteries Resupply Pack DLC installed.