Strategy titles on console are generally few and far between. Can sci-fi city-builder Aven Colony bravely go where few games have gone before and bring the genre to a new audience?
Aven Colony tasks you with the important endeavour of setting up the first-ever human settlement outside the Solar System on the distant planet of Aven Prime. It's a world ripe for exploration and full of natural resources yet characterised by extreme landscapes and harsh winters. Furthermore, it soon becomes clear that it's already inhabited by some hostile alien species.
After undergoing a couple of fairly brief tutorials teaching you the basics, you're assigned to your first mission: establishing an outpost in the verdant region of Vanaar. In order to get up and running, you'll need to mine ores, build farms and utilise geothermal pools to create electricity. Later on, you'll also be able to trade with other colonies, research new technologies and send out expeditions to explore farther afield.
However, as your colony grows, so do the needs of your citizens. Soon, they'll want a greater range of foodstuffs along with entertainment facilities such as bars and shopping centres. It's your job to balance their happiness with the base's expansion, carefully managing your resources and planning ahead to keep everything running smoothly.
Along the way, you'll also be given missions by your superiors. These include tasks such as acquiring and scanning alien artefacts, raising your population to a set level, and constructing specific buildings. Once some of these goals have been met, your colony is determined for success and you'll be able to move on to found your next one. Some of the objectives are repeated in each mission whereas others are unique and revolve around uncovering the planet's history prior to human arrival.
There are nine of these missions in total which doesn't sound like a lot but as each one takes several hours to complete, Aven Colony actually works out as quite a substantial game. Some missions take place in different environments, namely deserts and snowfields. The former of these are home to giant Dune-like sandworms whereas the latter have harsher conditions for growing food. Other dangers come in the form lightning, shard storms, and The Creep (weird, floating aliens that leech off buildings if they get too close).
All of these aspects mean Aven Colony boasts a substantial degree of intricacy and depth that keeps you engaged throughout its duration. You'll need to bear multiple factors in mind as your colony expands keeping a careful eye on population, employment rate, natural resources, and the proximity of various buildings to one another. This might all sound rather stressful but the interface is simple enough to ensure things never become overwhelming. Furthermore, with this being the future and all, a lot of processes are automated. This allows you to focus less on micromanaging and more on turning your tiny clutch of buildings into a sprawling metropolis.
It's clear there has been a lot of work put into Aven Colony's aesthetics. There are dozens of different buildings to construct all with their own unique look and many feature an admirable amount of detail that will make you want to zoom to ground level to explore them closely. The planetary environments are also very colourful and diverse, serving as ideal backdrops for your sleek, futuristic creations.
Unlike most strategy games, Aven Colony is launching simultaneously on console and PC. This means its control scheme has been built with consoles in mind rather than being adapted later as an afterthought. It's therefore very playable on PS4. Buildings are selected via a central menu wheel whereas overlays (which show which parts of your city have access to certain resources) are controlled via a menu opened with the L2 button. Most of the time, this works well although turning an overlay off after it's selected is pretty awkward. The fastest way I found to do it is to tap the Options button twice which is hardly ideal. Also, when placing a building, you often have to zoom in a little first before being allowed to zoom out. I can't imagine that's intentional and hopefully should be fixed post-release.
On a more positive note, much of the important information you need (such as population happiness and air quality) is constantly displayed on the HUD at the bottom of the screen, avoiding the need to repeatedly pause to check on it. You're also able to fast-forward gameplay with a touch of the D-pad. This is a handy feature because new colonists tend to come to your base very slowly.
Outside of the main campaign, Aven Colony also has a sandbox mode. This lets you play with your own custom parameters such as giving yourself more initial funds or tougher environmental challenges. This mode allows more creativity to build larger cities, freeing you from some of the restrictions in the main campaign. It's a welcome extra option to expand your playtime but as it only features the same maps as the campaign; its appeal is somewhat limited.
Overall, Aven Colony is easy to recommend partly because there's so little else like it on console but also because it's an excellent and engrossing example of the genre. Whichever platform you play on, you'll have fun creating a new frontier in outer space.
- + Many hours of addictive city-building fun
- + Deep, multilayered gameplay that doesn't feel overly complicated
- + Detailed buildings and environments
- - Some aspects of the interface are a little clunky
- - Sandbox mode could have used additional unique maps