City building and city management games are few and far between on Xbox One, sure, we’ve had Cities: Skylines and a small band of other like-minded titles, but nothing that particularly stands out as unique. That is, until now. Aven Colony was announced for console a small while back, developed by Mothership Entertainment and published by Team17, is this management game one that will last? I certainly think so, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of issues.
You begin the experience as a governor, setting off to build a colony that’s fit for human life. The planet you’re tasked with colonising is the hostile Aven Prime, an alien planet that’s as every bit dangerous as it is beautiful. It’s not going to be a walk in the part, as not only does the planet itself house some nasty elements, but it’s already home to some pretty vicious alien lifeforms. The game does come with a variety of tutorials that feeds you an adequate amount of information to see you through, giving you the basics of play and a decent understanding as to what needs to be done throughout.
It’s not an overly difficult game at first, in fact even I (who tends to struggle with city builders) managed to make it through the initial phases of the game with little to no struggle. At first you start out slow, caring for only a handful of structures as you eventually begin to expand. There’s two core mechanics at play, being that you need to understand your citizens and make them happy, as well as construct, refine, and build the colony. These two mechanics almost feed each other as you continue through the experience, but it’s massively important to find a good balance.
Unlike the sandbox mode, which enables you to set your own parameters and go about your business uninterrupted, campaign mode is naturally more structured. You’re given missions that are scattered across several locations on Aven Prime. The path of the campaign is well realised, meaning that over the course of the game it slowly has you taking on more tasks that fit the theme of the experience, whilst also being progressively difficult. You can be in a gorgeous fertile area one moment, and then shipped off to a desolate dry environment in the next. That’s one area that Aven Colony does exceptionally well at, making sure that you’re constantly engaging with new missions, locations, and content.
One of my few issues with the game is the voice acting and the writing. This serves to give the plot that extra bit of backbone, but sadly just doesn’t pull it off. Don’t get me wrong, it delivers the meat of the story well enough, but it hardly goes to great lengths to captivate you. Despite being a city builder, this game leans heavily on its survival aspects. Not in the sense that you’ll be pummelled by aliens if you don’t do well, but by the fact that if you don’t keep your citizens happy, entertained, fed, and hydrated, you’ll be hearing from them in the referendum elections.
The game comes with a toolbar and an emoticon that will change colour depending on how well (or bad) you’re doing. It’s not at all tedious to manage the functions that influence this feature, but it certainly does become quite a hectic task when you get deeper into the game. As such the referendum elections tend to always go in your favour, thanks to the people of Aven Prime being a forgiving bunch that will overlook the occasional mishap. That being said, if you allow yourself to get too deep in the dirt, you’ll suffer for it. The game may indeed be kind to you, but the kindness is only measured by your competence.
Running the colony will require resources, which usually equates to mines and farms to begin with. Resources you obtain are turned into Nanites, which can then be used to craft more structures and further build your colony. Again this is where you need to find a good balance, because it’s far too easy to overlook your resources and eventually find that you’ve spent up and will be at that proverbial dead end. Aven Prime does suffer from the occasional bashing thanks to the disasters that make themselves apparent every so often. Thunderstorms, plagues, and more devastating elements will affect your colony in a wide range of different ways, forcing you to think fast and act fast to save your hard work from ruin. Each map houses different issues, and it’s really interesting to combat everything that gets thrown your way.
Your city will also need places of leisure, local flora, and other important structures such as hospitals. This will allow your subjects to buy goods and receive the necessary services that they need. In turn, this system will inevitably feed back to you, and will let you invest in new crops and added enhancers. On the flip side, the game does well at keeping you in the loop via an in-depth map. This map is something you’ll be visiting often to seek out where there may be a problem, and work out where the best place to build upon can be located. Though in all honesty, once I was competent enough to stand on my own two feet, I found that I relied on this tool less and less throughout.
Aside from the tutorials, I did get some self-help from the sandbox mode. Having the freedom to do what I wanted with the scale-options at hand, surely did make an improvement in regards to how I played the game. I would definitely advise visiting this if you’ve run through the tutorials but want to get some more first hand experience without running the risk of hurting the campaign progress. There’s no question about it, Aven Colony doesn’t prove too taxing at first, but as aforementioned, the game will take it up a notch as you burrow deeper in.
Biomes (for example) come in a variety of flavors, such as desert, taiga, and glacier. These biomes dramatically change how colonies can be crafted, and what power sources you’ll need to harvest. Taiga biomes offer lots of potential for growing crops and huge colonies, but mining resources are scarce. On the flip side, desert biomes are chock-full of mining resources, but come without fertile lands to build larger colonies. It’s not just a challenging sense of play, but it’s both rewarding and keeps the experience fresh. It helps that each of these environments are well designed and gives you a real sense of discovery and life. It may be a bland looking game to begin with, but as soon as you start progressing and working in the way that you should, everything just comes together to gift you with some jaw-dropping visuals and personality.
Unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in Aven Colony. On top of my complaint regarding the voice acting and writing, I felt that further into the game, the mission structure became stale and somewhat drawn out. This type of game is bound to feel repetitive to some degree, that’s part and parcel of the genre, but after several hours of play, I couldn’t help but notice that the missions and objectives started to wear thin. It’s not a massive dig at the experience, but something I wanted to point out all the same.
With that to the side, there’s very little to moan about. Aven Colony does well at grabbing your attention and holding it. The tactical gameplay is well met by the smooth controls, which is something that many city builders get wrong on console, mercifully that’s not the case here. The gameplay is well rounded and extremely well suited for the controller. The people of Aven Prime are a nagging bunch, being that they complain about travel distance and other small issues whilst you’re trying to juggle crime rates, job opportunities, and every single detail listed above, but it’s a great deal of fun to be so invested in. Constantly weighing up your action and inaction to the consequences that will follow on is just wonderful, and when you take the impressively ambitious functions of Aven Colony into account, and witness how every mechanic bonds so well, it’s hard not to love what’s on offer.
Aven Colony is a city builder that stands out from the rest. It may indeed be slightly dragged down by the voice acting, the writing, and the mission structure, but with those flaws to the side, there’s a heap of enjoyment to be found within. The game easily offers up tens of hours worth of play, with a massive band of interesting and well developed mechanics tying the package up. It helps that the game looks so inviting and beautifully designed across all of the biomes you’re given care of. This is one impressive city builder that you shouldn’t overlook.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.