Indie games have become kind of a microcosm of the industry that they sought to bypass. They’re big business now, and entire other industries have been built around allowing small studios or even individual creators to create the games they have living in their imaginations without going through all of the trouble to create everything by hand.
One of the primary engines small creators turn to for its ease of use and scalability is the Unity Game Engine. Unity makes it easy to create, import, and even share your creations for use or remixing in other projects. One such project is the subject of this review: Colony Simulator.
Colony Simulator is a Unity Game Engine Template designed to be a base for other creators’ games but actually serves pretty adequately as a game of its own. It was developed and published on Steam by a developer named Indie Marc and acts as a city builder, or its very namesake, a colony simulator.
Let’s get something out of the way right at the top: Colony Simulator isn’t very visually impressive. It appears like it might be using all stock textures and models, and I wouldn’t describe the animations in it as robust or even smooth. It is, however, pretty feature-packed.
The “game” opens with an HQ building and three colonists, which allows you to hit the ground running. You need to manage your colonists’ hunger, sleep, and happiness as you put them to work collecting materials, refining, cooking, and defending your budding colony. You can individually select colonists to give them a task or make them eat or sleep, but you can batch-select several or all of your colonists to assign group tasks. I found myself trying to batch-select to feed my colonists, but that doesn’t seem to work. I ended up selecting each one individually and clicking the eat button rapid-fire until they were full, which was kind of tedious.
After you complete the first objectives the game sets out for you, you’re free to proceed however you wish. There are things to build, tech to research, and creatures to defend your colony from. I realized too late that tech research is probably the best way to spend time and resources, as it opens more windows for you in terms of building projects and upgrading your colonists considerably with pretty minimal resources.
Building new things and advancing your colony will draw the attention of aggressive creatures (which appear to be some kind of lizard monster and a skeleton) and cause them to attack you in groups. The first time I was under attack I was caught off-guard and lost three of my four colonists. I thought I would have to restart the game, but more colonists just showed up. There doesn’t seem to be a penalty for losing colonists other than the immense sense of guilt you feel as the person who is supposed to be in charge of them, but I digress.
Aside from the finicky feeding controls, the game works and plays without issue. Panning over the sizable map with WASD and zooming in/out with the scroll wheel is intuitive, and directing colonists to do what you need is as simple as it should be.
The aim of the game from what I can tell is to survive increasingly destructive raids on your colony while also growing and spreading throughout the map to gain access to other resources. All you have for food in the beginning area is wheat which can be made into bread if you build a kitchen, but there are also deer and other animals that exist beyond those bounds. If you create a second base and send some colonists there, you can even dedicate them to hunting and then transporting that meat back to feed the rest of the group.
But that’s not likely to be a realistic goal for you for a while, as the majority of the opening will be spent figuring out the best way to balance resource gathering while upgrading and constructing. However, things pick up pace pretty quickly. Once you do the research required to unlock axes, wood becomes much easier to collect, and you can even upgrade past that to wield chainsaws and cut down trees in a flash. Similar upgrades exist for other aspects of the experience, which creates a pretty satisfying upgrade curve as you make progress. It’s one of those games where starting from the beginning again feels like a chore once you’ve fully upgraded and unlocked everything, and the balancing is masterful.
I did feel like the raids got too intense too quickly, but that’s just part of the challenge and the game isn’t really meant to be an extended experience. Everything else about the game works well, and I feel like Indie Marc could probably flesh this out into its own, bigger experience with better assets if he ever had the desire to. I know I would be willing to check it out. Just…. Please use better textures and models. The ones in the game are hilarious.
For a proof of concept and a template for bigger and better things, Colony Simulator is actually quite impressive. The game’s Steam page has a disclaimer that it is just a preview of an asset for the Unity Game Engine, but I had plenty of fun playing it on its own. It’s not going to win any awards or stack up to other city building/management games, but it has a charm that is pretty much undeniable if you give it a chance. The presentation and visuals are understandably off-putting, and it isn’t even designed to be a full package. There’s not even a way to exit the game from the pause menu, I had to shut the game down from the task manager, which was a strange and unusual thing to have to do for something I downloaded from Steam.
All of that being said, if you intend to use Colony Simulator for its intended purpose, as a base for your own game, there are certainly worse things you could use.