Ever wanted to visit the Martian surface? Ever wanted to colonize the red planet? Well now is your chance to finally live out your wildest dreams with Per Aspera. Developer Tlön Industries and Publisher Raw Fury have teamed up to produce an absolutely fantastic game involving terraforming Mars into humanity’s last bastion of hope.
In Per Aspera, players will take on the role of AMI, an artificial intelligence. As AMI, you are tasked with first establishing a small base of operations on Mars. The first few hours of the game serves as a tutorial with the game’s mechanics being explained to you through conversations with your creator Dr Foster.
At first, building is rather simple. Players will learn about the basic resources on offer on Mars. These being Aluminium, Iron, Chemicals (Misc.), Silicon and Carbon. After getting to grips with the basics, soon enough you’ll be able to build a spaceport and bring on some colonists from Earth. However, colonists will need food and water to be able to survive and this is where the game starts to introduce more complexities.
You’ll have to build factories to produce worker drones. These drones are the lifeblood of your Mars mission since they carry out all the day to day functions necessary for colony survival. Workers will transport goods and materials between the resource mines and your other buildings. You’ll have to also produce factories which create parts and other objects such as glass or polymers. These resources form an interconnected web that ensures that you’ll have everything necessary to carry out your prime directive.
What is your prime directive? As AMI you’ll have to terraform Mars into an environment suitable for mankind to inhabit. This is however easier said than done since there’s numerous obstacles in your way. In the early game you’ll primarily be concerned with resource harvesting and getting to grips with the harsh environment. Building up maintenance hubs and power sources such as solar arrays or windfarms are necessary to progress further.
Once you’ve managed to get a spaceport up and running and you’ve housed your first colonists, the game kicks it up a notch and begins introducing research trees to you. The colonists settled on Mars will be your source of research points and you’ll use these research points to discover and apply new technologies from 4 different tech trees. These tech trees are dedicated to “Engineering”, “Space”, “Biotech” and “Military”. All four tech trees are necessary to progress in the game. You’ll only be able to achieve the later stages of terraforming Mars once you’ve completed the earlier goals. Some of the earlier goals require intensive research into things such as Greenhouse Gas Generators to raise the Carbon Dioxide levels of Mars.
The narrative the game builds around terraforming Mars is exceptionally good. The voice acting and the story driven content comes at you at a steady pace. AMI reflects on her actions and her conversations with Dr Foster and the game keeps you engaged while pushing you further.
Things however take a turn for the worse when you’re nearing the late game. The game’s story, which built itself up with casual conversations with Dr Foster starts to introduce moral dilemmas. Without spoiling too much, there is combat in Per Aspera as you’d expect with a “Military” tech tree being made available. However, the game’s combat is extremely barebones and feels more like a chore than an actual well implemented final product. Per Aspera drops the ball here and unfortunately, the game suffers in the end phases because of a few other reasons linked to this.
The endgame is currently quite difficult to reach with numerous endgame systems being either bugged or downright impossible to achieve without putting in some excessive hours into the game. The engame turns into what is essentially a waiting game since players will have to perform terraforming actions which just flat out take forever to do. Building new structures in the lategame can take incredibly long since workers are too preoccupied with ferrying resources around between mines, factories and maintenance hubs. They get bogged down in a system that they need to service but can’t break away from to perform new actions. Being limited to a certain number of worker drones based on the amount of worker hubs you have also compounds this problem since building more worker hubs bogs the system down even further. Currently, the developers are still actively updating and tweaking the game though so hopefully by the time this review is published, most of the major flaws are patched.
Graphically, Per Aspera is incredibly visually pleasing. The Martian surface looks like an unfurled geographic map with bumps and craters. You can also zoom in quite close to buildings and can zoom all the way out right into space past Mars’ moons to observe a full view of the planet from orbit. The orbital view also allows for additional gameplay options since you can perform certain actions from this view such as importing more colonists from Earth or even doing something drastic such as crashing asteroids into the Martian surface to release greenhouse gases or water for your terraforming process.
The soundtrack in Per Aspera is great with some really memorable tracks in the game. It’s just a shame that you cannot seem to change the musical tracks that play in the background at your own will. The voice acting in the game is superb with a stellar line up of incredibly talented voice actors featuring in the game. Troy Baker, Phil LaMarr, Laila Berzins, Yong Yea, Lynsey Murrell, and Nneka Okoye have all performed great in their roles in the game and the storytelling they bring to the table is exceptionally good.
Per Aspera is a great game marred with some technical difficulties that prevent it from truly succeeding. There’s multiple issues with the lategame and even though building up your colony on Mars and terraforming the planet is immensely enjoyable, the fun stops when things start to turn into a chore towards the end of the game. In our playthrough, reaching higher oxygen levels meant that fires started running rampant throughout the colony we built up. These fires eventually led to maintenance drones being sent out for repairs. These repairs ended up being too costly for the colony in general and suddenly, the entire colony was in disarray with massive breakdowns of buildings happening everywhere. A chain reaction like this really should not have happened if there were more control over worker drones and what actions they perform. Even using the game’s “Priority” settings on buildings makes barely any difference in the lategame.
Per Aspera has a wealth of content on offer. The game is incredibly captivating, and you’ll easily get sucked into it for hours on end thanks to the story driven content. It’s a sci-fi city-builder with a narrative that grabs you and keeps you going even if there are some cliched or predictable elements to it. We just really wish that it didn’t feel so rough around the edges. There’s a sandbox mode in the game too but playing the campaign is what makes it shine. Per Aspera comes highly recommended from us but please bear in mind that you will most likely struggle towards the later stages of the game (10 hours or more into it) and there’s going to be a lot of waiting and frustration in concluding the story. We’re hoping that the developers address this sooner rather than later.
You can grab Per Aspera here on steam for £23.99.
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