Believe it or not, building simulator games tend to be pretty polarizing. You either love ’em or hate ’em. After all, there are generally no car chases in this genre, no space alien slugfests, no running and gunning—the kind of action that tends to draw a lot of video game attention. In a building sim, you simply have to build things and manage your resources.
That might seem pretty boring if you’ve never played one of these games.
Those who have played one, however, might beg to differ: A good building title can be very involving and lots of fun if done right. And Aven Colony shoots for that “do it right” bull’s-eye.
Unlike typical Earth-bound building games, Aven Colony throws some sci-fi spice into its construction mix. Mankind has outgrown its home world for some unexplained reason, setting off into outer space in search of a suitable planet on which to plant its flag.
The chosen spot, a world called Aven Prime, is devoid of breathable air and has some harsh environments to reckon with. But other than those “minor” issues, it looks like a possibility.
Of course, once we former earthlings start setting up space colonies on this foreign orb, it’s gonna require a leader with some management skills, someone who can start with a space lander and a solar generator and build the outpost into a bustling city. He or she needs to balance the economy, making sure there are basics such as food, power, water and clean air. And since you look like a smart sort, they hand the job to you.
The game eases you into your sandbox city-building role with a series of nine missions with predetermined objectives. These early stages feature specific gameplay goals, such as growing your camp to a certain population, building a special historical museum or transforming a crippled colony into a thriving trade port.
You’ll also be faced with challenges such as figuring out how to accommodate a huge onrush of immigrants when life support systems fail on the orbiting mothership or facing off with a roving band of human rebels that want to attack you. And then there are artifacts and clues about an ancient alien race that you must explore.
Along the way, players must master a number of basic skills. A stable colony requires buildings that generate power and water, farms to raise needed food supplies and housing structures that give your people a place to lay their heads down after a hard day’s work. Each of these requisite buildings—from geothermal generators to pollution-venting air ducts, water pumps to population-pleasing bistros—requires a certain number of happy people to keep them functioning properly.
In addition, you have to keep generating something called nanites, the main building block used to construct everything in Aven Colony. And every one of those tasks and resources must be appropriately balanced to grow your colony.
Then winter arrives. During that blistering cold season, outdoor farms produce no crops and solar power drops by 50%. You can plan for winter’s challenges with generators, batteries and greenhouses, but they cost more and befoul your precious oxygen supply. Then there are natural disasters, like plague spores, building-chomping alien creatures and ice-shard storms that’ll keep you up at night.
All of that yields strategic challenges to overcome, of course. But the sci-fi setting here also changes the foundational concepts of this building game. Other construction sims are generally driven on by a need for growth for prosperity. Aven Colony’s main organizing principle, in contrast, is simply the need to survive. And that element creates a kind of tension that’s unusual for this genre. Each crisis spurs you to build better and smarter, to plan further out and balance your resources more wisely.
That isn’t, however, a bad thing. It actually kicks the typically sedate building sim formula up a notch. Without hitting you with anything too complicated, Aven Colony offers up just enough deep-space conflict and complexity to keep your brain engaged and to deliver a nice rewarding sense of satisfaction by mission’s end.
Add in the fact that you don’t have to encounter an environment full of foul language or messy goop, and Aven Colony becomes a gaming experience well worth spending a little, uh, constructive time with.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.