by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
I tend not to read too much about the content I am reviewing beforehand and for Surviving Mars’ first expansion, Space Race, I went in unprejudiced. I loaded it up, began a new colony on the red planet, but found very little had changed, with the exception of a couple of new mission sponsors. That did not seem right, was I missing something?
I looked up what the new content actually entailed. I’d assumed that it was an expansion that added a competitive element to the game, and I was right — with the addition of rival colonies, players now have the option to trade, communicate, or run tactical operations against rivals, stealing resources, or poaching extremely skilled colonists over to their side. There are also now anomalies dotted around the planet, which can be investigated for profit, by sending a spare rocket to have a look-see. There are also new narrative events that will impact player colonies. Much of it is pretty shallow though.
Surviving Mars: Space Race is, on paper at least, an expansion that is based around adding a competitive element to the game, creating a rivalry and a fight for resources. But there is no actual fight. Instead, the primary competitive element in Space Race is ‘racing’ to unlock milestones, but that’s sadly where it ends. You can’t see other colonies, and the escalation this expansion introduces doesn’t allow for the destruction or annexation of those other colonies, ergo, a victory isn’t something that’s even possible in this ‘race’.
The other colonies do their own thing, and you do yours — you might occasionally trade, but you don’t clash directly over resources or space. Even the covert operations are a bit of a downer. It takes a rocket and an entire security team to undertake a single covert operation which means your actual interaction with them won’t occur properly till a bit later in-game. Even then, that interaction is limited to a rocket taking off and returning.
All of the colonies are located at other sites across the planet and the only way you can communicate with them is through a query and response text system — but I’m not even talking Stellaris or Endless Space quality here, literally a couple of pictures and some text is the entire interface for all other colonies.
The expansion does not fare much better when it comes to its new sponsors — Brazil and Japan — either. They come with unique traits and some extremely powerful buildings. Brazil for example has an automated rare metals building, which basically enables players to use waste rocks to create rare metals, effectively allowing them to turn a profit right from the outset of the game. Japan on the other hand has an automated metals extractor. Both of these buildings are extremely powerful and kind of compromise the early game difficulty of Surviving Mars, that you need colonists to do the mining work.
NO RACE, NO GLORY
When I initially heard about this expansion, I had assumed that a chosen number of rival colonies would share your map, adding an almost RTS element to the game, in which you would directly compete for resources and anomalies, and maybe even carry out actual operations against the rival colonies. None of this can be found in the game and I found this incredibly disappointing. I’d been hoping to visit these other colonies and see their progression, physically interacting with them on the map. While the interactions you can undertake are fairly varied, including trade, insults, sabotage, it is still a fairly basic diplomacy system that would be a part of your usual 4x title anyway, and a primitive one at that.
This expansion does add another layer to the game, a diplomacy system, but that could have been in the game since the start — is that alone really worth almost ten pounds? Sure, it also adds some new unique buildings for existing sponsors, but I would argue that they should just be FreeLC considering it’s only bringing them in line with the two newest sponsors. I love Surviving Mars, one of my favourite management games this year, but while this expansion adds lots of little things, it doesn’t add anything significantly new, or even successfully realize the ‘race’ it titles itself for — I’m sad to say, it feels like a pricey update.
New narrative events, new sponsors
No actual interaction with anomalies or rival colonies, boring diplomacy system, what are we racing for?