REVIEW: ‘Per Aspera’ is Expansive and Immersive Even with its Flaws (PC)

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Per Aspera

Per Aspera is a planetary simulation game developed by Tlön Industries and published by Raw Fury.  Set in the future players take control of an artificial consciousness named AMI, whose primary directive is to terraform Mars and prepare it for full human colonization. To do this, Per Aspera combines the base building of a simulation game with a science fiction narrative story.

The story starts with AMI, an artificial consciousness (voiced by a female voice actor), waking up on Mars ready to start its mission of terraforming Mars. AMI has help from the earth crew in Houston along with colonists as they arrive on Mars. There is plenty of dialogue within Per Aspera as AMI not only is learning what it is to be “human” but also dealing with all the hardships of this Mars mission. The game attempts to make the story matter in terms of gameplay as the choices and decisions made by players will ultimately affect your playthrough. There are multiple conflicting options along with hardships where AMI has to make hard decisions. This is on top of learning what it is like to be a super-intelligent AI that has to deal with the flaws of humans, which is represented by AMI’s notes left at the bottom of logs that detail how it separates itself from humanity. This gives players a really unique experience in terms of playing a simulation game.

The narrative aspect is a nice additional layer to a base building game, however, it doesn’t come without its flaws. There are parts of the story that don’t end up matching up with what is going on within the game. I had a massive system failure with colonists reporting they are about to die only receive a communication call from Houston telling me congratulations and that I should celebrate the job I am doing then the game proceeded to call me 20 minutes later to ask about the massive system failure. Most of the story is progressed by completing objectives or at least it seems however there plenty of times the story progressed past my objective before I could complete it. All of these events just led to dialogue conversations that were out of place along with me attempting to do things when should be other objectives. There could have been a time factor involved, but I am not sure as it varied from objective to objective along with objective completions.

The story contextualizes the exploration of Mars as players attempt to learn the history of previous Mars missions in the game’s science fiction world. This is really where Per Aspera shines because you get to explore and build on the entire planet of Mars, not just on certain sections like in other Mars sim games. Additionally, Tlön Industries used actual geographical data from NASA to map all of the Red Planet and as such, does a fantastic job of capturing Mars. This means all of what you see in the game is found on Mars. Not only is Per Aspera’s Mars geographically accurate but its also layered with a topographical map which also allows locations to be accurate in height as well, not just flat landscape. When I realized this, I had to go look at Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the Solar System, as a big fan of both topographic maps and realism within games. It did not disappoint. Tlön Industries took the real challenges that come with terraforming Mars that have been proposed by real space agencies and engineers into consideration as well. This is shown in the missions that are needed to be done to fully terraform Mars into a habitable planet along with some of the building unlock throughout the game.

Being able to have all of Mars as your open playground allows for much to do because Per Aspera at its core is a base building game. There is quite bit to like about that, but no base building game comes without its flaws. AMI’s job is to colonize and terraform Mars and the first part of that is gathering resources from the surface. Everything players do, must be done from Mars because there are no supply missions to call from Earth. This means that finding resources is the key to survival and is also extremely challenging.

When it comes to finding these resources, deposits are based on RNG within certain areas of the planet. This means that some locations have more of certain resources and makes some of them inaccessible for a good portion of the game. Additionally, resource deposits are limited. Because they run out, it does lead to a constant need to expand your base or worse especially if RNG is not in your favor. This also means resource distribution can become very lopsided. That said, the devs have acknowledged this issue and are currently working on fixes for it in a future patch.

Once you have started gathering resources you need to start building your actual base. There are a variety of buildings to choose from as you progress through the story. You also gain access to a skill tree that is divided into Engineering, Space, Biotech, and eventually, Military branches that lets you research new technologies via your colonists. The technologies mostly consist of upgrading buildings, terraforming buildings, terraforming missions, and things to help your colonists succeed. These buildings need to be constantly powered and maintenance to overcome the harsh Mars conditions. The most unique thing of these is there is a building limit so players will need to make sure to keep that one upgraded or can run into issues.

Building your base consists of placing buildings that are connected by roads and using your little worker robots to transport and build things. These robots work all on their own as you are only allowed to set “Priority” to an item to help the robots focus on that specific job. Players for the most part do not control the road placement either as there times you can choose what an item has a connecting road to it, but for the most part, the buildings just connect to everything that is within range of them. This means for the most part as a player, your job is to make the most efficient base possible. The larger your base gets the more you run into mechanical issues of this system.

Starting with your little robot helpers, you need to build Worker Hubs to allow more robots to be built along with dividing your base into sections that the robots responsible for to help “carry the load.” Now, you are only allowed one robot per Worker Hub so this makes having Worker Hubs important along with keeping with your robots as they can “die” or malfunction over time. For some reason, there isn’t a notification for when a robot malfunctions which means that there are plenty of times that my robots would “die” and I had no way of knowing. This is made worse by the fact that one of the first pieces of story dialogues asks your AI self if you should care about these robots “dying” or not when the first robot “dies.”

Plus, the logic of building in this game seems to be completely random. While you rely on the robot workers to build your base and fix parts of it, you don’t have full control of where they go. For example, if you’re trying to build a facility, you can’t just designate a bot to fulfill the construction. Instead, you have to hope the building maintains priority, but it doesn’t always which leads to multiple buildings just left being unbuilt. The “Priority” button, is the only way that you can control where bots go if-only kind of. But sadly, the priority system is not entirely explained, and despite hours upon hours in the game I’m not entirely sure how it works. For the most part, the priority button does get the job done but it also leads to a constant  “Priority on, Priority off” game.

This also only works well if you have plenty of each resource because if you are short on one then you run into the hope for the best situation when it comes to the bots choosing what to build and fix. There is an allocation of resources percentage base distribution, however, I still ran into issues attempting to use it. The lack of ability to just assign a building or item to be built immediately is an issue that I hope is addressed in the future. There are plenty of other weird choices the worker robots make. I have had bots go all the way across the map to drop off a random resource in a storage container for a reason unknown.

Per Aspera

The next big building issue I ran into was the roads. The more you build leads means the more and more roads you need and things become a cluster even as you spread out of your base. There is no option to delete unused roads or combine roads so there are just roads placed everywhere. Attempting to upgrade roads seemed to become even more random than building buildings as there were plenty of times I would assign upgrade and wait and check back and nothing was upgraded. Both of these issues could improve with the resource patch either through direct addressing or just improving resource gathering. These issues are really highlighted when one or two resources aren’t up to par with the others. As an avid sim player, I know with these games some of these issues can be user issues and not so much game issues, but there is definitely room for improvement. Tlön Industries has already shown they are taking feedback and listening to the Per Aspera community so I fully expect changes to come.

Outside of the building mechanics, the visuals and details of Mars may be the best part of Per Aspera, however, the heads-up display (HUD), user interface (UI), and just general menu information are by far the worst part of the game. I am very forgiving to this genre especially early on as I know these games are very complex with so many moving parts that there are always flaws and stuff that can be improved on. That said, the HUD and UI in Per Aspera is disappointing on many levels.

The HUD in general is too small and nonadjustable with notifications coming in super small in the very bottom tucked away in a corner. I actually didn’t see or notice them for the first hour or so of gameplay because of how small they are. Additionally, the HUD for the Workers doesn’t account for the “Landing Sites,” so when you have “5/5” Workers you are not actually full up, but one worker robot short. Now, this wouldn’t be such an issue if it weren’t for the fact that when you start adding in more landing sites to make more bases that your resources don’t split. This means all resources are thrown into a single total accounting for all bases, yet each base has its own set of resources available. Resources that are distributed already such as to a building being built are counted in the total as well. This leads to lots of confusion on whether your base has the available amount of resources and/or is efficient enough.

Plus, the HUD and the UI can become unreadable as you change through the different maps such as “Power Map.” The small HUD doesn’t do it any favors either. This is really apparent in attempting to change speeds with the speed buttons, which are also pretty small. But that’s not the worst of it. The HUD and menu screens seem to have the wrong information and makes it confusing. More specifically. all of the upgrades within the tech screen seem to give the wrong information. Along the same lines, AMI seems to give an update about the research that comes off as you finished it, but the research it is commenting on is never complete. The supply and demand screens don’t seem to be accurate or if they are then I just couldn’t figure them out. It would tell me I am producing a resource well over the demand only to see buildings needing said resource and not producing. 

All of these issues aren’t game-breaking, but for a game that relies on efficiency and a simulation game, in general, to be lacking so hard in those areas is very disappointing. I do wonder how much of the building issues could be resolved or understood if the HUD, UI, and menus weren’t so lacking in Per Aspera.

Overall, Per Aspera is a unique planetary simulation game that brings a narrative, exploration, and even combat to the genre. There is plenty to do with tons to build in Per Aspera as you get to experience terraforming and colonizing Mars that is based on real-life science. I really enjoyed this game and think there is plenty of potential for this game as it continues its life cycle and things are only going to get better. Tlön Industries have already shown that they aren’t finished working on this game so players should expect plenty to come down the road. I don’t want to be too harsh on this knowing there will be improvements. However, right now in its current state, there are some glaring issues that need to be addressed especially in the general layout of things. The core and concept of this game are fantastic and excited to see where it eventually ends up.        

Per Aspera is currently receiving multiple patches that may correct some of the issues mentioned in this review, you can find the first set of patch notes here.


Per Aspera
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Per Aspera is a unique planetary simulation game that brings a narrative, exploration, and even combat to the genre. There is plenty to do with tons to build in Per Aspera as you get to experience terraforming and colonizing Mars that is based on real-life science. I really enjoyed this game and think there is plenty of potential for this game as it continues its life cycle and things are only going to get better.