The real-time strategy scene has been stretching its legs a bit lately. The genre, which was once so dominant in the PC space, has both migrated to mobile devices and splintered into various sub-genres, but one area where we're starting to see some real innovation is the post-apocalypse. And it's not just games like They Are Billions and Frostpunk that are exploring what it's like to build a new home in adverse conditions, we've also seen the likes of Aven Colony take base-building to the stars. In a similar vein, there's Surviving Mars by Haemimont Games, which it turns out was the start of a new series of death-defying strategy games.
In Surviving the Aftermath, this time by Iceflake Studios, the aim of the game is to build and maintain a small community where your survivors can flourish in the wake of an apocalyptic event, but naturally, that's easier said than done. You'll have to build an infrastructure that can support your burgeoning community and there are a number of obstacles in the way of that, not least the pockets of radiation that adorn your starting area in the game.
First things first, though, it's time to pick the kind of experience you'll have, and this is one thing that really impressed us as you can tweak the scenario in a number of ways, adding new obstacles to increase the challenge you'll receive. Then, once you've picked your path, it's time to set down some roots and build a base. You do this by making the most of the resources (and by that we mean piles of junk and rubble) found all around the starting area. That entails making processing facilities to deal with all the scrap that's collected. You've also got to make sure that everyone has somewhere to sleep, so that's another thing that has to scale with your earliest efforts, as you plonk down shelters to house your ragtag band of survivors.
It doesn't take long for bad things to start happening, and in our case, the first hiccup was a blistering heatwave that forced us to stock up on water and supplies. That meant building a water tower and stocking up on water, but to achieve that we needed new resources, concrete specifically. In Surviving the Aftermath you don't send people to harvest things directly, rather you click on a facility and then assign its "work area", and your people will head to this area in due course to grab the resources found therein. To play effectively, you always need to be one step ahead of your immediate needs, otherwise, you're just reacting to things as they happen and playing catchup.
There appears to be quite a few options in terms of what you can build, but we're hoping for greater diversity further down the line. Of course, the game is in Early Access, so we have every expectation that it will be supported and elaborated on over the course of its development, but it's clear that there are a lot of avenues left to explore. Indeed, at this early stage, it all feels just a little bit predictable, although we concede that there's still more to be seen. Mostly it's nice to have a city builder with such a novel theme, and we're hoping that in the coming months the developer can inject some much-needed personality.
As it stands, most of the time your survivors just mill around, picking up junk and taking it back to base, eating, sleeping, getting radiation poisoning - that sort of thing. There does seem to be some interesting buildings waiting to be discovered, such as a cinema, but the base designs could do with a bit more individualism, especially given the theme. The simulation of the survivors didn't really grab us either and we feel like the people under your care could have a bit more humanity, and their on-screen representations could do with a bit more personality too - at the moment it's a bit buggy, the pathfinding isn't great, and there's not a huge amount there to create a connection between player and NPC beyond some story events.
As your community expands and explores further up the tech tree, new options come online until you're able to expand your influence beyond the gates of your little sanctuary. One option includes battling with bandits, although this aspect seems a little undercooked right now. At least the danger that looms in the background adds some edge to proceedings, and it fits in nicely with the theme too.
And theme really is at the centre of things in Surviving the Aftermath. This survival-focused strategy game could go in all sorts of interesting directions, and we're certainly hopeful that Iceflake builds on its early promise and really digs into the setting and explores it more creatively. What we're hoping for most, however, is something to connect us better to our survivors and help drive some drama, as we think that would deliver some added substance to what's already looking fairly solid in terms of systems and mechanics. When there are hardly any people left they become your most precious commodity, and at the moment it feels like we're spending most of our time watching drones walk to and from piles of rubbish while the personalities that could bring real life and warmth to this base builder are still waiting to be discovered out in the wastes of Early Access.
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