City builders are a popular genre on PC with the likes of SimCity and in more recent times Cities: Skylines dominating the sales within the genre. However there are a few things which aren’t massively popular within the genre, namely sci-fi, an actual campaign with objectives and the move across to the console platforms popular at the time of launch. This rather conveniently is where Aven Colony comes in. Developed by Mothership Entertainment over the last couple of years Aven Colony brings together solid city building, introducing sci-fi, weird alien planets as well as weird aliens to affect your thriving colony and a very welcome campy campaign to help push you along your time with the game.
Effectively dubbed by many as SimCity in space, Aven Colony is low key in its minute-to-minute gameplay but surprisingly deep when it comes to mechanics and knock-on effects. Two fairly swift tutorial missions give the very basics of colony building and it’s straight into the campaign. Yes, you read that correctly, Aven Colony has an actual campaign, something that’s often absent from games of this nature and usually sorely missed. Nine missions await you and are packed with building, upgrading, researching new tech, random events and more. Each colony needs its fair share of water, food and oxygen and it is your job to ensure that you have a growing colony that can cope with the demands of its people. With many types of facility to build and upgrade, along with multiple food types, a morale system, biannual referendums that need winning, air quality, living conditions, crime, employment and social policies, there really is a lot to sink your teeth into here. Add to this immigration, trade and exploration, then you will understand why there are roughly twelve menus available to the player to navigate it all.
The game's presentation is actually really nice, especially coming from such a small development studio. The introduction is simple yet has a certain charm to it and in game, graphically everything hangs together really well. There is a certain clinical nature to the buildings - this is a space colony after all - with high tech corridors linking newly created residential buildings, solar panels or farms (for example). This graphical quality does very well under the microscope too as you can zoom right into your colony and watch the residents moving from facility to facility; graphically everything is crisp and clean with very few jagged edges ruining your view. The sterile blandness of the sci-fi look and feel is jazzed up a little throughout each mission with lots of animations, which range from small touches like wind through foliage (should the planet have any) all the way to huge lightning strikes and tunneling sandworms (think Dune) to hinder your progress building the bestest colony in space.
The audio within the game is simple yet complementary, playing melodically in the background while you build your power network in a silly shape for no reason, and then kicking in when some nasty aliens (known as the creep) try to latch on to your structures and destroy them.
As with all strategy games there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to controls on the PC as these games are built and loved on the PC platform, however, they can be a bit of a fiddle to successfully move the control schemas across to console. No worries at all here though as the controls re-mapped fantastically well across to the PS4 pad, especially considering the amount of menus there are. Placing structures is easy and intuitive, and accessing the plethora of other in-game stats and upgrade options can be achieved in one or two button presses. There is a lot going on in Aven Colony, as there is in most games of this ilk, so the importance of the UI cannot be overstated. If there is one small thing that we found tricky, it was the first few attempts at using the overlay menu but that was more than likely influenced by some user error, but all the same, it wasn’t 100% plain sailing for the first few hours.
The main issue with Aven Colony is one that affects most other games in the genre, more specifically the recently ported to console, Cities: Skylines, namely repetition. As you work your way through the campaign and are introduced to the many systems the game has to offer, you quickly find your feet and start building with confidence and dealing with the random events that the story campaign throws at you - however after playing for tens of hours you will find yourself being asked to do the same things at the beginning of a mission. As a result this once really handy spoon feeding of information can get a little cumbersome and you start to feel the repetition building. The game does its level best to stop you feeling this way to its credit, with its thin storyline, alien races, mysterious artifacts, an exploration mini game and the aforementioned random events, but ultimately playing the game for such a length of time will make it feel repetitive.
Aven Colony is an excellent take on a genre that’s not had a ton of love lately. Standing up to the likes of Cities: Skylines, SimCity and Banished by taking the core mechanics of a good-looking city builder and adding objectives, characters and a back story, elevates Aven Colony to new heights. More importantly, with some excellent console control mapping an already solid port offers a welcome change of pace for console users sick of the endless stream of first-person shooters. Offering many hours of solid city building gameplay, with the potential to play from your couch and bringing to the table an actual campaign rather than just countless sandboxes, Aven Colony is an excellent little title, which we can particularly recommend for console players.