Developed by Haemimont Games and published by Paradox Interactive, Surviving Mars is a good city builder sim game that tasks the player with creating a sustainable colony on the planet Mars. Haemimont Games is probably best known for their work on the Tropico series and Paradox Interactive brought Cities Skylines to the Xbox One last year. Admittedly, it has been quite some time since I’ve played a game of this genre. Simcity 2000 to be exact. The Sega Saturn version.
As with most City builders, players need to gather local resources using solar technology, mining and quarry equipment, and subsurface water extractors. Produce breathable air and build fuel refineries, component factories, and everything else your colonists will need to live and survive on Mars. Now I know that this is a niche genre, and some people have already posted reviews elsewhere about having buyer’s remorse but in my opinion the development team has done a fine job of creating a challenging and entertaining experience.
Keep in mind that the nature of the game warrants a slow pace as the bigger your colony becomes the harder it will be to keep an eye on everything that is going on. That said, you will be happy to know that players can manipulate the progress of time to speed up, slow down, or even stop time all together, giving you a breather to assess your current situation. Use your rovers to explore the surface, analyzing different anomalies and discovering a number of different mysteries that Mars has to offer, which may bring either fortune or ruin upon your colony. Your mission to colonize Mars is virtually doomed from the start. You have a limited budget which varies from sponsor to sponsor. A randomized research element guarantees a different experience on every play through. Persistence at the start of the game is important here as you will fail. A lot.
Surviving Mars doesn’t hold your hand, and it shouldn’t, by giving an in depth tutorial. Instead the developer decided to go the route of teaching the controls and offering a few hints and suggestions upon landing your first rocket on the red planet. It will be up to the player to face the consequences of their decisions and learn from their mistakes. Challenging yes, but in my opinion this adds to the longevity of the game, knowing you will fail multiple times. My first play through lasted a grand total of 3 Sol cycles. My seventh and longest play through lasted a pretty cool 102 Sol cycles. Even though you can reload from auto-saves I preferred to start from scratch with each play through after each failed attempt and use what I learned from the last to improve upon my progress.
The control scheme for a game like this isn’t exactly ideal but for console is acceptable. I think that is one of the reasons why this is such a niche genre for console players. City builders have historically been more suited for mouse and keyboard. Even so, once you get used to the controller under your thumbs it gets easier to access all the various commands. Sound design offers a nice, relaxing soundtrack featuring a variety of radio stations. Your computer voice assistant will alert you to dangers and crises, as well as discoveries and accomplishments. Vehicle noises are pretty quiet considering everything runs of a battery. Other heavy equipment sounds a lot noisier, as one would expect.
Graphics are nicely done. The color palette feels authentic. The level of detail in the terrain and the variety of rock formations offer a passable representation of the red planet. At least by comparison to what you might have seen in a number of Hollywood blockbuster films. Early feelings of frustrations aside, Surviving Mars offers numerous challenges and satisfying feelings of success with each play through. Definitely not a one and done kind of game, the replay value is quite high. After seven failed colonies I’ve realized success comes with perseverance and look forward to my next attempt. It can become quite the addiction if I’m honest. Surviving Mars is well worth the investment if you fancy city builders and both Paradox Interactive and Haemimont Games have experience on their side.
Early feelings of frustrations aside, Surviving Mars offers numerous challenges and satisfying feelings of success with each play through. Definitely not a one and done kind of game, the replay value is quite high. Surviving Mars is well worth the investment if you fancy city builders, and both Paradox Interactive and Haemimont Games have experience on their side.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.