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Per Aspera Preview: Breaking Ground On The Red Planet


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Not every game needs a story, but every genre should be able to support one. From block-based crossover puzzlers to historical solitaire epics, the wide range of games releasing in recent times has proven this to be true. Even in the case of city builders, there have been some games trying to get more out of their simulation than an infinite sandbox. On the heels of games like Frostpunk and Rimworld, Per Aspera hopes to combine the thrill of building a Martian colony from scratch with an absorbing narrative that helps contextualize the various factories and power plants dotted across the landscape.

Talking with Javier Otaegui and Damian Hernaez from developer Tlön Industries, the narrative is really at the center of what they want to do with Per Aspera. While there will be a sandbox simulation for players to toy around with, the game shines brightest when it's combining those elements with a story filled with decisions that will affect the entire colony. In addition, this is a narrative that isn't procedurally generated. It's a fully voiced campaign that hurdles towards a set ending, meaning that players can finish this game in a manner that they can't really finish Sim City 3000.

Unfortunately, the demo on offer is missing those story elements, and it's immediately apparent that something's missing. Covering the first steps on Mars, the gameplay does not have a lot of flash and excitement, even if the underlying systems are deep. Going in without any tutorial, it was hard to grasp everything that was happening, even when slowing things down to a crawl. Starting off building mines and refineries, each new building has to be connected to a network stemming out from your landing site. This is so worker drones can move materials between them. If there's an outpost without power or a proper path, it will just sit idle, potentially causing problems if it's a vital piece of the machine.
 
 

This all matches the visual style, which has the surface of Mars looking like a topographical globe from some theoretical space classroom. It's an interesting way to solve the problem of making Mars look interesting even though it's basically a barren rock. The buildings also rise up in a satisfying manner, scanning in from what looks like blueprints into a solid structure. The buildings themselves can be rather flat when players zoom in all the way, but it seems like that's not the ideal way to play anyway.

In fact, upon zooming out all the way, Per Aspera looks less like a traditional city builder and more like an urban sprawl-themed game from Zachtronics. With symbols representing each building and resources darting between them, the game flows beautifully. Finding the best places to fit new buildings and packing everything in is a fun challenge, especially since the red planet doesn't have anything resembling roads to box in your placement.
 
 

It's also fascinating to see how the changing layout of buildings affects drone workers. While it would be nice to have more direct control over the simulation in some aspects, watching how each new road and settlement makes things more or less efficient. An imbalance between where resources are and where you want to build new structures will be very inefficient in the long run. Someone who is into getting the most out of a running system will find a lot to like in optimizing the output, and that's all before the colonists arrive!

What was available of Per Aspera's gameplay ended pretty much as soon as the Martian surface went from fully-automated factory to emerging space village. This means that there's plenty more of the game to see, especially considering the addition of the vital story component. There's some fun to be had playing with the way the buildings turn out, but it's not enough to really hold someone's attention, which could be a problem for those just looking for sandbox fun.

Per Aspera is aiming for a 2020 release on PC.

 

 

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