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Surviving Mars: Frustrating & More Addictive Than Heroin

Surviving Mars is one of the most challenging simulation games I’ve ever played and it really is a journey to find out exactly how difficult life is going to be when mankind takes the step forward to become an interplanetary species.

Starting out with a rocket carrying supplies and a few drones, you see nothing but dust and rocks. You start scanning the region until you discover resource deposits for concrete, water, metals and rare metals. Once you’ve found a practical location, you land your rocket, open a storage depot and your drones get to work…

First you need some power. Build a solar panel and connect it to your extractors. Your metals require humans to extract, but there is enough metal above ground to begin with… Your transport rover delivers metals from a distance, while your rocket carries supplies for advanced resources like polymers, machine parts and electronics. Now that you’re down here, you can also send your explorer rover to scan anomalies and complete research which helps you adapt to the environment around you and build new buildings. Once you’ve secured your resources, you can start synthesising oxygen out of Mars’ air with a moxie. Connect your oxygen and water providers to storage, like water towers and oxygen tanks. Now it’s time to connect your first dome…

As Millennials, the idea of having to survive on a planet that doesn’t support life as we know it, as has been gifted to us by Mother Nature, is a sci-fi plot that might one day be part of our everyday reality. Thanks to the centuries of exploitation of our planet, the idea of either colonising another planet or adapting to our resource depleted planet may be scary, but also has a fascinating Sci-fi appeal. Surviving Mars’ portrayal of the future human condition – one which we are likely to experience at some point in our lifetime – makes you get the idea of just how difficult surviving going to be. It’s beyond frustrating how difficult this game is. It’ll certainly inflict a rage in you like never before. But at the same time, it’s addictive and you never want to stop building and adapting. Sadly… unless you’re really, really patient and meticulous, you won’t make it through 🙁

Your dome is where your colonisers will live and work. It relies on life support and maintenance (we’ll get to this later) to keep running. You build factories for polymers, machine parts and electronics and start building hydroponic farms and places for your colonisers. And don’t forget that they need dome services like grocers, diners, spacebars and whatever else keeps them from going insane. Once you’ve got everything in order and have a sufficient environment to host human beings, you can start your fuel refinery up and send your rocket back to Earth to pick up your founders. This is where the real challenge begins.

Once your first colonisers, the founders, land, you realize just how easy it was to control your drones and rovers remotely; and not worrying about keeping them breathing and hydrated and fed and sane.

Firstly, fuck maintenance. Every solar panel, windmill, water extractor, generator, extractor and factory requires continuous maintenance. To maintain them frequently requires not only the basic resources, but the advanced resources as well. So your engineers need to keep the factories up and running, while geologists need to ensure your metals and rare metals production remains steady. Unless all of these resources are 100% secure, certain buildings cannot be maintained. If your drones are unable to keep all of your buildings, life support and power producers operational, a breakdown in one will affect all of them. If your rare metals extractors fail, your electronic factory starts to malfunction. Your machine parts factory requires electronics to run smoothly. Once you run out of machine parts, your concrete extractors, windmills and extractors cannot be maintained. Without sufficient power, you run low on water and oxygen. Eventually your entire colony dies and the game is over for you.

Oh, and your colony can’t survive on resources alone. They need to be comfortable and they require entertainment, luxuries and other services to stay sane. When they lose sanity, they commit suicide or become earthsick and go back home. Martian born people don’t get earthsick, but they do require education and, of course food and they will never stop needing comfort and direction in their lives. Without the right buildings operating and if comfort decreases enough, your colony can get depressed and lose productivity at work. But let’s say you’ve got everything right so far…

Now that your colony can sustain itself and human life, you realise you need more people to take all the jobs required to keep all of the buildings going, so you need more colonists who require more domes, building, water, food and oxygen. Steadily you start expanding the population of your colony and you create dome after dome. Let’s say, somehow, you get that right. Here’s a fresh challenge, your concrete or metals or water or rare metals deposits are depleted, the next piece of land with the required deposits is surrounded by rock formations and you can’t get cabling or pipes or drones there. Either you flatten the landscape or build a tunnel… But now you have to start with some serious expansions, which is going to disrupt your resource supply chain yet again. Oh, and did I mention that there are dust storms, dust devils, meteor showers and cold waves to contend with? Just when you start getting the hang of things, there’s always going to be an aptly-timed natural disaster that will shut down your generators, windmills, moisture vaporators and damage your domes. Pipes freeze and leak and your once operational colony turns to shit.

Every time you hear that notification of “a colonist has died”, you either want to break down in tears or hit something, but the mechanics and the attention to detail of this simulator seem to prove that one day, it will be possible to conquer the final frontier. It’ll just not be an easy task in the slightest. Luckily, there are smarter, more detail oriented minds than my own out there, like Elon Musk, who may just have the answers to all of the challenges.

Surviving Mars is a never-ending cycle of expansion, maintaining buildings and sustaining human life. I must be pretty damn bad at it as well, because I swear to God I’ve restarted with a new map more times than I can count. It’s so, so, so frustrating to say the least. But, be warned, you will be chasing that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for hours on end. I just need to survive. This game is like crack.

Essential Millennial rating: 5 out of 5 avocados

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