Like any world-building game, Madruga Works’ Planetbase requires a strong eye for organization. You are given the tools to help you learn a little about managing your own planetary base, its power systems, and thepeople you will oversee, but other than that you're well and truly on your own.
Your colonists arrive on the planet with few resources. These include a few meals to fill their bellies; plenty of metal and bio plastic to build structures; some spare parts to repair the wear and tear on your energy creating devices; and a meagre amount of medical supplies for when a colonist falls and scrapes their knee.
These initial resources give you enough to make a fairly substantial base, but unfortunately it's not enough to create a living thriving colony. That means the only way to survive is to farm and mine raw materials that you can then refine into the metal and plastic resources needed to expand your base.
However, your colonists are fickle little guys. Each colonist has a speciality that determines what work they do on base. Workers move resources, builders create structures, medics heal, guards guard, and biologists science the crap out of your crops. It's all fairly logical.
These humans are pretty frail and also need to be kept happy. You can do this by creating habitations for your colonists, rooms where they can work out, build farming pods with trees, create a tavern, and ensure they’re eating a wide variety of food. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it is entertaining to build it and attempt to better yourself, trying to grow your base to something unbreakable.
The humans are really secondary to some other helpers. Along with your colonists, you also start with two robots. Carrier bots carry resources and building bots build stuff. These little guys are essential in ensuring your survival.
In order to sustain your colony you will require oxygen for your colonist to breathe. Creating oxygen is a tricky business that requires energy and water. There are two essential structures for generating electricity - Solar panels work only during the day, wind turbines work only if there’s wind, and a third option whereby you can save up your electricity for dire situations when not enough is created.
It’s probably in this power management gameplay you’ll find yourself confronted with the sizes of the buildings you can create. Using the mouse wheel, you can scroll through small, medium, and large versions of almost every structure. The question becomes, if I spend 4 metal to create a medium solar panel, should I cheap out and create only a small battery to store the power, opening up some intriguing decision-making.
This is where the game’s base and power management really come in handy, but also where players might start to get a little frustrated. As I mentioned above, colonists begin with a small number of resources and you eventually have to create your own. With a little planning and a lot of luck you’ll be able to survive this process, but attaining self-sufficiency is a little arduous. Once you realize you’ve made an error, you'll need to take steps to limit the damage caused by that failure. If the damage is irreversible and you lose your colony you take what you've learned from your failure and try again knowing that victory is a realer possibility.
There are several ways to build up your resources. One of those ways includes trading with ships that can use a landing pad to gain access to your base. However, when you trade with these ships everyone in the base will pitch in to move the resources to them. This wouldn’t be a problem if only the workers and worker robots did this, instead of everyone. In a few instances, biologists upped and left their posts to help out and temporarily left their crops to wither.
It also doesn’t help that these traders charge exorbitant prices for their wares, often including a 20 per cent surcharge on anything you want. That means a little bio plastic that usually costs 15 units will set you back about 18, which adds up over time. As far as I can tell there’s no way to lower their prices, so the best bet is to just build another landing pad to find a better trader.
The only way to create the resources you need is to build resource refining structures and objects. Engineers can use raw resources to create everything you need, but the process takes quite a long time. From the mine, for instance, workers receive the ore, trudge to the nearest airlock, drop it off in storage (sometimes), and another worker then puts it into the machine. The engineer then uses the machine for a good five minutes to create one metal unit - if they don’t stop to eat, sleep, drink, or exercise.
Of course, these problems are mitigated by having the ability to speed the game up to about four times normal speed; however, I’m not the kind of person to do this for fear that I’ll miss something and end up killing everyone. On the contrary, I am someone who likes to meticulously plan everything, so having a pause button would have come in handy.
Planetbase also provides you with the ability to make workers prioritize certain structures. For instance, if you need more components you can get them to focus on the factory structure. In the same building you can also create capacitors, so if you want those and no components you have to power down the machines. This powering down mechanic also plays a huge role in making sure you base doesn’t lose power when it’s night, or when power stores run low.
So why do you survive as the player? Well if you survive long enough and reach certain milestones you unlock new and even more barren planets on which you can survive. The first Mars-like planetoid has a number of environmental dangers to face, but the later planets (an ice planet and a moon) have even more going on. For example the ice planet is an outer planet with a Nitrogen atmosphere. The thickness of the atmosphere prevents much of the light from reaching the surface thus making solar panels ineffective. While the final “planet” has no atmosphere and a high chance for solar flare radiation as well as meteors. This creates a very challenging yet satisfying area to create a liveable base.
Survival no matter the planet is based on being prepared, knowing when to build structures, and knowing how to manage disasters like a meteor strike. Planetbase can feel a little overwhelming at times, but the developers provide a number of tools that can help you manage your people.
While Planetbase feels quite complex it can also feel quite constrained, but that’s part of the experience. Unable to build freely on the planet like we would here on Earth, you have to be aware of everything from power consumption to making sure your air locks are placed properly to maximize efficiency. Most of the time you’re constantly struggling to survive, but once you hit that sweet spot of having a working base with strong resource production, that's where Planetbase really gets going.