Aquatico evaluation: a soothing underwater metropolis builder that neglects the hazards of the deep

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There’s nothing just like the ocean on the subject of perilous magnificence. Every breathtaking factor down there, from jellyfish to large squids to killer whales, both desires to kill you (see killer whales) or is so frigidly detached to human existence that it’d as properly need you lifeless. After all, you would possibly have the ability to scare off a predator, however there’s no negotiating with an ocean present.

Aquatico guarantees city-building lovers a deep dive into this practically untapped environ (practically untapped, I’ll get into that later) however whereas this game delivers on the ocean’s magnificence, it’s disappointingly gentle on peril.

The game begins with a fast splash of post-apocalyptic narrative – life on the floor was superior till it took an enormous meteor to the face – earlier than plunging gamers right into a complete tutorial concerning the numerous infrastructure it’s worthwhile to construct to offer energy, oxygen, and different necessities to your tiny crew of scientists on the ocean ground. In order to succeed as sea-mayor, you’re informed, you need to battle the weather, discover the ocean ground on daring expeditions, and introduce new insurance policies to maintain your metropolis glad, productive, and respiration. However, the fact of deep-sea dwelling is much less ‘swimming in opposition to an unforgiving tide’ and extra ‘lukewarm tub.’

It’s the “survival” a part of “survival metropolis builder” the place Aquatico flounders. In order for a metropolis builder to reel me in, it must do two issues: problem me and make me care. Frostpunk is the plain instance of a city-builder game that does each of these items proper. Every time you place a brand new constructing, ship out a scouting celebration, or faucet a brand new useful resource, it’s a make-or-break choice that has the potential to plunge your metropolis into frozen darkness and the distinctive narrative stakes launched in every marketing campaign imbue every selection with further weight and that means.

An Aquatico screenshot showing two futuristic-looking sub-sea buildings being constructed.

The model of Aquatico I had entry to solely has one problem mode: regular. Managing the game’s interlocking manufacturing chains supplies a delightful puzzle, however as soon as I arrange primary gasoline and meals provide techniques, all sense of risk from the setting evaporated, leaving little motive to progress apart from the truth that, properly, I assume I’m alleged to as a result of I’m taking part in a game.

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Just to see the place the road was, I really put this to the check: I used to be in a position to sit on my fins doing completely nothing for a whole in-game 12 months–together with willfully denying my inhabitants entry to a clinic regardless of quite a few alerts gently suggesting I present them healthcare–with none penalties in any respect. A survival game ought to undoubtedly punish you for that, however, regardless of happiness being introduced as a key metric for a metropolis’s success in Aquatico, my employees’ satisfaction ranges by no means dipped under 99/100 regardless of how far I went out of my solution to neglect them.

“Fortunately, Aquatico comes geared up with a built-in stress-relief system: a pristine ocean teeming with maritime life”

Much of the UI for displaying these ranges alongside assets, job assignments, and different data is paying homage to Banished, in that it may do with some streamlining. Stats on each single useful resource, job position, and constructing you would possibly ultimately have entry to are introduced and the flexibility to open a number of home windows solely multiples the potential for overwhelm. On the opposite hand, some primary stats – like a easy meals produced/consumed calculation – aren’t out there, leaving gamers to do the mathematics themselves. It’s useable, however usually supplies an excessive amount of data with out providing the information you’re really on the lookout for. The expedition course of is equally finicky however practical and may web you some cool assets like cider and uranium, although I by no means bought round to utilizing them.

An Aquatico screenshot of interconnected underwater pipes providing energy to surrounding buildings.

An Aquatico screenshot showing two killer whales swimming past an underwater city

An Aquatico screenshot showing an underwater kelp farm.

Fortunately, Aquatico comes geared up with a built-in stress-relief system: a pristine ocean teeming with maritime life. While your base expands alongside the ocean ground, including plastic manufacturing crops, sea cucumber farms, and air-filled domes full of tiny properties, the seaweed sways and colleges of manta rays flit by, seemingly unaffected by the introduction of unmitigated fossil gasoline extraction to their setting. Those are some chill vibes. It’s like an aquarium screensaver on steroids. I couldn’t start to let you know if Aquatico has a full soundtrack or is simply taking part in the identical zen-yet-optimistic tune on loop, however it’s a superb time.

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Watching majestic sea life swim by your metropolis turns into a primary move time purely as a result of Aquatico additionally has no campaigns, however it undoubtedly wants them – and I do know this as a result of I’ve performed this game earlier than: It’s known as Deep Sea Tycoon. DST, launched within the early 2000s, is principally Aquatico with chunkier neon graphics, grating music, and a method easier manufacturing system. It’s an all-around “worse” game however I poured far more hours into it as a child than I ever will Aquatico as a result of 1) my requirements had been clearly method decrease again then and a pair of) its marketing campaign missions gave gamers one thing to do.

Aquatico doesn’t. Despite beginning you out with simply 4 employees, the participant’s relationship together with your metropolis’s residents isn’t private sufficient to assist the do-it-yourself storytelling of a game like RimWorld. If something, the small scale of your metropolis’s inhabitants kind of undermines Aquatico’s solely narrative assertion–a dome housing a dozen or so unemployed individuals over a interval of years isn’t actually a metropolis, it’s extra of an extremely resource-intensive deep sea bunker for a handful of idle elites. Don’t get me unsuitable, I’m completely up for enjoying Deep Sea Bunker Simulator, however having gamers assemble higher-density housing like flats or suburb blocks as an alternative of particular person bubble properties would possibly assist create the sense of scale essential to really feel such as you’re sea-mayor of a metropolis and never only a culdesac.

An Aquatico screenshot showing a white whale swing past an underwater city.

Without narrative restraints on which assets can be found or what objectives your metropolis ought to pursue (say, ecology versus mineral extraction versus discovering some deep sea thriller), there may be solely ever a single appropriate reply to the query of “what ought to I do subsequent?” That reply is “unlock regardless of the subsequent department on the analysis tree is and construct that factor”–which is ok throughout your first play-through while you’re seeing all of the applied sciences and their related buildings with recent eyes, however doesn’t present a lot replay worth. There are a number of maps you may select from, however all that basically provides is the chance to observe the identical precise know-how development in a barely completely different location.

“The most attention-grabbing facet of Aquatico by far is the extent to which your metropolis depends on automation”

There are some intriguing glimmers within the deep darkish, nonetheless – the glow of an anglerfish’s lure, maybe? The most attention-grabbing facet of Aquatico by far is the extent to which your metropolis depends on automation. Almost the whole lot besides a handful of extra “artisanal” duties like tailoring, doctoring, and, for some motive, shark preventing, is completed by drones.

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While many useful resource administration games embody automation as an unlockable perk that may unencumber a few of your beleaguered human employees, in Aquatico the true battle is discovering one thing–something!–to your people to do. In the early game, drones haul your assets, harvest meals, and function your factories whereas your human employees stand idle, 100% happy simply staring out into the ocean from inside their reverse-fish bowl. HQ continues sending new recruits to help together with your “day by day duties,” however you barely have any as a result of professions, like the whole lot else, are buried deep within the analysis tree behind seemingly unrelated conditions.

An underwater sea base with a glass ceiling and machinery inside.

Several years into the game, lower than half of my inhabitants is even employed. Now, there’s not essentially something unsuitable with that on a conceptual stage. It’s thrilling to think about a solarpunk – or on this case, wavepunk – society during which automation has been successfully harnessed to free people from boring and harmful duties whereas offering the fundamental assets essential to assist artistic, fulfilling lives in thriving communities.

It isn’t actually potential to appreciate that imaginative and prescient in Aquatico, although. All I wish to do is construct my pixel individuals an countless backyard of lush prosperity filled with canines and sushi, however is paradise actually value something in the event that they’re simply as glad pacing round a barren metallic dome?

Maybe Aquatico is extra satisfying on increased problem ranges and perhaps campaigns will likely be launched in future updates (although I haven’t discovered something from the builders indicating that’s the case). All I can do, although, is evaluation the game in entrance of me: it’s fairly however lifeless.

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