As the giant sandworm erupted from its cavern just inches away from a recently built geothermal power plant, you’d think I might register a moment of panic for my burgeoning colony, but I don’t. I don’t, because this is the fourth visit from my subterranean friend, and whenever he visits, he just spits a few blobs of acid at nearby buildings before disappearing again. I haven’t bothered to install plasma cannons because I see this more as a gesture of marking his territory than of true aggression. I hope I’m right. Welcome to Aven Colony.
Based on the preview build that I’ve spent about ten or twelve hours with, I’d say Aven Colony plays a lot like other city building simulators, but the more time I spend with it, the more its charm begins to show. I’m playing on PC, but I’m certain that the inbuilt simplicity is meant to ensure that console players enjoy the experience a lot more than they would usually be able to. Let me explain: in most similar games, using a controller to build roads and orientate buildings so that they function can be a fiddle. In Aven Colony, if any building is connected to another, or to a stretch of tunnel (which acts like road) then it can be used. It doesn’t matter which way it is facing, or what it is connected to.
The user interface is also simpler than most, beating even Tropico for limiting the amount of options that players have to affect the game. Most structures become available in their most basic form right from the outset of each mission, and once built, they can usually be upgraded. Something like half the buildings can then be tinkered with to change their outputs. For example, farms can produce a range of both familiar and alien vegetation which can be changed at any time, whilst wind turbines can be reversed to repel noxious gases. Worker priority can be tinkered with to prioritise important functions over lesser ones, and so on and so forth.
If this all sounds a little humdrum, then I guess that’s because it is. The city building aspect in Aven Colony is basic at best, but I’ll say this about it – you’ll be up to speed with just about everything the game can throw at you from a user interface and functionality perspective within the first four missions, including two really useful tutorial scenarios. So what separates Aven Colony from any other city builder then? Well, really it’s just Aven Prime itself if I’m being honest.
The otherworldly setting is used to great effect to create diverse and challenging missions, and whilst the local fauna (consisting of sandworms, plague spores and creep spores) are not as terrifying as you might expect, the planet itself is often deadly. Lightning storms rage frequently, whilst hailstorms can damage structures. A very early mission places players in charge of a colony that drifted far from the intended drop zone, and now finds itself in a location that cannot support food growth, so instead the player must trade for it. Even once I overcame this less than ideal start, I found this mission a challenge because ultimately when I did settle fertile ground, my colony struggled to function because I had spread my workforce too thinly across the tundra. Later missions get much, much harder.
Considering that this is a preview of a game that isn’t released for another month, I’m keen to avoid declaring what might be construed as a final verdict, but in the absence of any major changes, Aven Colony is on course to entertain, if nothing else. I have a feeling that as an outright city building simulator, it will be too simple for the majority of PC gamers, but I’m quite excited about what it might mean for consoles. The game systems may be simple, but Aven Prime will still test you, and considering that this a game all about populating an alien landscape, then perhaps it is right that the world itself takes centre stage.