Surviving Mars isn't afraid to let you die on the red planet


Hands-off preview of the ‘survival city-builder’

Space used to be the place, but in recent years our collective focus has narrowed to Mars. It’s likely that enough teens stricken with the millennium bug spent the year 2000 exchanging heavy pets in suburban movie theatres, subliminally associating their raging teen hormones with Red Planet and Mission to Mars. Now we’ve gone so far as to send a robot there and treat it like a WALL-E sequel.

The existential threat of our dying world, sci-fi hypochondria come true, has our scientific minds pointed at Mars and the I fucking love science! crowd is along for the entertainment and pretty pictures. Anyone not so unmoored from the blue planet as to sign up for a one-way trip spaceward will at least be able to play pretend soon with Surviving Mars, building up successful Martian society until flooding shorts out their PCs and consoles.

Surviving Mars (PC, PS4, Xbox One) is a “deep city building game that takes place on the planet Mars.” It’s being developed by Haemimont Games of Tropico fame and was announced last week by publisher Paradox, the lone new game revealed at Paradox Con 2017 (though the news that Civilization V lead designer Jon Shafer is joining Paradox Development Studio might mean the developer/publisher has more up its sleeve).

At PDX Con, we were shown a hands-off, “pre-alpha” version of Surviving Mars, meaning, “everything can and probably will be changed in the final game.” The little details, I imagine. For example, choosing a mission sponsor. Your martian colony starts with a rocket ship landed on Mars’ surface, but before that you choose a sponsor (USA, Russia, and the EU were three of the current options) which given different starting stats. That, coupled with your starting location and its available resources (metals, concrete, water) and possible threats (dust storms, meteors, extreme cold) give you a Challenge Rating before you even land on a lifeless hunk of rock.

After choosing a landing spot, you begin orchestrating unmanned exploration with rovers and the like. People come far later. After all, rocket trips are expensive, and depending on your mission sponsor, you may not have many rockets at your disposal. Further, they can’t haul much. Building a viable martian colony requires finding resources for building on Mars itself, in order to build things like water extractors that haul up frozen H2O from deep underground or even to make enough fuel to send your rocket back to earth.

We were shown an early build-out that included cute little drones milling about (with headlights when it gets dark), darting between arrays of solar panels, wind turbines (for continued energy production at night) and what looked like a combine, but for harvesting concrete. Early stuff. I’m not sure about the combine, but the tech in the game is meant to be based on current, actual research and reasonable extrapolations of things science is doing at the moment, though I imagine there will be some leeway.

Fast forward and we have our first dome, filled with people. There’s even a (space) bar. Once you start getting people out there, humans can start researching the environment and advancing technology more quickly. But there’s no guarantee of a working society — or even getting to that phase.

“You can fail. It’s a survival city-builder.” It’s even in the name! All your colonists are named, have jobs, and can be tracked. Haemimont promises “thousands of individual actors” running in the simulation, even on consoles. And these actors can go rogue. If their comfort level drops too low (maybe a deep chill freezes everyone’s water supply for a bit too long), they may take the next rocket back to earth. If their morale declines, they may even commit (space) crimes. Colonists have different traits, too, and as you add colonies, long-range transportation in between may change the character of each dome. You’re even allowed to screen for specific traits of invitees, though I’m not sure if getting to the procreation stage will ruin your perfect space societies of dutiful workers when they give birth to entitled millenials. I’m sure you can ship the problem offspring off to some kind of camp, or something. After all, “the government is you,” we’re told.

I’m not sure I will even be able to build a functioning society on Mars let alone reach the end goal of fully-automated luxury gay space communism, but Surviving Mars is a sandbox that is looking to give you the tools to succeed, provided we all survive 2017.