First released in the 1990s, The Settlers and Anno series were two of the original real time strategy game franchises. Despite both franchises being over 20 years old at this point, they are still going strong to this day. Both series look like the type of games that I love playing but I have to admit that I have never played a game in either franchise. Growing up I was more of a Blizzard fan as I really enjoyed games like Warcraft and StarCraft. I bring this all up because the game I am looking at today owes its inspiration to the earlier games in The Settlers and Anno series. The cute robots may make The Colonists look like a very simplistic game, but beneath the surface lies an in-depth strategy game that is a blast to play.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Codebyfire and Mode 7 for the review copy of The Colonists used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In The Colonists you play as a group of self-replicating robots which were originally designed to help gather resources for humans back on Earth. Instead of serving their human masters, the robots decided to rebel and set out on their own path. At the beginning of each level the robots land on a new planet and have to create a colony from scratch. The robots create a series of interconnected paths and buildings in order to gather various resources including food, lumber, stone, iron, and many other resources. The robots need to use these resources to build new buildings and research new technology in order to grow and advance their colony.
The first thing most people are going to notice as soon as they see the game are the cute robots. It is hard not to notice them as they reminded me a lot of Wall-E. The robots and the graphics in general are quite cute and really well done. With the cute art style though I was a little concerned that the gameplay was going to be simplified for children and more casual gamers, where it wouldn’t be much of a strategy game. While it might not have quite as much complexity as a strategy game made by a large studio (the game was designed by one person after all), don’t let the cute graphical style fool you. The Colonists has plenty of depth and is a good strategy game.
While I have never played The Settlers or Anno before; from my research of the earlier games in the series, The Colonists looks like it takes a lot of inspiration from those games. The game has a similar pathing system and the goal is still to acquire various resources. For those like me who played games like Warcraft or Starcraft, I would say that The Colonists plays like a game where you were solely focused on building up your base instead of fighting other players.
In The Colonists your main goal is resource management. The game basically revolves around acquiring resources and moving them around your colony. You need to build various buildings to acquire the resources and other buildings to refine and combine them with other resources. These resources are used to build additional buildings and perform research in order to advance your colony. While acquiring resources is the most important thing in the game, transporting them to their destination is just as important. This is accomplished by creating routes between your buildings. Each route consists of a set of road posts that are connected to one another. Between each set of road posts there is a robot stationed which is tasked with transporting goods to the next section of the route. You need to carefully design these routes as you want to create enough that there aren’t any bottlenecks in your colony.
I have to say that I have really enjoyed my time (around 10 hours) with The Colonists so far. When playing games like Warcraft and StarCraft I was always more of a fan of building a base rather than attacking. For this reason, The Colonists feels like a game that was specifically designed for players like me. While the game does have some combat (more on this next), the main emphasis of the game is gathering resources to expand and advance your colony. I find this surprisingly satisfying and anyone who shares this belief will probably really enjoy The Colonists. Several times I started playing the game and I was shocked when two to three hours passed in what felt like no time.
One thing I found to be really interesting about The Colonists is that after the two introductory levels, the game branches off into two different paths. One path focuses entirely on building a successful colony and reaching a certain achievement. The other path involves a more military approach as you have to try and destroy the other colonies on the planet. Of the two paths I prefer the peaceful path. I have always preferred the building aspects of these type of games rather than the military aspects. I just find it to be more satisfying trying to build something rather than tearing something down. I also have never really cared for micromanaging troops while attacking in RTS games. As I preferred the building aspect I spent most of my time with that aspect of the game.
I did spend a little time with the military aspect of the game though, so I wanted to quickly discuss the combat for those more interested in that aspect of the game. Unlike your traditional RTS, you don’t directly control any units in The Colonists. You basically build attack towers which will attack the other colonies. Your goal is to build towers and destroy the other colonies’ towers in order to take over their territory. Once you have built the towers, your impact on combat involves providing the towers with the necessary ammunition and resources needed for repairs. Basically you are controlling the supply side of the conflict where the main goal is to keep your towers stocked with ammunition. While this might not appeal to people that are interested in more traditional combat, I actually think it is an interesting way to approach combat. People who aren’t interested in micromanaging troops should like the combat as you can spend most of your time building your base instead of worrying about moving your troops around.
I enjoyed playing The Colonists but I had three issues with the game that cause some occasional issues.
Some people are going to love this, but I think The Colonists could have done a little more as far as a tutorial was concerned. The game basically teaches you the basics and then just leaves you to figure out the rest on your own. People who are fed up with games that waste a lot of time on tutorials will probably love this as they would rather just get right into playing the game than sitting through a tutorial. In principal I agree with these type of people as it can get a little annoying when a game holds your hand throughout the entire game. I think The Colonists could have given a little more guidance earlier in the game though. Unless you have played a lot of games similar to The Colonists before, you are going to have some growing pains as you have to learn as you go. This is going to lead to some mistakes which manifest as serious bottlenecks. Eventually you will figure out what you should be doing, but I think the game could have made the process a little smoother with a tutorial that was a little more in depth.
The second problem that I had with The Colonists could be related to the lack of a tutorial. Maybe I was just approaching the game the wrong way at first, but bottlenecks regularly developed on my paths. This can become a serious problem since if you have trouble moving goods your colony is going to grind to a halt. Part of this problem can be resolved by learning from past mistakes and designing your colony better. For example in high traffic areas you are going to want to build short paths and wherever possible create multiple paths. This usually does a good job limiting the bottlenecks but it doesn’t fix the problem entirely.
The rest of the issue I attribute to your robots not always making the best choices. At times the robots seem to choose strange paths to their destinations. You could have a direct path between two buildings that you think the robots should use. Instead they decide to use a path that enters a congested part of your colony. In addition the robots sometimes make strange choices over which material to bring to a building. When choosing which good to bring to a building, you would hope that they would take the one closest to the target building. They sometimes take one that is quite far from the destination though. I even observed robots occasionally taking a good from a building to a storeroom, only to immediately pick it up again and bring it to another building. Instead of taking it to the storeroom, I don’t know why the robot couldn’t have immediately taken it to the target building. These normally wouldn’t be that big of problem but they contribute to the bottleneck problem from time to time.
The final problem that I had with The Colonists is that the levels can somewhat drag from time to time. The levels in The Colonists are not short. Expect to spend at least an hour on each level with most levels taking two or more hours. This length can be attributed to a couple things. First you start each level at square one. The beginning of each level is basically redoing what you did in the previous level in a different environment. Once you reach your previous level you add on another level of technology, buildings and resources. Adding to this is the fact that there are natural slow points in the game. Most of the levels are designed in a way where you only have a limited amount of a particular resource early in the game. This gets remedied later in the level where you usually can find an unlimited source for each resource. There will be times in the game though where you just have to wait until you acquire enough resources to proceed to the next step. Turning on the fast forward helps somewhat but there still will be times where you just have to sit back and wait.
As far as how much time you can get out of The Colonists, it is going to depend on what type of player you are. The game includes a total of ten levels which consist of two tutorial/introductory levels and four levels in both the peace and conflict routes. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a sandbox mode unless it unlocks after completing all of the levels. This is a little disappointing as I think a sandbox mode would have been a really good addition to the game. Even though there are only ten levels in the game, you can still get quite a bit of time out of the game. As I mentioned earlier, unless you are really efficient most levels will take you around two hours to complete. Each level also has various benchmark times which might encourage you to repeat a level in order to try and beat one of the better times. You should get plenty of time out of the game just by playing the ten levels but you can get even more time if you choose to replay the levels.
Even though I had never played any games in The Settlers or Anno series, I really enjoyed The Colonists. Most people will probably initially notice the cute graphics style and think that there isn’t much else to the game. While the robots are quite cute, there is actually a lot hiding beneath the game’s surface. Most real time strategy games focus on gathering resources in order to creates troops to defeat an enemy. While there is a combat element in The Colonists, the main focus of the game is gathering and managing resources in order to expand your colony. As I have always preferred base building over combat, I really enjoyed playing The Colonists. Figuring out how to build the most efficient design for your colony is a compelling gameplay experience. I really only had three complaints about the game. I kind of wish the game had a slightly longer tutorial as the game does rely on you learning quite a few of the mechanics through trial and error. At times I think the robots make some curious decisions of how to move resources around your colony. Finally there are some slow points in each level where you have to wait around while you acquire the necessary resources.
The Colonists is not going to be for everyone but I think a lot of people will really enjoy the game. If you have never liked RTS/strategy games or never really cared for resource gathering, The Colonists is not going to be for you. People who enjoy city/base building though should really enjoy their time with The Colonists. If this describes you I would recommend that you pick up The Colonists.