Let’s face it. Eventually, we’re going to do something to mess up this planet enough that we need to leave. Personally, my money is on “uncovering ancient artefact that brings about the apocalypse”. Naturally, Mars is our next decent chance. We could go to the moon, but it’s a depressing place. There’s just no atmosphere. OK, OK, I’ll leave the space jokes.
Earth Space Colonies helps us prepare for just such an eventuality, placing the player in charge of establishing the first colony on Mars! To help guide you along the way are a cheery AI programme, an engineer and a scientist. They help explain the various buildings and modules, and help guide you through the story mode.
Trouble is, they don’t do it very well. The learning curve in Earth Space Colonies gets a little steep quite quickly. The tutorial explains how to get from A to B. Then from B to C. But then it throws you a curve ball and wants you to get from C to F. This kind of situation crops up quite a bit. Your advisers want you to build a research station? Great. Except it needs a specific resource that you don’t have, so you have to build something else in order to get the research station built.
Similarly, your buildings degrade over time, and need maintenance. Makes sense, Mars has quite a few sandstorms and such. However, the advisers never mention how to build maintenance people. There’s a fair bit of trial and error, working out which buildings need which resource, and what the proper build order should be.
Fortunately for Earth Space Colonies, it has a certain charm that keeps these potential frustrations as mere background annoyances. While it isn’t going to win any awards for its graphics, its aesthetic works very well. The buildings and colonists act as an homage to the early strategy/resource games, having a kind of 90’s vibe to them.
While Mars is the initial part of the campaign, later on you get to found new colonies. These are Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, and Ceres, a dwarf planet among the asteroid belt. Rather than being a rinse/repeat of the Mars colony, these new colony locations have their own objectives.
Whereas the ultimate goal of colonising Mars is to terraform it, Ganymede has research and exploration as the aim. Likewise, Ceres is set up as a purely mining colony. Instead of being inherently separate campaigns, these three colonies are all linked. Resources from Mars are used to kick-start the other colonies, which then supply the Mars colony with rare resources and technology.
This results in a nice little interplay as you juggle your time between colonies, making sure everything is running smoothly. Which often it isn’t, as the AI for your astronauts is rather poor. They go about their tasks automatically, with no direct control. The trouble is, they tend to get stuck between buildings and factories. I guess it’s hard to see where you’re going in a space suit?
Should things be running a little too smoothly for your liking, you can always spice things up a bit by purposefully causing catastrophes. Meteor showers, solar flares and even UFOs can be summoned with a handy little Apocalypse button.
Should the life of a colony leader get boring, Earth Space Colonies provides a couple of additional modes, too. One of which is the token sandbox, where you can just build to your heart’s content without the advisors. In reality, this doesn’t feel too different from the campaign mode. The lack of real interaction in the campaign does just make it a sandbox with voices.
The second alternate mode is Survival. Here, you build a small base with defences, and try to hold out against wave after wave of enemies. This, while an amusing distraction, isn’t really much fun after you’ve played it once or twice. There’s no real substance to it, as it feels more ‘tacked on’ than a true mode in its own right.
On the whole, Earth Space Colonies isn’t unenjoyable. It tries to shine, but comes off a little lacklustre. It’s an entertaining diversion, but there isn’t enough to keep me coming back.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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