Planetbase Review

By Megan Walton, 6 months ago
Simulation games can be hit or miss. There's often a lot of sitting around, waiting and watching, followed by a mad rush of trying to do a million things at once. Setting this kind of game in space throws up a whole load of new obstacles for you to overcome, but if you want to give it a try then consider having a look at Planetbase. It's your job to build up a colony in space on a planet of your choice, but how easy is this to do?

Time to begin your space journey!Time to begin your space journey!

The tutorial starts in the same way as any of the planet levels: watching a ship land. With only a couple of colonists and a couple of robots, it is your job to build a colony on the planet, using everything available to you. There is no definite end goal here, apart from building your colony to be as big as possible, by encouraging more colonists to come and join. This lack of end goal is similar to other simulation games and doesn't take anything away from your enjoyment or motivation to play. If anything, it encourages you to see just how impressive your colony can be.

Before you construct any grand buildings, you'll have to start with the basics. At the base level, your colony needs power, water, oxygen and food in order to survive, so these are your prime objectives. An oxygen generator will provide the oxygen, for the power you can build wind turbines and solar panels and water comes from an extractor. In order to get food for your colonists you can build a bio dome and fill it with various plants. Some of these are high maintenance and high output, whereas others are the opposite. Once the food is made, it also needs to be stored in a meal maker in order to make it edible.

You will start off with a set amount of metal and bio-plastic, used to build the vast majority of your buildings. Before you run out of this, you need to build something that allows you to make some more. Ore must be mined and then put in a machine to turn it into metal, whereas certain plants create starch that can be put into a different machine to make bio-plastic. As your colony grows you'll need to build more of each of these, balancing the buildings that provide useable items like food and metal with the buildings that provide power. Figuring out this balance is a genuine challenge, especially once you have a large number of colonists, and this struggle will be where you'll find the most enjoyment in the game even if it will also drive you a bit mad at the same time.

Power, water, oxygen and food are your base's four basic needsPower, water, oxygen and food are your base's four basic needs


The colonists also want somewhere to sit, have a drink and watch TV, which can be found in a canteen. It's your job to figure out which of their requirements are essential and which the colonists can live without for a little while. You will definitely need to build a cabin and some beds in order to let them sleep, but something to keep them entertained might not be top of the list, even though their morale may drop. Trying to keep your colonists alive, happy, well fed and have all their other needs met is not an easy task. It feels like a cross between The Sims and Sim City, as you have to look after the individuals in the colony as well as the buildings themselves.

In order to expand your colony, you'll need to build a landing pad. If your base looks attractive enough to others then they'll fly down and join, but only if it is run well enough for your welfare to be high. You can specify what type of colonists you want, whether that's workers, medics, biologists, engineers or guards, so you can fill your base with exactly the kind of people that you need. In addition to new colonists, you can also be visited by traders from whom you can buy new stock and upgrades for buildings, as well as visitors who will come in and use some of your facilities for a fee. The fee is very small and barely seems worth it, especially if you are low on supplies.

There are a large number of buildings and sadly the tutorial doesn't explore them all. There's a number of high tech buildings that will help you out on the later planets, such as telescopes and lasers, but this is never really explained. You will figure it out on your own eventually, but a little more guidance would have been helpful as there is a lot to understand at the start. The game's soundtrack is fairly minimal but changes when there's a hazard on the horizon, such as a blizzard about to hit or an intruder with a gun. There's also an on screen prompt that pops up every time something important happens; whilst they may be annoying, they are helpful. Even with the tutorial, you will feel a little overwhelmed while you are trying to learn what everything does, how much you need of everything and how you're going to keep everyone alive.

What could possibly go wrong?What could possibly go wrong?

One big issue is that once you build a building, it's stuck there. The bumpy landscape means building can often be hard and one wrong placement can mean you cut off a whole chunk of buildable land from your colony. You can recycle the building and get the supplies back, but then you can't build anything in its place until your colonists have moved these, something that may be at the bottom of their to-do list. If you want to build an upgraded version of one of your buildings, you can't simply upgrade a current one, you have to build a whole new one. This can be irritating if you are short on supplies or space. It can result in disaster if you decide to recycle an important building in order to create a bigger one and the new one doesn't get built quickly enough.

In terms of where you build your colonies, there are four planets to explore. Each of them has their own atmosphere and hazards that will influence how you run your colony. A planet with a high atmosphere means that wind turbines will be effective at producing power. A planet with a high risk of meteors will require you to build a anti-meteor laser pretty early on. Seperate from the main game, each planet can be visited to try and complete a unique challenge. These are seemingly simple tasks made more difficult by limiting what you can build or how you can do certain things. For example, the first challenge requires you to collect 100 pieces of ore. To do that, you'll need some mines but you'll also need storage rooms for the ore, otherwise it will pile up outside the mine and your colonists won't mine anymore.

Starting with the first planet unlocked, you must complete milestones to unlock the subsequent ones. Expanding your colony, building a certain number of robots and producing a huge amount of power are just some of the things for which you'll be aiming, and these milestones help offer an end goal. With only four planets of varying difficulty, though, your scope for exploring is fairly limited. The planets themselves look fairly dull and the barren landscape is not the most attractive setting in which to do your building. An extra planet (or two) with a different kind of atmosphere or hazard would have made things more interesting in the long run.

It will take a while to get to grips with the different buildingsIt will take a while to get to grips with the different buildings

There are 30 achievements for you to earn. There are a few gimme achievements for landing on the desert planet and connecting two structures, as well as for completing the tutorial. There's quite a few on the list that will require a bit of time, such as building a colony with 350 people in it and building a monolith on each planet, which is a big structure that requires a fair amount of materials. Overall, it is a doable list but it will require a fair amount of both time and skill.

Summary

Planetbase is a nice change of pace from the usual building simulators as the space environment brings up new challenges. Trying to make sure your colonists have enough of everything to keep them alive, and balancing this with fending off potential hazards and trying to earn yourself some money at the same time, is a genuinely fun challenge. The limited number of planets on which to build and a tutorial that leaves a bit to be desired means that the game may feel a little off-putting at first, although it is definitely worth sticking with. Taking this adventure with your colonists is well worth the ride.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Balancing amenities and building is a genuine challenge
  • On screen prompts help keep you updated
  • Ability to specify which colonists you want to recruit
Negatives
  • Only four planets on which to build colonies
  • Tutorial doesn't explain everything
  • No option to upgrade current buildings
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 19 hours trying to protect her colony from starving, running out of oxygen, sandstorms, intruders and various other hazards, unlocking 20 of the game's 30 achievements. An Xbox One download code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.
Megan Walton
Written by Megan Walton
Megan is a TA newshound and reviewer who has been writing for the site since early 2014. Currently working in catering, she enjoys cooking extravagant dishes, baking birthday cakes for friends and family in peculiar shapes, writing depressing poetry about life and death, and unlocking every achievement possible.