Aquatico review: a soothing underwater city builder that neglects the dangers of the deep

There’s nothing just like the ocean relating to perilous magnificence. Each breathtaking factor down there, from jellyfish to massive 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 useless. In any case, 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 almost untapped environ (almost untapped, I’ll get into that later) however whereas this sport delivers on the ocean’s magnificence, it’s disappointingly gentle on peril.

The sport 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 varied infrastructure you might want to construct to offer energy, oxygen, and different necessities to your tiny staff of scientists on the ocean flooring. So as to succeed as sea-mayor, you’re instructed, you have to battle the weather, discover the ocean flooring on daring expeditions, and introduce new insurance policies to maintain your metropolis completely satisfied, productive, and respiratory. Nonetheless, the truth of deep-sea residing 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. To ensure that a metropolis builder to reel me in, it must do two issues: problem me and make me care. Frostpunk is the apparent instance of a city-builder sport that does each of these items proper. Each time you place a brand new constructing, ship out a scouting occasion, or faucet a brand new useful resource, it’s a make-or-break resolution 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 which 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 sport’s interlocking manufacturing chains supplies a lovely puzzle, however as soon as I arrange primary gas and meals provide methods, all sense of risk from the surroundings evaporated, leaving little cause to progress apart from the truth that, properly, I suppose I’m presupposed to as a result of I’m enjoying a sport.

Simply to see the place the road was, I really put this to the check: I used to be capable of sit on my fins doing completely nothing for a whole in-game yr–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 sport 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 method to neglect them.

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

A lot 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 suddenly and the power to open a number of home windows solely multiples the potential for overwhelm. Then again, some primary stats – like a easy meals produced/consumed calculation – aren’t accessible, leaving gamers to do the mathematics themselves. It’s useable, however typically supplies an excessive amount of data with out providing the data you’re really in search of. The expedition course of is equally finicky however useful and may internet 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.

Thankfully, Aquatico comes geared up with a built-in stress-relief system: a pristine ocean teeming with maritime life. Whereas your base expands alongside the ocean flooring, including plastic manufacturing crops, sea cucumber farms, and air-filled domes full of tiny houses, the seaweed sways and faculties of manta rays flit by, seemingly unaffected by the introduction of unmitigated fossil gas extraction to their surroundings. These are some chill vibes. It’s like an aquarium screensaver on steroids. I couldn’t start to inform you if Aquatico has a full soundtrack or is simply enjoying the identical zen-yet-optimistic tune on loop, however it’s a very good time.

Watching majestic sea life swim by your metropolis turns into a foremost cross 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 sport 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 manner less complicated manufacturing system. It’s an all-around “worse” sport 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 manner decrease again then and a couple of) its marketing campaign missions gave gamers one thing to do.

Aquatico doesn’t. Regardless of beginning you out with simply 4 employees, the participant’s relationship along with your metropolis’s residents isn’t private sufficient to help the do-it-yourself storytelling of a sport like RimWorld. If something, the small scale of your metropolis’s inhabitants form of undermines Aquatico’s solely narrative assertion–a dome housing a dozen or so unemployed folks 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 fallacious, I’m completely up for taking part in Deep Sea Bunker Simulator, however having gamers assemble higher-density housing like flats or suburb blocks as a substitute of particular person bubble houses 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.

With out 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’s 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 okay throughout your first play-through if 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 possibly can select from, however all that basically gives is the chance to comply with the identical actual know-how development in a barely completely different location.

“Probably the most fascinating side of Aquatico by far is the extent to which your metropolis depends on automation”

There are some intriguing glimmers within the deep darkish, nevertheless – the glow of an anglerfish’s lure, maybe? Probably the most fascinating side of Aquatico by far is the extent to which your metropolis depends on automation. Nearly every little thing besides a handful of extra “artisanal” duties like tailoring, doctoring, and, for some cause, shark preventing, is completed by drones.

Whereas many useful resource administration video games embody automation as an unlockable perk that may release a few of your beleaguered human employees, in Aquatico the true wrestle is discovering one thing–something!–on your people to do. Within the early sport, 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 along with your “each day duties,” however you barely have any as a result of professions, like every little thing else, are buried deep within the analysis tree behind seemingly unrelated stipulations.

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

A number of years into the sport, lower than half of my inhabitants is even employed. Now, there’s not essentially something fallacious with that on a conceptual stage. It’s thrilling to think about a solarpunk – or on this case, wavepunk – society wherein automation has been successfully harnessed to free people from uninteresting and harmful duties whereas offering the essential assets essential to help inventive, fulfilling lives in thriving communities.

It isn’t actually potential to understand that imaginative and prescient in Aquatico, although. All I wish to do is construct my pixel folks 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 completely satisfied pacing round a barren metallic dome?

Possibly Aquatico is extra satisfying on increased problem ranges and perhaps campaigns might 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 evaluate the sport in entrance of me: it’s fairly however lifeless.