When Surviving Mars released in March last year, I found myself hooked. I had a bit of a rocky start with the game, though, which you can read about in my original review. The game has evolved significantly over the past year and a bit, and I’ve put in well over 100 more hours into the game since writing that review. We even awarded it strategy game of the year in the SA Gamer awards last year, so I thought it was time to write a bit more about Surviving Mars.
One of my main gripes with the game at launch was the lack of a tutorial. One has since been added to get new players on their feet. The UI has also been updated to better show players vital information, and numerous quality of life improvements have been added as free updates. One of the most significant of these changes was the addition of passages, allowing you to connect nearby domes so that colonists could live in one dome and visit adjacent domes for services or work. Buildings were also updated to conduct electricity, meaning you no longer have to lay power cables all over the place to ensure every building has power. As long as a building is adjacent to another powered building, it’ll get power too.
Rovers were also updated to no longer require power, so they never have to return to base to recharge. Sponsor goals were also added, giving you specific goals to work towards, depending on your mission sponsor. A recent update introduced some landscaping tools, allowing players to flatten areas and construct ramps to reach places previously only reachable by way of tunnels. New events and mysteries were also added along the way.
At some point, ‘game rules’ were added to the startup section of the game, allowing you to make the game easier or harder depending on the rules you selected. These include everything from free prefab buildings to faster sector scanning to an increased chance of disasters to a fully randomised tech tree to only allowing one rocket to be called from Earth. Planetary anomalies were added at some point as well, giving you something more to do with your rockets besides ferry resources or colonists back and forth between Earth and Mars.
In addition to the free updates, several paid DLCs have been released as well. The first substantial paid DLC was Space Race, which introduced rival colonies that you can interact with, building up (or destroying) your relationship until you can trade resources or even technologies. They can also reach milestones before you, or investigate planetary anomalies before you can get there. Sponsor-specific buildings were also added, which makes each sponsor feel unique and helps each new game feel different.
The second large paid DLC is the recent Green Planet, which adds an entire terraforming research branch, which allows you to slowly turn the red planet green, and eventually make it more like Earth, with a breathable atmosphere and vegetation. Terraforming involves four aspects: atmosphere, temperature, water and vegetation. The end goal is to reach 100% in all of these in order to open up your domes and allow your colonists to wander outside without space suits. It’s a long process, requiring many resources and a lot of time, but seeing the Martian landscape transform over the course of a game is quite something to behold.
Then there are mods. For PC, the Steam Workshop has hundreds of mods available, and I believe there is mod support on Xbox One as well.
All of these changes, updates and expansions have turned Surviving Mars into the strategy/simulation game I return to on a regular basis. According to Steam, I’ve put in nearly 200 hours now, and I have yet to try the challenge or creative building modes that got added to the game at some point. You’d think I’d be an expert at colony building by now, but an early disaster or lucky find can have a big impact on a game. There’s not much late game content so I usually set myself a particular goal for a game and play that colony until I’ve reached that goal (or failed miserably), and then move on.
So, if you’ve been on the fence about Surviving Mars and enjoy city building simulations, I highly recommend giving it a go.