Review - Surviving Mars: playing Elon Musk's vision of colonizing another planet

By Sci-Gaming

Playing the game on its highest graphical settings can deliver you some stunning visuals from time to time

Surviving Mars boasts to offer you the feeling of being a real space pioneer but is it any good? We bought the game and had a look for you.

Setting up and maintaining a colony on Mars is extremely difficult and complicated in real life but Haemimont Games didn't make it a cakewalk in this survival city building game either. The ultimate goal here is to create a viable colony that can support thousands of humans and eventually survive on its own without help from Earth. 

You'll start the game by picking a mission sponsor, which is the game's way of letting you select a difficulty. You can choose between a variety of them with largely different sized budgets. Ranging from the International Mars Mission sponsor, which provides you with an enourmous budget of 30 billion dollars, large rocket payloads and a decent research bonus all the way down to the Paradox Interactive mission sponsor with a budget only 4 billion dollars.

 One of the missions sponsors you can choose is SpaceY, a fun little wink at Elon Musk's space transportation services company SpaceX

One of the missions sponsors you can choose is SpaceY, a fun little wink at Elon Musk's space transportation services company SpaceX

Next up is choosing your commander profile, which hasn't got a very large effect on the difficulty of the game but it does give it a nice little accent to suit your play style. If you wish to make a boosted start by relying a bit more on resources being delivered to you from earth you can for example opt for the Rocket Scientist commander profile. This will give you an extra rocket to start with and provide you with a bonus tech that further increases your ability to use long range transportation. 

After choosing your colony logo there's the possibility to select an active story line for your playthrough. This is done in a rather interesting fashion by offering you 9 different mysteries, each with their own difficulty level. We won't go as far as to spoil them but we can tell you that there are some fun plot twists and objectives to be experienced. However there is an option to turn these quests of completely if you are just interested in the city building aspects of the game. 

This also goes for disasters and difficulty increasing game mechanics like inflation which you can turn off in the game rules screen. Although we really like the different quests and disasters ourselves it is nice to see that the game provides you with lots of options to play in a way that best suits you.

After you've selected your preferred options and difficulty settings you can fill up your first rocket with a custom payload of resources and prefab buildings and it's off to Mars. While orbiting Mars you have to select a landing site for your rocket. You can opt to chose one of the preset sites that the game offers you but you are also free to select any location you like. An aspect that is a lot of fun as the map is based on real Martian terrain data. You can for example choose to start your colony in the depths of the Mariana Trench or on top of Olympus Mons.

If you eventually find a cool spot you can share the coordinates with your friends so that they can play on the same map as you.

If you wish to start a colony on Olympus Mons (The highest mountain/volcano in the entire solar system) you can do so

Now the real game begins. After you land your rocket you can start your colonization efforts  by scouting the area and building your first extractors, power buildings and storage areas.   

A new world lays at your feet

The game starts up feeling a bit slow as your colony is still small and you'll have less things to manage at once. Luckily your RC rover can provide you with some light entertainment by scanning anomalies in the direct vicinity. Scanning these anomalies will provide you with some small bonuses and fun logs.

One one of our playtroughs we came across an anomaly that later proved to be a historic finding of the curiosity rover.

After the initial set-up phase you'll quickly realize that Surviving Mars provides a little more pressure than your average laid back city building game. Extractors and rockets will for example blow dust in the air which will eventually cover up your utility buildings and stop them from working properly. Power lines will routinely break down and if you don't watch what you do you'll quickly become in need of extra resources. You'll have to make sure that you have enough drones online to provide sufficient maintenance.

As soon as you create a viable colony with domes for colonists to live in another interesting aspect of the game will come in to play. You can invite the first passenger rocket with pioneers to come live in your colony. You'll be able to choose from a variety of applicants with different perks, quirks and flaws. The group of viable applicants will differ based on the choices you made in the beginning of the game. If you are too picky with your choices you'll risk being left with too few applicant. The game forces to take some less than perfect ones when playing at a higher difficulty, a fun and original game mechanic in our opinion.

As you go further into the game disasters like cold waves, meteors and dust devils come into play. It might be a smart move to make sure that you have some redundancy in your colony. You can for example store water and oxygen in large tanks that you keep separate from water pumps and moxies. Eventually the selected plotlinie will weave its way into the game and you can start progressing trough it via choice based tales that have some fun and interesting plot twists here and there.

 At lower difficulties there are plenty of good applicants to choose from. But you can always make the game more difficult and interesting by picking a few less than ideal candidates. 

At lower difficulties there are plenty of good applicants to choose from. But you can always make the game more difficult and interesting by picking a few less than ideal candidates. 

The game is clearly not for everyone but if you have a weak spot for Sci-Fi and science based games and above all a fascination for space exploration we're sure you'll love a lot its features. If we had to pick out some flaws though we'll have to point at the game's less than ideal tutorial. It gives only a minimal explanation of the game mechanics and the provided in-game encyclopedia is a bit too bare-boned for our taste. Rest assured though, you'll get the hang of it eventually. Be it trough watching others play the game on twitch or YouTube or by way of trail and error. 

Another point of critique we'd throw out there is the huge amount of micromanagement that you'll have to indulge when your colony grows to a larger size. Some form of automation would perhaps make the late game a little less tedious. Who knows, perhaps Haemimont Games will streamline this in a future update. If we know one thing about Paradox Interactive it is that they usually support the games that they publish for a very long time and that they listen very carefully to the input of their respected community.

Overall Surviving Mars is a great game and we had a lot of fun with it. We'd also venture a guess that the cool theme of this game will be considered a great feature to our readers. 

Score: 8/10

Available on pc, ps4 & xbox one (Reviewed on pc)

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