Preview – Per Aspera (Steam)
Per Aspera asks gamers to work out how to colonize Mars if they couldn’t use a single Matt Damon to help make the planet habitable. Instead, the player in the role of AMI, the overseer AI in charge of the mission, is given an army of drone workers and a series of missions that will set up the start of your terraforming efforts.
I was given the chance to play a preview build of the game that includes a few hours of gameplay and a sample of the full game’s story elements. I wasn’t sure how much I’d care for a game that doesn’t have a persistent human element to it but there’s a compelling simplicity to the lack of relationship management. Not having to worry about people’s feelings is a nice change of pace, though I have to admit that I enjoyed the internal conversation narrative threads that popped up frequently, where I could guide the AI’s musings about the nature of their existence and how the interconnected drones and their work fit into the AI’s consciousness.
Starting out with a single building, my base quickly expanded from the starter mine and factory to a multitude of new mines devoted to different materials and new factories to take advantage of those resources. Expanding wasn’t easy, though, with limited power and resources at the outset and an ever-growing chain of plants refining resources into the proper forms to fuel my continued growth as time passed.
I stalled out a time or two as I ran into resource deadlocks like not having enough Iron or Polymers or Aluminum to build a new facility, or not having built a refinery that would produce a necessary element, for example. These early stalls proved educational in the long run, forcing me to keep a closer eye on not only the resources I needed right now but also what I’d need in the future.
There are some smart ideas here, like the ability to prioritize a specific plant or factory which funnels all available resources to it. You can cut production times down dramatically with judicious use of that priority tag, quickly making it one of my favourite tools.
And you’ll need to expedite at times, as your work on Mars can be upset by events beyond your control. Sandstorms, for example, crop up right around the same time you develop your first Maintenance buildings and will wreak havoc on the structural strength of your facilities. You’ll also need to watch out for the impact of your own development, as putting down new buildings can disrupt the efficiency of other structures. I’m not credentialed as a city planner, much less certified to ply that trade on Mars, so that became somewhat of a problem…
The development team promises Per Aspera will have a single-player narrative at launch in addition to a sandbox mode for those that just want to play around with a sandbox the size of Mars. After a couple of hours with AMI, I must admit I’m curious where that adventure is heading. The question of where AI becomes sentient is a fascinating one, and I’d like to see what the development team at Tlön Industries has decided to do with this journey.
What I Liked:
- Great tilt-shift style graphics when you zoom in tight on the buildings
- AMI’s exploration of sentience is intriguing
- Watching resources zoom around the map is surprisingly zen
What I Disliked:
- Resource stalls early on are frustrating, especially when they’re my fault