Some Thoughts on… Planetbase
Planetbase is one of the many space games I’ve been pouring all my free time into recently, in between watching Battlestar Galactica and playing Elite: Dangerous. I think I’m on some sort of interstellar-future high. Maybe I’ll sign up for this manned Mars mission. They’ll need people who do… whatever it is I do in space, right?
They certainly can’t have me in charge of setting up the colony, that’s for sure…
Planetbase is a recently released game that tasks you with building and maintaining a new human colony on some uninhabited rock out there in the cold, unforgiving galaxy. Your challenges are resource management and overcoming the environment through simple base-building and indirect colonist management, much akin to Dungeon Keeper.
Colonies in Planetbase require oxygen, power and water to function correctly, and juggling the input and output of these resources is the most basic challenge of the game. To be fair, you’re on an inhospitable alien world, so these are really important to get right. Then comes food and manufacturing secondary resources, which is where your colonist specialisations come in; biologists look after your farms, engineers run the foundries, etc. As time goes on you’ll be shipping in help from off-world to meet workforce demands, and so on. It’s all very simple and zen.
Assuming it goes according to plan.
When things go wrong they can go really wrong. Failure to ensure you have power reserves for the planet’s night-cycle means that nothing works overnight – no food processing, water collection, oxygen scrubbing. Dawn rolls around and your colony suddenly finds itself in a deficit of essential resources. On top of that, the way that Planetbase’s AI is set up can really confound issues; colonists won’t stay in a room with no oxygen, so any barracks cut off during this nocturnal power-outage have no sleepers in them. This means that in the morning, you have a bunch of exhausted workers trudging off to their now-oxygenated bedrooms instead of, y’know, working. Preferably on making that new solar panel so you don’t have to do this the next night.
Update: Planetbase‘s AI has seen some improvements in patches since the release. This doesn’t mean that colonists are geniuses, just less daft.
Failing to jump on a crisis like this effectively has lost me more colonies than I’d like to admit, and it just takes one night of power-loss to really push things over the brink. It’s crushing to watch colonists too hungry to harvest food, and your final survivor starve to death carrying food to a table. Expanding too fast is another issue I’ve run in to before. It’s all well and good having a hundred tomato plants, but if you’ve only got two biologists they’re going to be too busy caring for the plants to actually harvest them. Then sad times abound.
More difficult planets are unlocked through achieving milestones in previous colonies, and these advanced planets come with additional problems, like an ice planet with reduced solar panel effectiveness for example. I’ve yet to play on the final planet, but I imagine my colonists will get to enjoy sunbathing outside during a solar flare as much as they like braving the sandstorms of the first desert world.
Despite the fact that things can go wrong at the drop of a space-hat, I still found gameplay to be a little on the simplistic side. There are only a handful of resources to manage, and running out of one is often simple enough to solve. Need medicine? Make medicine labs. Now you have medicine. Obviously that’s not always how it goes down, and if you don’t have enough metal to build a mine you’re pretty much sunk.
Planetbase is a very pretty game, with a wonderful art style that makes it seem very real. Colony modules are all bubble-shaped and plasticated, very much appearing to be something that humans would currently use to live on an alien world. The planets themselves are well crafted, sparse and desolate, with mountain ranges stretching off into the horizon (though I have noticed that the sun seems to set in front of the horizon.)
I would definitely recommend Planetbase to anyone looking for a city-builder / Dungeon Keeper-esque sim game, one with a space twist. People looking for something more complex, however, should perhaps look towards a game like RimWorld that has far more in terms of micromanagement.
Planetbase is currently available on Steam.