The Colonists

The Colonists is a game in which you land a rocketship on a startlingly Earthlike planet, then start 3D printing robots to build a colony. I think it would be fair to categorize this in the city-builder genre — or the village-management sim genre, to be a little more specific. And it’s incredibly addictive.

Obviously, this was designed to be played on PC. In fact, it came out way back in 2018 as a PC-only release. However, here in 2021, The Colonists is finally out on consoles, and I’ve been playing it on the PlayStation 4 (I was given an early copy for the sake of this article, which isn’t exactly a review, I suppose).

When any management-style game makes the leap from PC to consoles, the gaming community collectively holds its breath, hoping for the best but planning for the worst. Well, we can all breathe easier now, because The Colonists made the transition to consoles pretty well.

A lot of the heavy lifting here is done via a build wheel, which you bring up by holding R2. Then you just rotate your left thumbstick to the option that you want and you’re good as gravy. Well, it’s not exactly that simple, as this usually presents you with a secondary wheel to fine-tune your selection. Still, the build wheel feels pretty intuitive by the time you’ve made it through the game’s brief tutorial, and it’s certainly more elegant on a console interface than a dropdown-style menu would have been.

The Colonists - Build Wheel

Of course, the bulk of your playtime will be spent navigating a circular cursor around the map like a big, blue flying saucer. Sure, I’m making that sound a bit more grandiose than it actually is — it’s just a dang cursor!

Anyway, you’ll mostly be swooping this around, pressing X to interact with various construction projects, and pressing left and right on the D-pad to slow things down and speed things up respectively. All of this feels great, and it shouldn’t pose any problems for anyone with experience using the DualShock 4 controller. Most players will feel out the basics very quickly, I think.

The Colonists

Buildings snap to a grid, which makes it pretty easy to plop down something wherever you want it to go. However, if you’re zoomed out just a little too far, buildings often move two grid sections at a time instead of one, so sometimes you feel like the building will snap anywhere except for the spot you want it to go. You can pause the game while building, so this won’t cause you any serious problems, but it can be a little annoying when that Sawmill just won’t snap into place.

What’s more annoying is how roads work. You plunk down a post, and then you can connect that to another post via a road. Road sections can only be between four and six tiles in length, so if you want a longer road, you’ll need to run several segments end-to-end. If you want to build a crossroads, it has to spoke outward from one of those posts — you can’t add an intersection to a piece of road without a post.

The reasoning behind this post-to-post road system is that you’re building a supply chain — your carrybots use these posts as stops along their trade routes. A carrybot will only travel between two posts, so you’ll see resources moving down the road, handed over from one carrybot to another in a long, long line. (I haven’t played the PC version, but I watched some gameplay videos, and as far as I can tell the road system works the same way on PC.)

The Colonists - Carrybots

Honestly, it’s pretty fun to watch — it’s a little bit like gazing at a cross-section of an ant colony — but even so, I wish the road system were a little bit less cumbersome. Even late in the game, after dozens of hours of gameplay, I still found myself having to bulldoze and rebuild roads more often than I’d like simply because the math didn’t work out, or because a post needed to be moved to accommodate an intersection.

Visually, the game has a simplified, sort-of-cartoony look that works pretty well here. There aren’t a lot of detailed textures or anything like that, but there’s a deliberately minimalistic style that brings it all together. It’s charming to look at, and it’s hard to hold back a smile when you see those adorable little robots working so hard.

That said, the game can chug a bit on PS4. When you zoom out and zoom back in, you’ll notice pieces of scenery will disappear and reappear. Or if you observe, say, a crate of paper rolls, you’ll notice that at some point the rounded edges become square. Obviously, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but I can only imagine that a high-end PC handles all of this with a bit more finesse.

The Colonists

If you were to twist my arm and force me to say the very worst thing about playing The Colonists on PS4, I’d mention that the game freezes whenever it autosaves. There’s no warning beforehand, so it can be a little jarring. As many times as I’ve experienced this in my 30+ hours of game time, I never got used to it. Every single time this happened, I thought that the game was crashing for a split second until I noticed the “Auto-saving game” text on the screen.

I should point out that never in my entire play time did the game actually crash, though I did encounter a few bugs. At one point, one of my ships refused to dock until I manually deleted it. Then, when the next ship pulled up to the port, the deleted ship reappeared and blocked the port again, forcing me to delete it a second time. A few times, my Watchtowers refused to acknowledge that they were manned until I reset the game, and in a couple other instances, bots simply stopped working until I reloaded the save. Oh, and one of the challenges seems a bit broken, so I would maybe hold off on attempting any of the grueling challenges until the game is patched.

Despite my nitpicks, The Colonists is addictive enough that its technical flaws feel like minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things. I never once wished I were playing this on PC instead of the PS4. Sure, I wondered how the graphics might scale on a more powerful machine, but I never actually felt like this didn’t belong on a proper console. Considering The Colonists was initially a PC-only release in a PC-dominated genre, I think it’s fair to say this is an achievement.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x