Surviving Mars captures the excitement and dread of launching a colony mission

Surviving Mars

Last month when Paradox and Haemimont announced Surviving Mars, I didn’t know what to compare it to. Here was a semi-realistic, science-based “colony builder” from the same studio that makes the satirical and somewhat grim Tropico series. It was a departure, for sure.

But after getting a bit of hands-on time with Surviving Mars at E3, it’s feeling a lot more familiar. I don’t just mean “It’s a city builder,” because yeah, it’s definitely one of those. It reminds me a lot of one particular city builder, though: The Anno series. And that’s not a bad thing.

To Olympos

I spent 20-odd minutes with Surviving Mars last week, but it wasn’t just one lengthy play session. Instead my time was broken up between three main phases—the start of the game, then we jumped ahead to humanity’s first steps on Mars, and then jumped ahead even further to a save state from late in the game.

Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars

It’s very sandbox-y. Haemimont told us that during Paradox Con, but after spending some hands-on time with the game it’s nevertheless the aspect that sticks out most.

I’m not sure how I feel about the lack of direction. While I love a good open-ended city builder—say, Cities: Skylines—they tend to only hook me as long as there are still advances to be made. Once I’ve made my way through the tech tree I often get bored and stop playing, the world conquered, no more goals to be accomplished except ones I set myself.

In Surviving Mars, the stated goal is just to get a functioning and self-sustaining colony up on the Red Planet. While that does seem to take some time and energy, I’m a bit worried I’ll find myself slipping into one optimized route and running it over and over again. The perils of sandboxes.

Then again, Anno manages to suck me in for hours and hours as I optimize my resource management and continually expand outwards. Surviving Mars feels similar—particularly to the moon-based colonies of Anno 2205. You’re mostly focused on finding resources, gathering resources, and then using those resources to…find more. A never-ending feedback loop. Given enough micromanagement and enough toys to tinker with, I could see Surviving Mars sucking me in.

It’s hard to say. We won’t really know until we’ve played the final release for a few hours.