We love survival colony games. From Settlers to Anno, it’s always been a nice change of pace from the usual hectic first person shooters and tense RTS games. The joy of starting out with an empty field then slowly building up a village, to a town, to a sprawling metropolis than is entirely self sustaining. Aven Colony fits into that category neatly, but sadly doesn’t do anything to push it onwards.
The basics are simple, you begin on an alien planet with colonists from Earth. You very quickly need to establish the basics: Power, Water, Food, Air, Storage, Entertainment. Usually in that order. Over time the game throws new challenges at you like a kind of fungus that grows on your buildings and needs to be scrubbed off by drones, or lightning storms and ‘shard storms’ that are basically just meteorites – but dealing with these is as simple as building a specific building.
As your colony grows there’s a wealth of things to farm and mine, chemicals to produce, and things to research – but essentially they all serve the same function, it’s either food or entertainment. This is symptomatic of the larger problem with Aven Colony, it’s all so bland.
After you’ve created your first proper colony and completed the first real campaign mission, you will have seen nearly everything there is to see. Each map has a new twist on the formula (maybe there’s nowhere to farm so you have to trade, or there overly-aggressive fungus that needs to be beaten back quickly) but the description of the campaign level basically tells you what you need to do. Very quickly you fall into a set building pattern of how to deal with challenges, then you just let it play out.
Difficulty settings are present, but essentially they are just narrowing the margins in which you can be successful. Once you understand how the systems work, the game is exceptionally simple, with very little RNG to mess you up.
Sadly the game isn’t immersive enough to be a fun distraction when you just want to relax. Everything looks incredibly generic and is quite low-res on Xbox One. You can occasionally see colonists milling about but they don’t really do anything other than walk from building to building. There’s no life or spontaneity in anything that happens – you’re just slowly expanding a collection of by-the-book sci-fi pods in a colourful, but forgettable landscape.
It’s a shame that the game is quite dull when it gets so much right. The controls, often a bugbear in strategy games on console, are spot-on. Whoever has designed the interface is a genius as everything is immediately accessible and not once did I feel using a gamepad was getting in the way of what I wanted to do. The quest system too is quite good, giving you a range of different challenges that don’t distract you from your overall goal, but let you try something different for a few moments like growing a load of a certain crop, processing it, and trading it. Even the voice acting is a step above other games in the genre on console – but however satisfied you can be with the mechanics of the game, there’s just no heart to it and nothing unique to keep it fun.
If you’re desperately looking for a colony-builder on console, Aven Colony is a fine game, just go in aware that’s uninspired and unlikely to last you more than a mildly entertaining evening.