If you follow me on Twitter then you will know how much I love resource management, simulation and strategy games. For example, next week I have my review of Railway Empire going live (as well as a bunch of videos already on Youtube) and my most anticipated game of the year is Tropico 6. So imagine my surprise when I found out a few weeks ago that the PC and Xbox exclusive base builder, from Madruga Works, was getting a PS4 release. I was over the moon (quite literally, as you’ll find out). Planetbase is more akin to games such as The Settlers, Anno 2205 and Aven Colony rather than Simcity and Cities Skyline as the main focus is on resource management and building individual components.
So, grab six of your fellow astronauts and a couple of robots and come with me as we explore a barely habitable planet and see if Planetbase is ‘out of this world’ or simply ‘lost in space’…
The story for Planetbase can be summed up in one word, Survive. That’s it, no fancy “we arrived on planet Alpha Toyota Samsung 37 and set out to discover new life among the slug people…”, and it doesn’t need anything like that, the game is literally what it’s called – you are building a base on a planet. This can both attract people in and put people off, personally, I love a good story and really enjoy it when I have set goals and objectives, but in the case of Planetbase I feel the choices they have made were all for the best and so far I’ve had about 30 amazing hours of gameplay. I would say the goal of the game is to build the biggest, most efficient base you can whilst working towards the 10 planet-specific missions which are given to you as both a rough guide on what to do and the means to unlock different planets.
When you first start out on your adventure you will have access to one planet, a Mars-like planet that suffers from frequent sandstorms and meteor strikes. This planet is classed as ‘Accessible’ which is the easiest difficulty. Once unlocked via completing the missions, you have access to a Hoth-like snow planet which is ‘Challenging’, a Moon-like planet with no atmosphere (so no wind turbines) which is ‘Overwhelming’ and finally a planet I have yet to reach which looks like there is no sunlight for solar power which is worryingly listed as ‘suicide’ difficulty. Once you select the planet you wish to spend the next 6-10 hours of your life on, you can name the colony and choose a land site. I don’t mean pick a pre-chosen location – you can literally rotate and pick any coordinate on the planet in a Mass Effect 2 resource mining style process. This is both great and annoying. It’s great as there are literally thousands of possible locations per planet, yet also annoying as if you land and the location isn’t very good then you have to quit to the menu and try again. Thankfully the load times are mere seconds so you don’t have to wait around if you do want to reload.
Once you first land on your new home, you have a small spacecraft that is stocked with the bare minimum of resources and you have a crew of up to seven humans and two robots. The humans will be a mix of a worker, medic, engineer and biologist with the robots being both a carrier and a constructor. The initial goal of each planet is the same – construct a self-maintaining environment for your human colonists – this means creating a canteen, oxygen creator and an airlock. However, you will also need some way of generating food, water, power, metal and plastic – all on a budget of a very small amount of resources. You can recycle your ship and it will give you another bunch of resources to work with but if you don’t have a storage bay then there is a chance certain materials can be swept away or even deteriorated due to the weather conditions. Once you have the initial part of your base built and everything is running smoothly then it’s time to expand and go bigger! Just don’t do this too fast or you will soon experience what I did many times!
My first day, on my first playthrough, consisted of me following the tutorial and building the bare essentials. However, I jumped ahead of myself and started building other things like a fitness hall and a robot creation factory. This soon led to my colonists running out of core materials as they couldn’t complete the construction of a mine, thus no metals to create anything else. They also ran out of plastic due to the biologists refusing to work in the plant biome and thus no food so everyone ended up starving to death within days. On my second go, I took it slow, I made sure everything I needed was built in time and working as planned before moving on. This time I managed to get up to 30 people living in my colony! And then disaster struck, I had no medics as I didn’t realise they had all starved to death earlier in this playthrough and all the biologists were dying due to broken bones – I have no idea who was hitting all my colonists but I would love to know! Because of this, I lost once again after about 3-4 hours of hard work, all because I wasn’t paying attention to my colony staff list and needs.
Finally, my sixth go (yeah, I skipped a few) was perfect. I managed to complete 8/10 missions, I had over 200 colonists and the whole facility was working great! That was until an armed rogue civilian docked at my station and went on a wild killing spree and shot every single person in my colony dead because I didn’t have any guards. I guess it’s my own fault, I just didn’t see the point in wasting valuable oxygen with a guard who wasn’t needed as I’d never had any problems – in hindsight, that might have been a bad decision on my side. But, this game is all about trial and improvement as each time you get pulled down and beaten to a pulp you get back up again and do something different in order to avoid it next time. Just to be aware, no actual astronauts are harmed within this process, it’s only a game – so go wild and get them all killed in the name of architecture and management!
Okay, so I’ll explain in detail how the game actually works for those of you who like these types of games – I may get a little confusing but please bear with me…
There are six main resources that you must constantly keep your eye on – if one of these fails then your base is at risk of becoming a graveyard. First, we’ll start with:
These can be mined from a mine (clearly). You set one up near an airlock and workers will go in and out in order to both work down in the mine and carry the raw materials back into the base. With the aid of a processing plant and the various machinery you can build, you can use these to make Metal. Metal is used for most of the building and technology creating aspects such as building new rooms/structures, robots, semiconductors and even guns. If you run out of raw materials (the mines are infinite but your workers can slack) then hardly anything will get created outside of certain interior objects (which use plastic).
You can create synthetic meat, but I’m listing plants as they have more than one use. The main use is clearly food – you can choose between many different types of plants ranging from low maintenance but longer ripening times too high maintenance but a really fast turnover of food. You also grow medicinal herbs which are used by the medics to construct medi-packs which the colonists can use to heal themselves when they fall foul of the phantom bone-breaker! Finally, you can grow starchy products such as peas and rice. These plants give you a few packs of food but also a starch resource that can be used in a machine in another structure to create plastic. Without plastic, you are as stuck as you are without metal as it’s used for the same purpose only a lot of interior structures are built using plastic only.
Do I have to explain what Oxygen is used for? Basically, without oxygen, your colonists will begin to suffocate and eventually die. the main cause of lack of oxygen is either your not producing enough for the number of colonists you currently have, something is damaged or a meteorite has hit a building and it’s leaking out into the atmosphere, or one of the core resources for oxygen is down – power and water.
Power is generated by two processes, solar power via solar panels and wind power via turbines. At night and during certain weather conditions like sand and snowstorms, the solar power doesn’t work so you have to ensure you have enough of both of these to balance each other out. You can build power storage devices that will refill based on excess power being created and used in the event of no power. For example, you can build a few solar power stations and a massive 17,500kw storage facility – once it gets dark the base will drain directly from the power bank until morning when the solar panels should kick back in. You also have an option to stop all non-essential structures if you’re low on power. This will only supply power to your water and oxygen structures. This is a great feature and really helps you in the early game as you are still figuring out how much excess power you have.
As I’ve mentioned above, water is used to power the oxygen unit – but what else is it used for? Remember all those plants I advised you to build for food, medical supplies and starch? Well, they all require water, if you are low on water then your plants are the first things to get hit by this and start to wither. You also need to set up fountains for your colonists to drink from -they get quite thirsty spending day after day doing nothing but carrying around raw materials. Water operates a little like the power above, you can build a variety of different size water pumps which will only work if powered but you can also build water reserves that will fill with any excess water and will be used if the power goes down or you’re no longer producing enough water.
The final aspect you need to watch out for is the mood of your colonists. If they aren’t happy then they won’t do their job efficiently and in turn that affects how your colony is run. You can counter this by building gyms, TVs, trees for them to stare at (no joke) and benches. Also having a nice bed and other people around them helps them stay more positive. I never really had an issue with this requirement as it never really killed any of my colonists as far as I’m aware. I don’t think you can die from boredom? I guess they could run towards the rogues and offer to get shot first if they are that bored, but I don’t recall this ever happening.
Once you fully understand the mechanics, how to maintain the balance and how to be patient and not jump in to build new things too fast, you can start building a spaceport. The spaceport will allow visitors (paying guests who eat your food and drain your oxygen), new colonists (which you can specify what percentage of each you want) and traders (buy and sell goods and blueprints) to land and interact with you. You can enable and disable any of these if you wish – for example, if you don’t want to expand just yet then you can disable the colony ship. I feel this is a great mechanic as it gives you more control over your settlement. Just be aware, ships will only land if your colony is self-sufficient and your people are happy – so remember to keep on top of the above factors!
What makes Planetbase stand out from games such as Aven Colony is the fact the emphasis here is on creating a great colony for your colonists rather than building structures and hoping they all work together. You can prioritise certain structures (which I highly recommend) so your worker knows what to work on first, limit the number of certain items they will produce before moving on, watch literally any room via the in-game security camera system, and select every single colonist and find out what their thoughts and needs are. It’s both a relaxing and stressful game at the same time just don’t expect a planet to last a few hours – my current playthrough is clocking in at about 12 hours on the first planet.
There are also a few ‘challenges’ which you can take on if you are more into working towards a goal. Personally, I’ve not tried these out yet but it’s more content for you to dabble with if you are looking for a set objective and don’t have the time to invest in a full-on base building experience.
One aspect I feel the game did lack in was the tutorial. I played through it then jumped into the main game. I then had to go back to the tutorial as I felt I was missing something, but the tutorial only helps you up until you build the first essential buildings. There is no guide, other than a few in-game tips, on telescopes, lasers, command centres or even the different alert status’. I feel the game could have spent a bit of time explaining these to us as they come in handy more often than not as your colony gets bigger and you wish to expand. The majority of the game I learnt from trial and improvement on my own part, which is good but I feel it may put some people off as it could have been better at explaining things.
Graphically, the devs have made some artistic choices here. They have chosen to not let you pull the camera right up as they wanted a set angle for the zoom-out view and the structures will retain their domed lids if you aren’t up close. This all works but in my opinion, I would have liked the option to have all the domes turned off for the sake of overlooking everyone at once, but this is probably due to a performance configuration. Also, the design of each of the planets is great from the brightly coloured sand and snow to the dark grey tones of the moon. The colonist’s animations, models and interactions all look great as well both close up and zoomed out. You can tell a lot of work has gone into creating this game.
Planetbase is a great resource management/colony simulation game. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the options and processes on hand but if you stick with it then you will get used to the mechanics and soon be running a successful colony. One thing you have to remember is, it isn’t a race – there is no time limit and the main goal is to survive. So, take your time and enjoy the experience as you watch your colony grow both bigger and stronger. I can’t recommend it enough to fans of games such as Tropico, Aven Colony, Sim City and even Dungeons III to an extent. Plus, it’s priced really well for the amount of time you will put into it.
- Nice variety of planets with their own natural disasters
- Each colonist has their own job and you can freely follow them around and interact with them
- Due to the nature of the game and lack of goals, one planet could last you 10+ hours
- You have full control over who comes into your colony and when - allowing for more control over the running of said colony
- The price is amazing for the amount of content you get
- Buildings can't be relocated, only recycled then rebuilt which can be annoying
- Picking a land site is hit or miss
- The tutorial isn't the best at explaining all the structures to you