Per Aspera is one of those titles that slides into your Steam queue and one day erupts like a plume of carbon dioxide. In the same vein of titles like Surviving Mars or Foundations, it is a scientific based mars colonization game that is unique from Suriving Mars and maybe closer to a boardgame like Terraforming Mars. Except it’s a little bit more.
You begin the game as an AI tasked with preparing the planet for the arrival of colonists. Almost immediately you get into conversations with mission control that explore an entire character arc that is pretty well unique. Even early on I look forward to those snippets of conversation as the AI grows into its role as well as interacting with other characters. Surprisingly the voice acting is very well done.
Like all good planet builders you slowly harness resources and stick bits together until you have a functioning unit. Upgrades, roads, maintenance, and power, all work to keep it interesting. But what can turn into micro-management hell is actually nicely handled here. So far, once I get something up and running, I can leave it alone. Easily findable data overlays help to determine where the problems are.
The colonists are not just a sideline but how your research gets done. This is a clever way to encourage you to bring on pesky colonists without adding some bornerline null fluff. The more scientists working with you, the quicker you can solve Martian terraforming and technology problems.
At a certain point you realize there’s more going on. There’s an orbital view, additional missions start coming online, and you realize this is a living, breathing, changing planet. Your actions directly change the arc of the future. The graphs for things like temperature or surface pressure can be stretch out to hundreds of years. This is something unique.
As of writing this I’m about 10 hours into the game. I’m taking it slow. The audio is done well enough that I can leave the background music on and not really know it’s going, but it does its purpose well. Beyond that you get boops and whoops and other sci-fi-ish sounds.
A story arc is emerging that is setting me for… something. I’m not sure what but if you’ve read Kim Stanley Robinsons Mars series you’ll know that not all goes as planned on the Red Planet. What exactly is happening is not quite clear, but I’m looking forward to watching it unroll.
Things that I don’t like are fairly minor. One, I didn’t realize how to launch satelites until I click on the compass on accident. Oooooh, that’s how I do it. I kept waiting for a story prompt to kick it off. It’s also entirely possible to get the build order wrong and have to tear down buildings to get things going right. Not being able to send something like a cargo rocket compounds this issue. But it’s a “oops” once kind of issue that makes you more aware of it next time.
The pace has been such that just when I start to get bored either the tech reveals something new, a plot arc emerges, or I see appreciable movement on my terraforming. The game is a slow burn and I like it. If you like city builders, 4X without the extermination, and scifi in general, it’s worth a look. It’s not often we get something of this quality and crispness right out of the gate.