Developed by Mothership Entertainment and published by Team17, Aven Colony is a brand new strategy/city building title being released simultaneously for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Here’s our review of the Xbox One version.
I can’t even remember the last time I saw a multiplatform game for PCs and console being released at the same time within this genre. We’ve seen titles like Grand Ages: Medieval and Cities: Skylines come to consoles before, but it was always a conversion of an earlier PC version. Aven Colony is different, as it was clearly designed with multiplatform in mind and the result is a relatively accessible strategy title that carefully balances the needs and wants of PC and console gamers.
Featuring a sci-fi theme, Aven Colony puts you in charge of a human colony on the planet Aven Prime – which humanity is trying to colonize. Building a settlement on an alien planet is very different from designing a city in Cities: Skylines, as your primary concern isn’t a thriving economy but rather the survival of your interplanetary settlers. Low air quality will upset your people, but you also have to face extreme storms, toxic gasses and drastically changing conditions.
During the game’s campaign (there is also a sandbox mode available), each mission will impose different restrictions on you, forcing you to quickly learn and adapt to the situation. Early missions make it easy for you to farm the land, whereas later ones will render this (near) impossible. In those cases, you have to either mine for minerals and trade with other settlements, or understand that you have to account for seasonal changes where the output is much lower during winter time.
There is a story interwoven with these missions, and in-game communications keep reminding you of the grand story behind it all as well. It’s a nice take on the genre, and will definitely appeal to those who think that a sandbox mode is simply too unstructured – people who probably have no interest in Minecraft either. In Aven Colony, you gradually find out more about the planet’s history as well – unearthing ancient ruins and relics that show that you’re not alone.
It’s not that you actually need these discoveries to realize this though – alien life forms and human factions that have broken with you make life difficult from time to time, and diseases can threaten your colony as well. Progression is not only a dynamic that pushes you forward, it’s also necessary for survival. To this end, you can upgrade buildings and attract more colonists, allowing your settlement to grow. The campaign does a good job in setting up the various ways in which this is done through its scenarios, while the sandbox mode gives you near-complete freedom to bring all these concepts together.
Obviously, designing a title like this brings challenges with it when you consider the control options that a console offers. Not equipped with a mouse or keyboard, everything has to be mapped to a standard controller. In Aven Colony, this has been well done – though throwing everything at once at you in sandbox is probably overwhelming and not a good place to start with. The game’s campaign mode, with its varied scenarios, does a much better job at introducing you to the game’s various dynamics and the menus and controls that are associated with it. There is a wide range of options hidden under a relatively low amount of buttons here, but stick with the “tutorial” that is the campaign and it won’t get too overwhelming. If it does – especially when you’re managing your settlement and fending off enemies at the same time – you can also pause the game and issue commands that way.
Aven Colony’s approach to the city building genre provides some interesting new elements that have to do with its sci-fi setting and the dynamics of trying to live in an alien world. Despite that, it also has many elements that fans of similar (earth-based) titles will recognize – although not with as much depth applied to it than in a game like Cities: Skylines. I can imagine that this is a turn-off to PC enthusiasts who have been enjoying complex city builders for years, but I can also see this approach working very well for console owners who prefer a more accessible take on the genre. Aven Colony is not groundbreaking, and definitely not the best or most intricate city builder out there, but it might just be the one that best fits with the console audience.