If you’re looking for a comprehensive tutorial, Aven Colony certainly has what you are looking for and as my introduction into modular based city builders, it was certainly welcome to help deal with the depth. The trouble is, once I had a handle on things I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. Other than following the guide from one mission to the next, I wasn’t doing anything myself, just caring for the blips that appeared on my screen telling me what my people wanted. Nothing about it felt creative but I still found myself playing.
The colony builder that is Aven Colony pits you against the hostile planet you decided to call home and tasks you with surviving, as you attempt to expand your colony’s population into a thriving city. Also known as the far less glamorous task of keeping your elected government job as you try to grow the colony whilst keeping settlers happy. To do this, you have a variety of building categories at your disposal: those that focus on the essentials such as food, water and virtual reality. There are also the far less important matters such as air quality, policing, and creating a defense against the encroaching alien threat that’s trying to kill everyone. All of this is set out in the modular style where they each take up a set number of squares that your land has been split up into.
When building you need to remember it’s not all about the big projects, as you must keep in mind some of the simpler things, such as giving the people walkways throughout your colony and letting them walk freely rather than having them trek through twelve hazardous labs to get to work in the morning. Commuting is a crucial factor for the surprisingly picky colonists, with it being one of the statistics you can keep track of within the games intricate monitoring system that probes maybe a little too much. Keeping your fussy colonists happy may seem unimportant at first, because what are they going to do, leave? Ha! However, when a referendum rolls around, the power of the people becomes a main concern as you fight to keep your job.
One of the benefits of a more modular building style is the depth which can be achieved through the variety of buildings and systems. In Aven Colony, though this depth is more feigned through the menus being padded with each buildings’ tiered upgrades rather than every item being unique. While a category appears to be bustling with nine options to choose from, there are only really three actual choices you can make, as seeing logically you want to build the best building possible out of the upgrade tiers. When it comes to player choice the options seem even more limited, as mining, power, and water management are the only areas where players can choose between different styles in a building. In mining, being able to choose between faster mining but reducing material gain, or mining the full amount at a slower speed. With everything else, while there is certainly the option to build it, there is no reason not to if you have unlocked it. There is also a problem in how easy it is to upgrade buildings, only requiring more nanites (the games recourse currency) than the previous build rather than offering some challenge or feeling of progress.
Part of the problem with Aven Colony comes from the referendum system, where you must have above 50% popularity within your colony to be re-elected. This means you end up having to prioritise catering for your citizen’s wishes for fear of not being re-elected and losing the game. Because of these referendums, which happen every three ‘sols’ (in-game years), some of your freedom is taken away, not allowing you to build out your colony how you see it at the fear of losing the people’s favour. However, this does add an interesting dynamic where you must appease your citizens through giving them what they need, whether it be through tweaking policies or building another air vent to keep the air clean, ensuring that your political career is successful instead of fulfilling your creative wishes.
When you are not building, Aven Colony is extraordinarily impressive. The amount you can monitor your colony from the different infographic views and the slight changes you can make to policies from your governmental position are outstanding. This freedom lets you tweak your colony so it runs smoothly, or at least as smoothly as possible with what you have. It is just a shame the building Aven Colony offers is not this deep. The only real depth within building comes from the Research Centre and the Enhancement Dispensary, which allows you to research and produce buffs for your community which in turn offer positives and negatives which the player can decide whether to implement. These researchable items are quite the extensive list; however, it’s just limited to resources and consumables rather than building upgrades which could expand the colony further.
The soundtrack to Aven Colony is nothing special, mostly ethereal bleeps and waves from the sci-fi section of the orchestra. It makes fitting music for the theme of sci-fi but it’s largely uninteresting on its own, feeling detached from the experience and almost seeming like placeholder music that the notification pings jump out in front of when they go off. These notification sounds were quickly turned down when I was playing, as they are so loud and jarring during gameplay that they took me out of the experience. It didn’t help that the notifications kept repeating, alerting you to the problem over and over. I’m sure for some players the reminder of what needs to be fixed and what is a pressing issue is useful, but when the issue is already being fixed and is currently in production, the beeps become more grating each time they bleat against the orchestra.
Another element rigidly sticking to the sci-fi theme is the building design within your colony. While this can make your colony feel a little samey it’s not entirely a bad thing, with most of the buildings being distinct enough that they can still be striking whilst still fitting into the general aesthetic of the colony. The main problem is that once you have built one colony you have seen them all, with there being no variation regardless of where you build your colony, whether it be in a raging hostile desert or in a lush tropical landscape. Having said this, it’s important to note that the act of building is not really why you would play Aven Colony, instead coming from the ridiculously in-depth monitoring you can do, burying yourself in window upon window of stats about your intrepid adventure. If you ever were to get bored of these screens you could always pop out for a moment to enjoy the high graphical quality of your new home, which is utterly gorgeous, far more so than expected from a city builder.
Overall Aven Colony is competent, allowing players to fulfill their wishes of micromanaging a colony, but it falls flat and offers little depth when it comes to building said colony. There is enough gameplay through the referendums and expeditions to keep you engaged, but whether you should play Aven Colony depends on what you’re looking for in a game. If you’re looking for a creative city builder where you can build to your heart’s content, you’d probably be better off with something different. However, if you want to monitor resources and people, micromanage, and see how things work from a government position then this is the game for you.