Title: Per Aspera
Developer: Tlön Industries
Release Date: December 3, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Raw Fury
I’m not the biggest simulation fan, but I happen to be very interested in space travel and exploring the unknown. Developer Tlön Industries presents the ideas of traveling to Mars and making it livable for humans in their game Per Aspera. Although this might sound like an overwhelming idea of a simulation game for only hardcore fans of the genre, I believe that the team did an amazing job at satisfying any type of gamer willing to give it a chance. From a campaign standpoint, the outcome turns into something surprisingly deep that I wasn’t expecting from this adventure.
Per Aspera has a campaign that evolves over the course of your mission to colonize Mars. Players assume the role of an AI named AMI, who interacts with the arriving colonists and scientists back on Earth. AMI’s role is to learn and assist humans in building structures needed to survive on the planet. However, things become more complicated as AMI begins questioning her role and even human orders on how to approach things.
It’s actually enjoyable to witness and be a part of as players can choose AMI’s responses during dialogue and shape her personality. In later parts of the campaign, risky plans are proposed that you don’t need to listen to in hopes of trying alternative means. As the story evolves, it’s amazing how the game nonchalantly writes in scenarios that could cause Mars to become another Earth. Elements such as hackers, natural disasters, new colonists, and more play a distinct role in evolving these new colonies.
Time passes a little slower on Mars, so keeping the speed up to accomplish goals quicker isn’t taxing on the player. In fact, only when addressing a crisis or trying to figure out the best way to progress did I slow down or stop time. Gameplay takes part on the surface of Mars, but also in its orbit. It’s important to understand that both these fields are needed to progress, which isn’t completely explained during gameplay, which led to some confusing moments.
When beginning a colony, your first actions are creating workers, mines, solar panels, and factories as you await the first colonist’s arrival. Elements like radars allow you to map out the surface to look for new materials, but keeping an eye on your materials is all displayed on the HUD. Like some of the other systems, the HUD and certain mission objectives are not properly explained, giving the game a hands-off approach and expects the player to explore around on their own.
The general idea is that every structure works symbiotically. As you produce materials, you’ll need workers, which require power and maintenance, but you need to worry about feeding the colonists. Further, research is a huge factor in the game where you can upgrade your structures and access new ways to address colonist needs.
Over time research becomes the star of the show as you create more launch pads to carry out missions in orbit and develop military structures to take care of any problems that arrive. As hectic as it sounds, I was at peace for most of my time playing. That is until the power shut down on my entire base or a meteor shower rained down on my colonist. Still, addressing these setbacks made the game more unique and opened up narrative checkpoints.
I recommend playing the campaign first, but there is also a sandbox mode where you can just go crazy and create a thriving colony on Mars. This mode simply removes the narrative and gives you all the time you want to create your dream, Mars. However, I will say that the campaign taught me skills that I took in the sandbox mode, which made the first few hours much easier.
Graphics, Per Aspera, has a strange beauty to it. It isn’t graphically intensive, but it’s so seamless when zooming in and out and creating 10 different structures at once. The game is well optimized and ran great, which provided an awesome sense of atmosphere. I need to also point out that the voice of Troy Baker and a few others who lent their talents to the narrative made the entire campaign a joy. When things got bad, you can hear the emotion in their voice, making some choices harder.
Something of importance is just how accessible this sim-resource management game is. I’m by no means a hardcore player in the genre, but I found the Normal difficulty provided a nice challenge, but not to the point of frustration. There’s a balance of deep systems that can be explored, but I found that my second time through the game offered me a much better experience overall since I understand how to play. Also, I made new choices that did have some effects on the narrative.
Per Aspera offers a surprisingly emotional narrative that explores the thought process of an evolving AI programmed to assist humans in colonizing Mars. The symbiotic gameloop of creating structures and growing your presence on the surface while hitting key milestones is cathartic. I was easily immersed in this experience, but only after some trial and error trying to understand how it all worked due to a limited tutorial.
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