Review: Aven Colony

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I fully believe that the most important feature of building games is to be accessible, which puts them in an entirely different paradigm of design from other kinds of games. Platformers and shooters and third-person action games can all succeed and even excel in being aggressively onerous to players, but I honestly can’t see a brutal, hardcore building sim ever taking off. It might be why I’ve grown so fond of Aven Colony lately, because it offers a fair bit of variety with little more than a brief learning hump. What it might lack in depth, it makes up for with charm, polish, and colorful environs to sprawl your colony across.

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In the far-flung future, humanity has set its eyes on colonizing the stars in proper utopian, Star Trek fashion. Their newest endeavor is Aven Prime, a vibrant alien world of vast plains, craggy valleys, and some very unfriendly life forms. Despite the dangers, you have been tasked with founding and overseeing several colonies on the surface, each tasked providing resources or living accommodations for the expatriated humans. As you progress through your missions, though, you’ll come across strange relics of a bygone civilization, and begin to unravel a mystery eons in the making. If the creep spores and ice storms don’t do your colony in, the secrets uncovered in your journey just might.

Aven Colony is broken into three modes, including a Campaign of nine missions, a set of four Challenge maps, and a customizable Sandbox using any of the maps in the game. Regardless of the mode you choose, the heart of the game is founding and fostering a functioning colony by making use of the map’s resources and laying out your settlement accordingly. Your people need homes, food, water, clean air, and power, and as the colony grows new needs for security, entertainment, and more will certainly arise. There are facilities to provide for everything a growing community needs but they need enough people to operate them, so the main balancing act of the game is building out the necessary services for the population you have. Spread them too thin or neglect key needs, and you might find yourself out of a job come the next referendum.

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There are a few unique features afforded by the game’s sci-fi trappings, but as I mentioned these are easy enough to come to grips with. The atmosphere of Aven Prime is not suitable for humans so your colony is sealed up tight, meaning air quality must be managed and glass corridors take the place of roads. Your buildings naturally fit together like puzzle pieces but your fussy colonists greatly prefer to commute via corridor, so you’ll still need to place workplaces near residences and leave clear avenues between them. Each of the planet’s long days ends with a deep freeze, similar to a mini-winter in Banished, and this greatly curtails food and power production and must be planned for. Getting a feel for just how much food and water larger populations need is something I’m still working on, so you can expect to be caught with empty stores a few times.

Unlike Banished, though, over-expanding or starving your people won’t end with a mass extinction of simulated humans. Colonists in Aven Colony will just get mad and maybe leave. There are seven difficulty levels so I’m sure you can make the margins as tight as you want, but on Normal the game is blessedly forgiving while still requiring a little competence in colony management. Maps also offer unique challenges that give your building some much-needed variety, like ore deposits being poor and requiring you to spread further than you might, or arid deserts leaving you only scattered patches of ground to farm on. The assortment of buildings you have to construct are pretty constant, and most if not all of your colonies will end up featuring the same structures. It’s the scenery, the deadly fauna, and in the Campaign the varied objectives that keep this one from stagnating.

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Most of all, it’s fun. Aven Colony is easy to get into, easy to understand, and easy to build gorgeous sci-fi cities in. The basics will carry you for hours, but once you get your bearings there’s a little more depth to discover in places like manufactured enhancers and world map expeditions. Between the art style and the solid sound design, which includes some shockingly good voice work, there’s enough to please the senses that just growing a new settlement much like others before it is engaging. As long as you’re not expecting huge depth or variety here, Aven Colony will serve you quite well as a colorful, relaxing city builder to putter around in.

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