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Per Aspera

Posted by GG Goblin On December - 8 - 2020

Building a base on Mars and preparing for Human colonisation.

 
Mars, the planet, has been getting a lot of attention just recently, both in the real world and video games. The latest developers to take players to the red planet is Tlön Studios and while the base building and management will be familiar to strategy gamers, the inclusion and growth of an amiable AI add an unexpectedly enjoyable narrative to what would have already been a solid Mars base builder. Per Aspera is more than meets the eye.

 


 
With both a campaign and a sandbox mode, the goal of preparing Mars for Human colonisation will remain the same. In a change from most city-builder type games, the player will not take the role of some god-like overseer or political leader, but rather as an AI named AMI. In that role, the player will be responsible for firstly ensuring that all required resources are being pulled in before the arrival of the first colonists, before then going on to make sure they have everything they need, that they are protected, and then to changing the red planet to make it more like Earth.

 
Fans of space in general will be pleased to hear how much research has gone into Per Aspera to at least keep it within the realms of reality. Okay, there are some jumps in technology here and there, but the science is based within possibility. Hell, even the surface of Mars has been created with data from NASA, which really gives the game a sense of authenticity.

 


 
The early game will involve getting to those much needed resources. There are quite a few different resources to think about, and the will all need their own dedicated building. Mines will need to be placed where the actual resources are, while factories and the like have more freedom in their placement. Whatever the building, they will all connect up as the little bots controlled by AMI create routes from one to another. Power will have to be taken into account, ensuring there is enough to keep everything running, along with repairs. It won’t take too long for the surface of the planet to start resembling some kind of neural network with loads of little paths joining the nodes together. As the player progresses, they will have to ensure there are the right resources for arriving colonists, so they stay alive and don’t leave, and more complex resources will be needed, resulting in some interesting production lines.

 
As expected, things get more complex with time. Research will throw up new ways to achieving what is needed, and before long the player will have to start worrying about near orbit as well. Then there is the possibility of a threat, and not just from things like meteor strikes, that will keep the player on their toes. Per Aspera runs quite slowly, and so playing the game at a higher speed will be the likely state for most players. However, when disaster strikes it can be quite easy to miss the notification and end up with a bigger problem than was needed. While the game explains a lot, it doesn’t go all the way and players are expected to work some things out for themselves, and as a result subsequent playthroughs, either of the campaign or in sandbox, will usually fare far better than early attempts.

 


 
Per Aspera is quite deep in its building and management mechanics, from those first mines to the potential of actually changing the surface of the planet for good. Playing in the sandbox mode, this is what players will spend their time doing. However, the campaign also manages to pack in a compelling narrative, and the fact that acting talent such as Troy Baker have been pulled in for the voices shows that the developers really mean business with their story.

 
So far as sci-fi stories go, the idea of an AI becoming more self-aware is well trodden ground. In Per Aspera, AMI begins having been just turned on and in regular contact with her developer back on Earth. Her objectives are explained. However, as the game progresses, following AMI’s journey becomes more and more compelling through the conversations with various other characters and her own internal monologue. In time, AMI will have choices to make, and even have the chance to disagree with the Humans. There is a growth to watch and understand. The narrative doesn’t stop there though, as there is history on the red planet, evidence of previous failed attempts to colonise the planet, or maybe something else, something far more dangerous.

 
Visually, Per Aspera keeps things simple. Being able to zoom in and out with ease will ensure the player can always see what is going on. The close up detail gives each of the buildings their individuality, and they all look nice, if functional. The more the player spreads across the planet’s surface, the more busy the screen will become. The UI can be fairly crowded, but keeps everything within easy reach for the player and becomes easy to follow with time.

 


 
For the city-builders and management gamers, Per Aspera is a great take on the Mars colonisation idea, especially with the real science basis and input from NASA. Production lines need to be created and resources managed, while reacting to each and every threat to the colony will be required. However, the surprising inclusion of a compelling narrative brings the campaign to life and gives it real character. It is a game that takes time to learn as not everything is explained, so patience is required. However, genre fans looking for something with some narrative depth will find Per Aspera quite unique and engaging.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 



 

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