Space. It’s everywhere. It’s above us, around us and probably inside us too if you’ve kindly decided to donate a fist-sized organ. Today we’re to talk about ‘Space’ specifically. The final frontier. Whatever you want to call it, we’re going above and beyond with Surviving Mars while keeping our hands within the cart at all times.
Announced as part of Paradox Interactive’s media day blowout at PDXCON last week, Surviving Mars is the strategy master’s next space-based venture created in partnership with Haemimont Games of Tropico fame. With Stellaris being their 4X answer to the cosmos, this is their city builder. It’s like Cities: Skylines on the Red Planet… but also not.
For the most part, the Tropico developer’s next project isn’t seen as something astronomical in scale. We’re not being thrust into orbit 1000 years from now with plans of turning Mars into the next Earth within a 6 hour session. Surviving Mars is like ‘The Martian’ - just if Matt Damon managed to somehow colonize his famed potato planet without another human ever being present. Use your imagination and thank me for that mental image later.
We all know how this works. Colonizing new land takes at least two people. Earth is still intact, however, meaning this grand feat is entirely more plausible without the use of some questionable ethics. Surviving Mars is essentially a trial-run for the human race’s inevitable trip onto the crimson rock; and that real-life uncertainty carries over into every attempt. We don’t really know all that much about Mars; so don’t expect it to look like those NASA photographs when you end up there. It’s a small game set in a big world.
You’re up there. You’re on Mars ready to plant the seed of your continued existence. You need people, power and a heck of a lot of willpower to keep things flowing up there. Much like a ‘Tycoon’ game, every action can have drastic consequences. They may not seem big at first, but the ‘Butterfly Effect’ is a real thing.
But where do you start? After picking a landing spot for your arrival, it’s time to break out the Drones. These colourful little gizmos can be dotted around a landing spot to identify the yield or bounty available within a give zone. You’ll be needing plenty of natural resources while you’re up there, and these technological marvels are properly graded for various scenarios throughout your otherworldly mission. You’ll be relying on these for a long time - so it’s best to learn from their data early on for an easier time.
Once you’re certain of your game plan and your location’s ability to carry you forward, it’s time to set up camp. Being a city builder, things are bound to start off at a slow, yet steady, pace. You’ve likely to have brought a handful of hopeful humans along for the ride, so now’s the time to get them acquainted to their new life. Setting up residential domes is key here - these folks need a place to rest between the busy workdays ahead of them.
Domes aren’t just for the working man though. They can offer educational establishments for the newer generation living their life away from the lush green fields of Earth. Available in different shapes and sizes to accommodate varying playstyles, needs or strategies, it isn’t just the domes that attempt to mimic the idealistic look of shows like The Jetsons or Futurama with relative ease. It’s a retro-futuristic look that most of us can likely still appreciate to this day. Of course, the intricate layouts of Domes can be changed from within to match more closely with the needs of the individual player or the colony as they grow. Each mini city isn’t going to follow the same style too closely other than the general 60’s ‘modern future’ inspired look
Between placing purification turbines or focusing solely on resource management, you have to remember the reason you’re here in the first place. To colonize Mars. To keep the Human population growing. Whether they’re housed away in the domes or toiling away on the dusty surface of their new environment, the new population of Mars have a working mind of thier own and although Mars likely doesn’t suffer from the indecisive rainfall of a British Summer, there are plenty of meteorological weather effects ready to play havok on their - and your - lives.
Much like ‘peeps’ in typical ‘Tycoon’ simulation games, clicking on these individuals will rely information back to you about their wants, needs, thoughts and personality. And there’s a lot of them. Needs are there to be met with individuals looking for a way back to Earth if you fail to gain their trust with your ‘New World Order’. Likewise, character traits can play a major part in whether some of these stragglers start to rebel against the cause. Crime is a very real thing on Earth, and you can’t always guarantee that these bad eggs aren’t charming their way into your colonies. The classic saying of ‘you can’t please everyone’ likely applies here; and community fragmentation will be a major threat if you’re not ready to plan ahead.
Although you wouldn’t expect it from a game of this type, there certainly is a narrative taking place here. It’s essentially in the title, after all. Though the developers say it’s more or less all about the sandbox experience of a typical city builder with the ‘goal’ being whatever you set for yourself, there’s always going to be a reason you’re using your precious time to figure out a long-term strategy to assure the survival of the human race. Refuelling your rocket to bring a few new friends down from ol’ big blue n’ green might mean you’re not exactly racing against the clock - but why now? It’s less that its a secret and more that it’s not really important. But curiosity is strong, no?
This is a game all about the gameplay. It’s a serious city builder. Sort of. Coming from the minds behind the humorous Tropico series, there’s going to be no shortage of comparisons and expectations when it comes to the team’s otherworldly focus this time around. While they’re urging players to prepare for a more scientific time when Surviving Mars launches next year, even the trailer suggests it won’t be a cold-hearted venture into the stars. Llamas aren’t ruled out.
While we may still very well be at least a year away from launch at this point, it was hard not to come away from Surviving Mars with at least a modest smile. Paradox Interactive’s CEO Fredrik Wester joked about the name ‘Elon Musk Simulator’ being taken for this particular title - and that’s essentially the best way to describe it. Nobody can be sure how far away we are from putting the ideas of ‘Surviving Mars’ into motion on the real rock; but that’s basically why it exists.
The developers even touched on how DLC - if ever deemed necessary - could be added as new scientific findings related to the goal are invented. It’s their idea of how our eventual need to escape Earth would play out, and it’s one I’m personally very excited to mess up.