Ever since its original release in March 2018, Surviving Mars has quietly been refining and improving the simulation game in virtually every way possible. With the release of their first full DLC, Space Race, and a chance to return to the Red Planet, it is clear that Haemimont Games have taken the feedback on board and fully fleshed out their game.
So now that the game feels better from all the fine tuning, does this new DLC add much in the way of gameplay?
The Space Race DLC adds a competitive element to Surviving Mars on Xbox One by taking its inspiration from the Cold War-era and the “Space Race” itself between the US and USSR. At the start of a new game, you can select up to four rivals to compete against as you race against time and each other to populate Mars. The same milestones you strive towards in the regular game are now open to all, and the first to complete them takes the spoils. Once completed by any nation though, they are locked out for good and any reward is gone.
But these rivals also appreciate it can be tough out there and are willing to lend a hand. Your relationship with each gradually increases over time without any interaction, but you can also offer resources or set up trading routes to increase your standing. Conversely, you can request resources which lowers your standings, or go for the jugular and simply insult them. You can also conduct Covert Ops on your rivals and gain additional info on their performance; providing you don’t get caught, these can be hugely beneficial. Get caught though, and you can all but kiss goodbye to any sort of relationship with that rival.
It isn’t always beneficial to compete against them, as these rivals are your closest port of call when major issues arise. They can answer your distress calls and vice-versa, so maybe using the insult option may not be useful in the long term.
However, you shouldn’t expect to hear much from them in the early stages. They are far too busy building up their resources and domes for colonisation to be sending petty insults your way. In this sense, it’s a shame that this Space Race content requires starting an entirely new campaign, because you need to spend a good few hours before you start to see any difference from it.
Rivalry isn’t the only addition with this DLC: Each sponsor you choose at the beginning of a new game now come with unique goals and rewards for completing them. Many of these you will likely be working towards without going out of your way to complete, but the reward for finalising them is most welcome. Surviving Mars always was a tricky game and adding this competitive element to it adds another layer of difficulty and management skills.
There are also two new sponsors to choose from in the form of Japan and Brazil. Japan are a harder option by offering far fewer starting applicants to choose from when you are ready to colonise Mars – a feat in itself sometimes in the game – but Brazil have much more funding and are more generous when buying the rare metals that you dig up.
Away from this DLC and it is worth mentioning that the base game has come on leaps and bounds since its original release, with so many improvements and new features added. The controls feel easier to understand, there is now a proper tutorial mode and you also feel like you are always working towards some kind of goal – whether it be short or long term – with the new additions, even in the first two hours. Basically, every concern I had in my review of the base game has been fixed.
But the team have also added a whole lot more above and beyond these smaller fixes, in the form of other ways to play the game. Creative mode removes the shackles of a budget, building maintenance and death of colonists to allow a much more relaxing experience. Challenge mode is the complete opposite, doubling down on those shackles for a true test. There are also smaller additions including new music, mysteries and buildings for colonists; it truly is now one of the best simulation games on the Xbox One. Yes, some of these additions are paid for, but many have been included for free.
The new Surviving Mars – Space Race expansion also brings with it 10 achievements worth 250G. All are tied to achieving certain things with the various sponsors, much like a bulk of the achievements were in the main achievement list. None are really linked into any interaction with your rivals in the Space Race though, and this feels like a missed opportunity.
Surviving Mars – Space Race is a small piece of DLC relatively speaking, in the sense that it is an added feature. As such, I feel the price tag of £10.39 is a bit on the expensive side. What it adds is certainly a substantial new gameplay feature, but for the most part it is much the same as the game you would play beforehand, only needing to act upon actions directly from rivals every so often. Of course, you can put more time into it and experiment within, but your interactions with your rivals are limited and, more often than not, something far more pressing will require your attention and detract you from the Space Race.
That said, what is there is a great new addition to a game receiving valuable new additions all the time. If you’ve been longing for a competitive edge to things in Surviving Mars, then this should salivate you for now – if for no other reason than to go around insulting various rivals and watching your social standings improve with others, like some satirical socio-political commentary on the real world today.
Or you could, you know, work together in Surviving Mars. Guess which option I chose?