Let me get this out of the way first thing: there are no zombies in Planetbase. In fact, there aren’t even any horror elements in the game. That might make it seem like an odd choice to be reviewed here, but it does one thing really, really well: survival. Rather than focusing on just keeping yourself alive, like a lot of other survival games out there right now, Planetbase tasks you with keeping an entire colony of people alive, and it’s no easy feat.
On the surface, Planetbase has a lot in common with city building games. You’re tasked with building up your settlement, diversifying your buildings, and increasing your population. The big difference, of course, is that you’re not building a city on some nice prairie somewhere.You’re breaking ground where there’s no atmosphere, frequent sandstorms, and meteor strikes are as common as they are unpredictable.
You set down in a landing craft with eight crew and a few robots. On your ship are enough supplies to build the essentials, if you’re careful. It’s pretty hard to build everything you need to become self-sufficient with the supplies you brought with you. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to cannibalize your landing craft. Odds are when you do this, you won’t have a proper storage area, which means you’ll have to try to use as many of supplies as you can before they degrade beyond usefulness.
That’s Planetbase in a nutshell: it’s a game about striking hard balances and hoping you get lucky enough that the cold randomness of space doesn’t deal you too tough of a hand. But it will. Probably a couple of times before you can get a successful colony off the ground.
In my first game, I thought I was doing pretty well until a random meteor strike took out my only battery bank in the middle of the night; killing the power to my base. My colonists suffocated before down; the oxygen generator unable to produce enough on a sparse wind power available. In my second game, I ran out of spare parts, and had to sit and watch my essential systems slowly break down, waiting for the inevitable. In my third game, a meteor struck my airlock, killing one of my engineers within the first hour of game play.
Eventually, after much trial and error, you’ll get a colony started in earnest. You’ll get over that initial hurdle and have all the necessary buildings to gather and process all the resources you need. But don’t get cocky, because hitting that equilibrium and maintaining it are two very, very different things. Eventually, you’ll want to grow, but every new colonist you bring in is another mouth to feed. More people means needing more stuff, which means your tiny base needs to grow and get more complex, and striking that all important balance continues to be a challenge.
As you grow, you’ll start hitting different milestones set by the game. Hit enough of these, and you’ll unlock a new planet type. If you think that new planet is going to be any easier, keep dreaming. I like this because it feels like there’s always a bigger hurdle to overcome. You’ll feel pretty accomplished to get a working colony going on a Mars-like planet, but then you realize it’s the easiest of the three available.
As a game, Planetbase plays very well. It’s stable and relatively easy to learn, although even low-level competence takes some doing. The user interface is functional, but sparse, and is probably the biggest area in need of improvement. It works.
My only other complaint about the game is managing priorities. Many buildings produce multiple items, and if you’re short on just one, you can’t single that item out. That’s exactly the problem I ran into when I ran out of spare parts; I needed those spares, but the raw material was spread too thin to let me recoup my losses.
If you like city building games with a survival edge, and don’t mind a bit of sci-fi flavor, check out Planetbase (you can grab it on Steam).