Aven Colony tells the story of the human colonisation of an alien world, and each mission of the fifteen hour campaign is a variation on that one, singular idea. Like Earth, the planet offers everything from frozen tundra to lush, fertile landscapes capable of supporting the growth of crops like corn and wheat. The aim of the game is to take over a fledgling colony ran by a skeleton crew and expand it by correctly managing resources, monitoring power consumption, and providing enough living space and employment opportunities to encourage immigration. Colonies begin with a dozen or so engineers and a few solar panels to generate power, but under the right leadership, they can grow into vast metropolises supporting skyscrapers, army bases, and sports stadiums.
During the course of a mission you'll have advisers pop up on the comms to offer optional objectives. These act as both a tutorial -- the objectives are optional, but they're frequently the best course of action -- and as a method of accruing resources since successfully ticking one off the list will usually yield a reward of extra colonists, food, or nanites. Nanites are an incredibly important consumable item that are used to build everything from farms to automated police drones, and running out of them will usually result in the swift collapse of your settlement. Following the objectives will guide you toward completing the mission and maintaining a stable colony, but if you know what you're doing you can go off-book and work towards the primary mission goal yourself, and likely get it wrapped up more quickly.
Aven Coloy manages to keep missions interesting by throwing different conditions at you -- both in terms of the requirements for victory, and in the varied climates and hostile environments you'll encounter. There are missions to expand your colony to a size capable of supporting an enormous museum dedicated to the old Earth our explorers have left behind, and another to build a colony in a barren wasteland that must remain sustainable via trade since there's little soil conducive to farming in the surrounding area. One tense mission involves rapidly building a colony to act as a refugee camp after an accident leaves a thousand colonists stranded, replete with a grim, ever-decreasing time limit signifying their impending doom should you fail to build housing quickly enough.
The changing mission parameters help to spice up the campaign, and so too does a surprisingly engaging story involving alien threats, ancient galactic extinction events, and a potential double agent within the rank and file. As far as science fiction yarns go it's all fairly rudimentary stuff, but there's a sense of escalation in the twists and turns of each mission that makes Aven Colony feel like it has more of a purpose than the typical build, eliminate threat, repeat cycle that one might expect from a city building game like this. The voice acting is a little grating at times, and the sparse cutscenes look more like a rough draft than the finished article, but there's more than enough here in terms of narrative heft and established lore to at least entertain, and potentially form the basis of a franchise.
If Aven Colony is to become a franchise, one thing that the developers desperately need to address is the technical limitations of the game. We thoroughly enjoyed our time playing when everything was running as it should, but problems behind the scenes caused enough frustration to impact the score Aven Colony will be getting in this review. During the course of our time with the campaign, we experienced close to ten hard crashes, an abundance of slow down when ordering the building of new structures, and one instance of the game deleting our auto-save meaning we needed to restart a mission. All of the hard crashes bar one and the deletion of game data occurred when attempting the same mission, during which we'd built an enormous city, and so the issue could be related to that one map in particular, the game struggling to deal with the number of buildings we'd amassed, or both.
Once we'd suffered a few of these game-breakers, we attempted to circumvent the issue by trying to complete the main objective of the level as quickly as possible and without more structures in play than necessary. While this got us to the next stage without any hiccups, we felt like we were meeting the developers more than half way since the conditions for victory were needlessly obtuse, and one of the primary goals of said mission was to build a huge colony. There are also a few niggling issues with the UI on occasion, which is notably cumbersome when sending military teams out on missions, but otherwise the game runs smoothly and most of the systems are simple to navigate. Similarly, the game is well optimised for controller, with most functions being quickly available with just one or two button presses, and lateral thinking required only occasionally to navigate the many in-game menus.
When Aven Colony is at its best, it's making a strong case for the viability of the real-time strategy genre on console via an addictive mix of easy-to-grasp city building mechanics, a surprisingly intriguing sci-fi story, and a tight campaign that offers variety and never outstays its welcome. Unfortunately, it has a number of annoying technical issues which -- while they might not affect every player -- are persistent enough to undermine the experience depending on your tolerance for slow down and hard crashes. If you can weather the storm of technical shortcomings Aven Colony throws at you, you'll find an impressive, accessible strategy game that feels right at home on PS4.