Everyone likes to think they would be able to survive the apocalypse. Whether you know exactly what Bear Grylls would do, played any of the numerous end-of-the-world themed video games, or have seen every episode of The Walking Dead, there’s a small part of our brains that thinks we’d probably be fine, it might even be kind of fun to put those survival skills to the test. Hopefully, none of us will ever get to find out, and video games will have to do. Luckily, a new title from Iceflake Studios and Paradox Interactive is now available in early access: Surviving the Aftermath, where you’ll need to build a colony, collect and refine resources, and explore and scavenge in the surrounding map of this post-apocalyptic world.
It’s exciting to see a game like this in early access, because whilst it’s one that proved to be a lot of fun, the improvements that need to be made are glaringly obvious. But rather than being left disappointed, there’s the feeling that as long as the developers take player’s comments on board and make the changes that are needed, Surviving the Aftermath could be a solid addition to the genre.
Management games can be tricky, especially ones like Aftermath where you’re not only managing a colony but also a second game mode where you need to move ‘specialists’ around a world map. However, Aftermath makes it easy for new players to ease themselves in with plenty of customisation options when you start a new game. Everything from the amount of fertile land, the number of resources, and the harshness of catastrophes can be individually changed meaning a personalised experience can be created each time. You can also pick your specialists, then name your colony, and pick their flag and motto. All of which are nice touches to make you feel attached and therefore responsible for whatever happens next.
Before you jump into the main game too quickly, there are a few things you need to do. Using your specialists you need to put together the basics for your colony to survive including housing, food, and water. Once the first group of colonists turns up, you can send your specialists out to the wastelands to explore and scavenge for supplies and let your colonists work at the settlement. Although being able to switch between your colony and the larger world is a great way to keep things interesting in theory, the gameplay that occurs on the world map is the main thing that needs improving. Moving your specialist around requires far too much micromanagement, as it is not possible to queue up actions for a journey that is going to take multiple turns. It means having to constantly flip between the two modes, to tell your specialist to move somewhere over and over again when you should only need to tell them once. The world map also often feels sparse and uninteresting, and when quests do pop up, requiring you to visit a specific location on the map, they are over quickly and have very little variety between them. Were it not for the fact they give a decent reward, it would be tempting to skip them.
This isn’t the only frustrating thing about the specialists either. Back at the colony, they’re almost entirely useless. Whilst they can be commanded to do tasks like building or gathering, jobs which the colonists do automatically, the rest of the time they just stand around. Even when your colony gets raided by bandits, they don’t help. Even the specialist with the class ‘fighter’ who is there to deal with bandits on the world map, won’t pick up their gun and help your colonists defeat raiders.
These problems with the specialists are the major issue of the game because back at the colony things work fairly well. Once you start collecting research points and unlocking new buildings and tech, you can take your settlement from a collection of tents and stockpiles to an efficient little town with electricity, hospitals, and schools. Of course, it’s not all plain sailing as there’s plenty of things around the colony that can cause problems; areas of high radiation, animals, bandits, and most notably, catastrophes. The catastrophes have the potential to completely ruin your plans in the form of pandemics, heat waves, and storms, but you do get a short time to prepare for each one. This gives you a chance to build extra medical tents or save some food, whilst never taking away the fun of a challenge.
Nonetheless, there are still things that could be fine-tuned to make things run smoother on this side of the game. Small tweaks like being able to assign certain colonists to certain tasks, rather than the current system of whoever is free gets the job, would be great. Additionally, being able to upgrade existing buildings rather than demolishing them when you unlock something better on the tech tree, would mean growing your colony would be a less cumbersome task. These things, however, are much smaller issues, than the need to fix how specialists operate within the game.
Whilst there are things about this game that taint the experience at present, there is a sense of optimism about its future. It feels like the things that need to be fixed easily could be, as long as the developers pay attention to what players are saying during this early access phase. At the moment, it’s probably not a title anyone is going to be singing the praises of, since the annoyances it has, really are quite annoying. But there’s enough there that is fun, and that makes it feel like the game is one to keep an eye on over the coming months. If you have a track record of enjoying city builders, especially with a post-apocalypse theme, then there might be enough here entertained if you do keep in mind there’s still time for improvements and updates.
Whilst you would think that with the way the real world is going, we wouldn’t want to turn to apocalypse-themed games for entertainment, and yet they do provide a great backdrop for survival, management, and colony building mechanics. Surviving the Aftermath could still be a great addition to the genre, even if at the moment some of the mechanics bog the gameplay down in pointless micro-management. So if you’re the kind of person who enjoys imagining how they would fare in rebuilding civilization, this is one to keep an eye on.
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