I’ve been playing Per Aspera for a few hours, and everything is going superbly well. I’ve really been enjoying myself. And then, suddenly, I’m not! Aluminium levels are dangerously low, I’m desperately trying to move steel to where it’s needed, the colonists are starving and now, on top of everything else, look at what’s coming over the horizon! It’s then that a sense of foreboding engulfs me, and I consign myself to the inevitable conclusion; reloading an earlier savegame.
Per Aspera is at its heart, a resource management game. You take on the role of infant Artificial Intelligence, A.M.I, with a mission to terraform Mars into a habitable planet.
Developed by Tlön Industries and published by Raw Fury, Per Aspera is available now on PC from Steam and GOG.com. If you’ve ever played TerraGenesis, then this is a game for you. At the end of the day, the objective of both games is the same. Per Aspera, however, takes the idea to a whole new level. Having played TerraGenesis, I’ve been looking forward to writing my Per Aspera review.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at Per Aspera.
What kind of game is Per Aspera?
According to the Per Aspera website, it’s a narrative-driven strategy game with the goal of terraforming Mars. Well, it’s not—at least not in part. In truth, Per Aspera is a resource management game. Sure, they try to use words like ‘strategy’ and ‘terraforming’ to maybe make you think city-builder or RTS, but forget those preconceptions. It’s a resource management game, and an enjoyable one at that!
I’ve been playing through the campaign, and I’ve found it’s been very well done. The story is interesting, and the event-based progression has kept things moving along at a manageable and enjoyable pace. Need some time to consolidate your position and secure your fledgeling space settlement? No problem, don’t complete the current objective and take your time.
Per Aspera is a game to sit down to for several hours. Even though it doesn’t have the micro-management and achievement centric progression of a city builder, there’s still plenty to aim for. It’s very enjoyable watching the changes you make to the planet’s environment slowly take effect and the surface of the planet change before your eyes.
The Early Days
The objective of Per Aspera is to terraform Mars, a straightforward and awesome concept. Your job, playing the role of AMI (Artificial Machine Intelligence), is to manage the mission. Starting with just an initial landing site, the job is to build up the base and resources to support the colonists, research terraforming tools and fight off unwanted visitors.
It took me about an hour of play to get my head round the fact that I am playing a role and AMI is me. I found the learning curve initially quite steep but the comprehensive and informative in-game Knowledge Base answered all the questions I had.
Once you’ve got to grips with the user interface and data layers, you’re away. Both are done well. They’re easy to use and provide relevant information. All too often in a game, a key data layer doesn’t give you the information you need or displays it in such a manner it’s utterly useless.
There are some minor annoyances to contend with, but they aren’t game-breaking in any sense. An example is, when placing a structure, you’re shown an area of operation. For drone hives, this is the area defensive armaments will cover. But, between placing the structure and it being built, there’s a period when the area overlay isn’t shown. Thus, if you’re building two or three at a time, there’s an element of guesswork to get the operational areas to overlap.
To help you along in these early days, there’s a string of messages from mission control in Houston. You’re introduced to all the characters, and the mission is explained to you. Doctor Nathan Foster, your “father”, asks you some questions and you’re presented with your first player decisions. A.M.I chirps away with whoever’s calling for the majority of responses but now and then, a couple of choices pop up on the screen for you, the player, to pick an option from. Click an option and the conversation progresses, simple!
Now, it’s unclear if these decisions carry a butterfly effect mechanic. Remember my intro? So, I have hit reload a few times and consequently, replayed decisions a few times. Purposefully, I selected the “other” option when presented with a decision. Other than changing the next few lines of the scripted dialogue, I haven’t’ seen any other consequences for choosing Option A (blow up everything) over Option B (live in peace and harmony). And yes, some of the choices are that extreme. So…I asked the developers. And, there are a few different endings to the mission. Had best choose more wisely from now on!
The narrative in Per Aspera is a well-crafted story of man’s latest attempt to inhabit an extraterrestrial planet. The plot is quite deep, and there’s plenty of twists and turns that kept me hooked; wanting to know more, what comes next. It keeps things fun and interesting, driving me forward to get to the next chapter of the story.
Terraforming in Per Aspera
Here is when we get to the crux of the matter, what Per Aspera is all about. Terraforming has featured in sci-fi for decades. It’s the ultimate space exploration achievement.
You start with the tech tree on your terraforming journey. You’ll find all the tools and tech needed to fully transform Mars from a barren dustbowl into a sprawling paradise. It’s quite a passive exercise. You simply place buildings that output what you need to perform the next terraforming action. Need more heat? Build structures that output greenhouse gases. Need to melt the ice to release the planet’s water? Sprinkle dust or launch nukes at the planet’s poles.
Once the structures are set up, all you need to do is keep the sprawling tendrils of your base working sweetly and supplying a steady stream of resources to the necessary structures.
This is where the game becomes a bit of an art. There are numerous actions you can take to manipulate the productivity of the base. Chiefly, you can increase a structures priority resulting in resources being delivered at the cost of other nearby structures.
Terraforming effectively requires the later technologies, so you need to ensure there’s an effective stream of research being conducted. It’s colonists that perform the research, and they need looking after with food and water. This is where your skills are really put to the test. It’s a fine line managing to balance the production of research versus keeping everything else running. Striking that balance is a gratifying experience.
Final Thoughts on Per Aspera
There are a couple of aspects of Per Aspera that let it down. Chiefly, the water looks crap! It’s flat and doesn’t move! It’s a massive shame as it would really bring things to life. Being that the objective of the game is about creating an environment, it would have been nice to see more done on the… well… environment!
Per Aspera is an incredibly slick and well-built game. The engine performs well and the user interface is a joy to use. This is Tlon Industries first game, and if they go on to make other games to the same standard, they have a fascinating future ahead of them.
Overall, Per Aspera is a very enjoyable game. I’m having a lot of fun working through the campaign and seeing Mars transform into a living, breathing planet. I highly recommend it.