‘Surviving Mars’ Taught Me I Would Not Survive on Mars

Mars: It’s like Earth, except half the size, extremely cold, exposed to high doses of radiation, and bereft of breathable air. Although it is a frontrunner to be a second home for humanity, there’s no question that aspiring Martian settlers should gird themselves for a rough homesteading experience.

For those who want a taste of Martian frontierism without leaving their comfy Earth-based couches, there’s Surviving Mars, a city-building strategy game released on Thursday by Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive.

The goal is to build a thriving Martian colony, straight out of the daydreams of Mars-eyed visionaries like Elon Musk. You get a bunch of initial resources to construct your Marstown, from the basic robot-built infrastructure of drone hubs, wind turbines, and power cables, to flashy facilities made available once your city comes of age—Spacebars, lakes, and playgrounds. You also start out with a budget of around 30 billion, if you decide your colony will be an international effort, but you can represent a specific country, company, or even a weird group called the “Church of the New Ark,” which seems to be some type of space fertility cult.

Once you’ve selected a spot to land the first cargo supply rocket, it’s up to you to create a habitat with life support and sustainable resource extraction worthy of your colonists and their scientific aspirations.

There’s the rub. Though it’s nice to be flush with cash for interplanetary exploits, it’s challenging to actually do the work of laying out power cables, setting up materials supply routes, delegating work to robotic rovers and drones, and installing operational solar and wind power grids. Dust storms and radiation exposure wears down buildings, so you need multiple power fail-safes to keep the colony secure in the event that important hardware gets damaged.

You also have to deal with random meteorites that hurtle down from the sky, with no substantial atmosphere to stop them. Those impacts, if they hit critical infrastructure, can throw your fledgling community into disarray.

Read More: This Engineer Is Building a DIY Mars Habitat In His Backyard

That’s probably why Surviving Mars bills itself as a game of discovery “with minimal casualties.”

The fact that some of your colonists will succumb to unnatural deaths is presented as a given from the start, and those who survive have a fairly low quality of life, confined as they are within isolated little bubbles that lay exposed on a desolate wasteland.

This hardened, practical treatment of the red planet is infuriating at times—especially because I have a talent for accidentally building death traps—but it is also the best part about Surviving Mars.

Thousands of people yearn to leave the first footprints on Martian soil, and it would be unimaginably exciting were our species to pull off this feat. But if the Moon is a harsh mistress, then Mars is a diabolical jerk. For all its glorification in science fiction, it would be such a colossal pain in the ass to live there, and the game does not shy away from that.

As a result, Surviving Mars made me acutely aware that I do not have “the right stuff” to survive on Mars. The red planet is a lot fun to virtually explore and settle, but if and when the first real colonists leave for Mars, I’m staying on Earth—the greatest planet of all time.

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