Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 18, 2019
Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars is a "hardcore survival city-builder", according to its publisher Paradox. But I must say that compared to some other Paradox games, Surviving Mars is a bit less hardcore, and more approachable. Especially now that they added a tutorial, which apparently was missing on release. Surviving Mars is also one of a few Paradox games available on the Xbox Game Pass for PC, and so I played it this weekend without having to buy the game. Which was good, because I liked it enough to spend some hours with, but not enough that I would have been happy to buy the game.

As you can imagine, Surviving Mars is a game about building a colony on Mars and surviving there. At first you start with RC drones and build some basic infrastructure. Once you have "domes" in place with living space, electricity, water, and oxygen, you can enter the next phase of the game and have human colonists. The humans serve as work-force for more complicated resource generation and manufacturing options.

The "hardcore survival" part kicks in when your carefully planned colony is struck by one of various disasters, like a dust storm or meteor strike. There have been city-builder games with disasters before, but in Surviving Mars they are not optional, but core parts of the gameplay. You basically don't just have to design your colony to be self-sufficient under normal conditions, but need to build in enough redundancy that it can still survive under disaster conditions. Needless to say that this won't always succeed. So while I didn't mind the Mars scenario as opposed to a village/city on Earth, I tend to play city-builder games casually, not hardcore. So I enjoyed Surviving Mars when I was building up my colony, and then didn't enjoy seeing it struck by disaster, even if that didn't wipe out my colony.

While you can play the game at different difficulty levels by choosing a different "sponsor", and there is a selection of different starting advantages, and chains of events, I didn't feel that the game has much replayability. Even within one game you spend a lot of time building the same type of infrastructure (like arrays of solar panels with accumulators and power cables) repeatedly. So after one weekend of playing this, I think I have seen enough and can uninstall it again. Next!

As a counterpoint, I have 108 hours on Surviving Mars. Although the city-builder idea is low replayability in general, I found that the Challenges created enough variation to be interesting enough to play many times. Sometimes you start with very little, and just had to survive. Sometimes you had to get to a lot of colonists in a certain time period, or mine a certain amount of metal in a certain time, and each one I felt flexed a different concept in the game quite well.

The newest expansion about Terraforming was fun, but overall I wasn't sure it was really worth it. If not playing "a terraforming game", the terraforming additional buildings and mechanics didn't really "do much".

(thanks for continuing to blog! :D)
That game was fun but like a lot of Paradox's recent games I feel it left so much potential on the table.

I stopped playing the game once I realized that the only interesting part was the early and mid game. Every colony eventually reaches a certain point where you have enough redundancy that disasters no longer matter and you're essentially on auto pilot until you reach whatever project objectives you have.

I believe some of this was fixed latter on as Paradox continued to develop the game, but on release this was my experience.

It's the same issue I had with the scenarios in Planet Coaster and why I won't buy Planet Zoo for a while. They were interesting to start but once you overcame the initial challenge you were basically done even if you still had goals to complete.
I tested the game on a free week-end and got it with some price reduction at some point.

It's not even remotely as good as it looks on first try, but there are mods which make it much better (and some mod authored buildings are way better than the stock ones...).

The main problem is that while the initial start is interesting, as soon as you get colonists it's a mess. You cannot effectively micromanage them, and the tools to "macromanage" them suck horrendously. The net result is that when I reach 100 colonists the game becomes a resistance check against shutting down all oxygen and killing all the annoying bastards, to keep playing just with the drones.....

The difficulty is also very much a fake difficulty, the biggest change as it goes up is that everything just takes longer, but it does not make the game much more hard, just more annoying.

For me the best thing is the Mars Official Radio, which I keep on while I play Cities:Skylines, which I find to be way way way better than Surviving Mars.

BTW if you want to try "survival city builders", you can get "Banished". Very old game, but with some very interesting mods, and where a year of bad weather and failed crops can REALLY mess you up.
I find it weird that you all speak about the 'difficulty' of a city builder/manager game.

The point is not how much difficult it is to build what you have to build. It is how efficient your both in cost and/or time. Anyone can do it.

Don't take it personally, but I'm pretty sure that you were probably not good at it. You just had fun building whatever you had to build without realizing that you are not optimizing much.
Have you played Surviving Mars? I love to optimize in games like The Settlers, or the Anno series, or various city building games. But in order to be able to optimize, the game needs to give you a certain flexibility to change things. Surviving Mars really fails there, either you build it perfectly the first time, or you wait until your colony is destroyed and start over.
Yes, I played it. It was given for free on the Epic platform.

I played the sandbox mode and indeed, surviving mars is not really difficult, hence when I looked for challenges I tried the scenarios provided.

By the way, even if they rarely fit my taste, the Epic platform gives games for free every week. You should take them when you can, it only costs a few clicks.
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