Surviving Mars Review: Surviving your own mistakes


Re-rolling for water.

Surviving Mars is just that, a city-building simulator set on Mars that tasks you to simply survive. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Developed by Tropico’s Haemimont Games, your mission is as easy or as difficult as you’d like it to be. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the name of your starting rocket, the materials from Earth that you load upon it, and the actual place it will land on Mars. As you deliberate over the smallest decision – an extra set of drones or perhaps a couple orbital probes – your difficulty reward percentage increases or decreases. Things start out quite tense, and they remain at that level all throughout.

It’s for that reason that I opted for the easiest launches possible.

Micromanagement and luck really are the keys to Surviving Mars. If I couldn’t find an underground water source when I was picking my landing spot, I immediately rerolled. While you have limited funds to request additional rockets to supply your fledging colony with concrete, polymers and other building materials, water truly is a finite resource. While prefabricated buildings, like one that extracts moisture from the atmosphere, can help to stave off your extinction, they’re usually stop-gap measures at best.

I know this because I’ve failed. Numerous times. After meaning to spend an hour trying out the game, and emerging from my man cave eight hours later, I must have restarted said expedition at least twenty times. Some of this was because of bad rolls, but most of the time, I simply didn’t know what I was doing and then truly cocked things up. While I enjoyed every single minute of Surviving Mars, it’s in dire need of a proper tutorial that explains the basics, or at least properly explains console controls. Power and life support infrastructures are so very vital to the game, and I spent a long time struggling to figure out how to build and maintain proper networks.

A tutorial would have also highlighted just how organised you need to be. At the halfway point of my marathon of play, I had my network planned to precision, only to slowly realise that I didn’t have enough drones (or the vehicles or bases that powered them) to actually support it. I looked on in despair as my space town shut down, building by building. I had stretched my resources too thin, relying on transport vehicles to ferry replacement parts to drone vehicles that had to put things in place. As I repaired items in the east, things collapsed in the west. It was an endless cycle of disappointment from both myself and the colonists (who were, by this point, reproducing like rabbits) who suddenly had no power, water or food.

Still, having to truly fend for yourself parallels the struggle of your in-game explorers, so I’m prepared to give Haemimont a small pass on that one. Little by little, I figured systems out, realising what I needed to build, extract, research and prepare before I even dreamed of building an actual dome and internal structures that would actually house proper colonists. I enjoyed the challenge Surviving Mars presented — after I’d risen to meet it, that is.

I also struggled to wrap my head around some of the Xbox One’s control schemes. While most point-and-click functions are straightforward, I still find that I can’t select a unit and access subcommands via the RT button as described. Well, not consistently, anyway; most of the time, I manage to bring up submenus by button-mashing and hoping for the best.

I think players that are preparing to drop hours and hours into this game should invest in the PC version rather than Xbox One or PS4. I’d imagine a mouse and keyboard control scheme would also make it easier to zip around your colony to check on day-to-day (or minute-to-minute) tasks.

But invest minutes, hours and days in Surviving Mars you should. In addition to offering up a rewarding and enjoyable sci-fi city-building experience, Surviving Mars is rife with detail. Dramatic day and night lighting effects are well designed and breathtaking, and a ridiculous level of zoom shows crazy details when you’ve finally built your first in-dome spacebar or, better yet, a space elevator. When you think you’ve seen and done it all, a new path on your randomly-generated research tree offers up a new possibility or opportunity.

Surviving Mars will easily offer hours upon hours of city-building gameplay for those interested in the genre and, like me, those who really aren’t but love a bit of sci-fi. It comes highly recommended.


# out of 10

The good

  • A complex and engaging sci-fi city-building simulator.
  • Fantastic attention to detail.

The bad

  • Hardly any coherent tutorials.
  • Console controls can be fiddly.


Surviving Mars was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by Microsoft via the ID@Xbox program. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.