When you want to make a few hours vanish, turn on a good city building game. How exactly do these types games accomplish that so effortlessly? Is it that need to see your initial ideas pan out? And as those initial build ideas come to light you see so many possibilities to improve? The posse of city building time bandits has grown with new arrival Planetbase. You are tasked with managing a small group of colonists and evolving them into bustling self sufficient community. Achieving this is a challenge, and plopping down buildings haphazardly isn’t going to cut it in this harsh environment. Planetbase could on some level be called “Space Banished“- the hard core colonial settlement game released last year. Failure to plan properly and to account for numerous dangers will lead to the systematic breakdown of the vital flow that is keeps your colony alive.
I highly recommend undergoing the tutorial in Planetbase, even if you are familiar with city builders. There are specific nuances you will need to know to make structures work together. Each new base unit must be connected to another for it to function; remember it’s not a city it’s a space base. Structures are split up into two forms: interior structures like biodomes (for growing plants), dormitories, and medical facilities. These interior units require interconnected oxygen filled corridors for your colonists to travel between. Exterior structures such as solar panels, water extractors, and wind turbines do not require oxygen based corridors, but still need tethered power connections to your base. This furthers the importance of layout planning, especially when some structures are dead end structures (only allowing 1 connection). Hovering a potential new structure around your landing site will allow you to clearly see where it can be built. Red highlights means you cannot place it there, and there is no option to terraform. Green will allow you place the structure and show you which other structures you can build your connection with.
Seems simple enough, but in execution you will find Planetbase throws many obstacles your way. Several trips to the proverbial drawing board is one of this game’s appealing features (if you enjoy being tested). You will need to use logic as well as proper timing in placing structures, do not go by available resources only. Queue up too many structures, and you could neglect an area of need that is more vital than the other. If you want to prioritize an item, build it, and only it. If your colony is running out of power, water, or other basic needs- you will need to set your build orders to tackle each issue before it comes up.
Survival requires wise use of the limited space within each structure. Inside a biodome you have a plethora plants to you may grow. Plants are color coded based on what they yield. Some plants yield only food on a more regular basis, with a downside of constant care needed from your biologists. Others yield a container of starch used for bioplastics (another important resource) with some food units, but grow slower than other plants. Trees give off oxygen and lower displeasure. Medicinal plants can be harvested for manufacturing medicinal units. With limited space and resources, you’ll carefully decide which plant type takes precedence when filling internal production stations. Other structures may have their own unique internal units to put to use; keeping in mind the game’s theme of “building wisely”.
The tutorial lays out a good starting plan for survival. Deviating too far from the tutorial’s basic starting plan rarely works out well for your colonists. It’s a shame really, as each time you start a colony, you are essentially going through the same motions for each new base. Planetbase offers three total planets to explore and build on. The other two planets unlock when you achieve milestones. The starting world has no additional handicaps added, but the other two are geared towards higher degree of difficulty. It will not be easy keeping your colonists breathing on the advanced planets. While the added management challenges are difficult, Planetbase rarely deviates from its own basic survival formula. Instead you will learn to compensate for having less sunlight, wind, or an added dangerous element or two.
Dying is an easy thing to do on an alien planet. I have failed over a 20 times at building a base. As I playtested I tried to many variations that took time … only to ultimately fail. I had access to Planetbase before its release. So I’ve had the privilege of seeing developer Madruga Works make changes leading up to release, and some right after launch. These updates and balance changes (last update 1.04) help the overall learning curve from throttling to extremes until you reach the other worlds; a better compromise that made everything more enjoyable without becoming simplistic.
Catastrophic failure is ever present. It takes time to build a structure, if you wait too long to build the oxygen generator then colonists die. Did you notice you needed more food so you made some onion racks? As a result you have no water, and no metal to build another water extractor. Congratulations, your colonists are dead on the floor. Forgot to make enough beds? Colonists are now too tired to work efficiently, so their output is diminished. That means less food or spare parts, leading to colonist dropping like flies with a morbid groan. Sandstorms impair movement making all exterior tasks take longer, and perilous. Meteors rain down on you and damage structures; and is you are unlucky enough, will brain some colonists’ heads when it impacts. No medpacks? Smell that? I think your miners just died. Was the colonist that just perished your only doctor? I guess you won’t have anymore workers or guards. No workers means no spare parts. No spare parts means your power station stops working. No power means no water. I see dead people. Did you allow too many new colonists of one type and not the other and now your base is unbalanced? Body bags, we got plenty of ’em.
That is the essence of all good city/base building games, the need to surpass all obstacles and stand looming over a grandiose thriving creature that you’ve made using your wits. This is what Planetbase does well.
While options for failure are numerous on Planetbase, it makes success a wholly satisfying personal achievement. Reaching a milestone of 100 colonists takes a good chunk of time. Building the Monolith (nice Space Odyssey homage) requires a lot of valuable resources, you are only able to pull it off if you’ve solidified and established a numerous well-manned production facilities. I don’t mean build 20 ore processors and wait. You will need 20-30 biologists tending sufficient biofarms for the workers and engineers (and themselves). You need enough oxygen and power to sustain those processors. While storing and planning at each phase for inevitable environmentally caused delays in your chain. I had to constantly rush to turn off structures as there was no wind to sustain the turbines. Rush to destroy unnecessary plants taking too much vital water I needed elsewhere, and so on. You will always find yourself tinkering and checking vital statistics to ensure efficient growth.
For large sprawling bases the AI behavior becomes unpredictable. On my fourth biodome/dormitory/canteen wing, I waited (game) days for biologists to fan into that area and tend the plants to meet food needs. They wouldn’t preferring instead to settle around the first three. I was hesitant to bring in more biologists. I was clearly watching a few of them wandering around hallways with nothing urgent to do. When I decided to just bring more to solve the problem, none arrived (for many game days) despite requesting at 100% rate. By your fourth biodome however, you are self-sufficient enough that these annoyances hamper your growth- not lead to genocide. You will also be hit with new dangers like solar flares that irradiate your colonists if outside. Bandits disguised as visitors may infiltrate your base and assassinate your people; unless you have armed guards and a command station to deal with the intruders. Again, these new dangers are mildly entertaining but once your wheel of progress has turned enough it’s only the AI pathfinding and the illogical choices that can occur in large colonies that will hold progress back.
Graphically Planetbase is well presented, but not state of the art. Its main musical theme loops as you play, I didn’t mind it, but it was entirely forgettable. It’s not really about having anti-aliasing TXAA x200 and HBAO+ ultra defined ambient occlusion anyway. Despite a limited formula for starting up a base, and regardless of lack of variety in areas; Planetbase will entice you to rise to all the challenges it has to offer. Failure left me muttering under my breath having spent hours leading up to my colony’s sad demise. Only to return the next morning to eager to give it another go. That is the essence of all good city/base building games, the need to surpass all obstacles and stand looming over a grandiose thriving creature that you’ve made using your wits. This is what Planetbase does well.