Gamereactor UK. Watch the latest video game trailers, and interviews from the biggest gaming conventions in the world. Gamereactor uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best browsing experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy with our cookies policy

Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars

We've been making a new home on the Red Planet.

Subscribe to our newsletter here!

* Required field

David Bowie once asked: "Is there life on Mars?". After playing Surviving Mars for many hours we can comprehensively answer that "yes, in the virtual world there is." So, while these Major Toms were blasting off to the red planet, we sat back and planned the future of humanity. Paradox Interactive, who published one of the best city building games of recent times in the form of Cities: Skylines, are taking us on an out-of-this-world adventure developed by Haemimont Games, the studio which gave us Tropico 5. With that in mind, this new game has all the pedigree it needs to rocket to the top of the charts.

And so to the sandbox we go, bearing in mind that, much like certain other Paradox Interactive published titles, there is no campaign mode and very little in the way of missions. You can select certain events to play out during your game and there's the scenario itself, but that's the limit in terms of story. Instead, it's just a very open sandbox experience with no real end. You set up your conditions right from the off, making it as hard or easy as you would like (to an extent). You decide who sponsors your colonisation effort, so for example, if you want an easier ride you can go with the international space program who give you loads of funding, while flying the flag for a country like Russia is a little trickier. Afterwards you can pick your personality type, which depending on your choice, gives you different tech or equipment.

Your involvement in the narrative side of things, on the other hand, is more or less optional. It's based around events that happen later in the game and can include Aliens, AI issues and so on, and it doesn't really affect your sandbox experience too much. They can be set to random so you're not sure when and what will happen, but it's not really an authored story as such. They come way after you're established, so by that time it's a welcome break from all the building and surviving. After you've picked your initial settings, you fill up your rocket with the stuff you need including materials and pre-fab buildings and head off on your new adventure to boldly go where only Matt Damon has gone before. Trust us when we say don't send your colonists too early and until you're well and truly ready, or the founding members won't be around too long to enjoy the sunsets.

This is an ad:
Surviving Mars

In a nutshell, it's like the sequel to the film The Martian, in game form (sadly without Matt Damon - although the game does quote him at one point). You land on red terra firma and start initially with drones and landers to explore the world around you. You reveal new terrain and resources, such as concrete and water, with probes that scan the surface. These resources help you to construct and expand your colony and eventually start to build domes where the brave souls will live. People go about their daily business and have jobs and various character traits such as alcoholism and being a hippie (this element of the game doesn't seem overly developed, however). If you don't keep them amused, or their buildings maintained, then before long they can start to go a little stir crazy and kill themselves (which is probably not what you want). When you get dumped on Mars, there's not much of a tutorial other than a few notes that drop down from the top, but these help you to get to grips with life far from home. The interface and controls are really simple to manage, though. When you finally get a bit more settled, you can start trading with Earth and things get more stable, but the initial stages are a little red rocky.


Maintaining the buildings is a constant activity during the early stages, and you always seem to be a bit low on some of the harder to find or produce resources. You regularly have to request new items from Earth right up until your money runs out. This makes the game quite challenging at times, but we saw this as a positive as the first few games can involve a bit of trial and error if you want to progress smoothly without waiting for more advanced research to make life and funding simpler. When you get it right though, it feels really good and rewarding. The research tree is extensive and it ensures that you feel like you're making progress as new techniques make your life on Mars much easier, and new buildings open up plenty of possibilities. You really feel like you're making progress and each advance feels like a reward. We particularly liked researching breakthrough tech, which are found by scanning natural phenomenon on the planet's surface. These new technologies contained rewards such as using dead colonists to make food, and there was the Phoenix program which meant that once dead, colonists could be cloned and brought back. Each new tech comes with a quote from people like Elon Musk, Matt Damon's character from the Martian and... Donald Trump.

This is an ad:

The graphics are pretty sweet, with the texture of the terrain looking particularly good. The buildings and vehicles also look very sharp, with the added bonus that you can zoom right into the structures and see what your colonists are doing, which usually involves eating or sleeping. Watching your colonists go about their daily lives didn't really get us attached and we found ourselves not really caring about who was who, though. It's called the Red Planet for a reason -
it's red and it's a planet. While it's to be expected, no matter where you land, the maps look pretty much the same. There is some difference in terms of height and evenness of terrain, and of course, location of resources, but other than that, the maps can become a little repetitive, what with them not having different features like rivers and forests for example (because they don't exist on Mars - that we know of at least). Each area that you can land in does contain a lot of variety iin terms of elevation, resources, and the natural disasters that occur such as meteor strikes. The game will keep you entertained for many hours, which by our standards makes it good value for money. That, combined with the fact that they plan to release some DLC packs in the future, means that Surviving Mars will keep you going for quite some time.

Surviving Mars
Surviving MarsSurviving MarsSurviving Mars

It's a bit jumpy at times, for example, when there's a lot of movement on the screen the frame-rate drops and it starts to jolt a little bit. Also, when the game has loaded sometimes there are a few sound glitches. Other than that the game runs pretty smoothly and we hope that a patch or two will fix the last little bugs. Elsewhere, it might have been nice to include a competitive element, like a space race or some online multiplayer action, as at times it feels a little empty and lonely on the red rock. There is also a lack of depth when it comes to the trade part, which at times feels a bit like an afterthought. The pace of the game can also be a little on the slow side, with it seemingly taking ages for each technological advance to ping and the stories taking quite a while to show up. You can speed up or slow down the game as you wish, but even on the fastest speed, it never really seemed to be quick enough.

In terms of the audio, there's an assistant who almost seductively offers up warnings, although luckily this can be switched off if you prefer a bit of peace and quiet. The music side of things includes four radio stations, each with a different theme. A couple of them are filled with quite eerie music that sounds like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, while one them contains such catchy music that you'll find yourself singing in the office. We'll leave it to you to discover Jamie Holland's Free Earth Radio. Even though all of the songs on that channel and the commentary, and adverts, seem voiced by the same person, it offers a really good bunch of tracks to listen to.

Overall this is a great game that will keep you highly entertained for hours. It's a very open experience with lots of things to discover and plenty to do, with the developers estimating it to have around 100 hours of playtime if you want to finish all of the different story scenarios. The map can be a little too red at times and we'd have liked them to crowbar in a bit of variation (scientific accuracy be damned), and there are a couple of technical issues that we hope will get fixed in the first couple of patches. Other than that, if you like space sims and enjoyed games like Aven Colony and the more futuristic Anno titles, then Surviving Mars is something you should be looking at.

Surviving MarsSurviving MarsSurviving Mars
08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
Deep game, very playable with a good interface, Lots of things to research and do.
Lack of multiplayer, scrolling around the maps could be smoother at time, very red.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

Related texts

Surviving MarsScore

Surviving Mars

REVIEW. Written by Roy Woodhouse

"It's a very open experience with lots of things to discover and plenty to do."

Loading next content