Per Aspera VR is a narrative-driven terraforming sim available now for Quest 2 and Quest Pro. Does this flatscreen port survive its jump to VR? Find out in our full Per Aspera VR review.
In Per Aspera VR, Earth can no longer support life, so mankind has committed to making Mars its new home in a bid to preserve humanity. That’s where you come in, playing as a sentient artificial consciousness called AMI. You’ve been sent to transform Mars from a barren rock into a flourishing bounty by overseeing a planetwide terraforming operation.
The game greets you with an outer-space view of the Martian world just ten days before your arrival. A rocket-propelled structure lands on the planet’s surface and becomes your home base, revealing resources in the immediate area and supplying enough power to get your mission underway.
From here you begin by building mines to tap into some of the planet’s limited resources like aluminum, iron, and silicon. Then factories need to be constructed to refine these raw materials into usable products – for example, an electronics factory will convert one unit of aluminum and silicon into one unit of electronics.
The products you make from the factories are used to build a range of additional structures from scanning towers that reveal nearby resources to colonies that will eventually become home to scientists. With each new structure comes a power cost so creating energy generators is something you’ll need to do early on to stop production from grinding to a halt. Another essential to invest in early are worker drones – these are the mechanical laborers that shift resources from place to place and construct new buildings.
You begin with access to only one worker drone at the start, which proves to be a major bottleneck for production. Because of this, I found the first half-hour of the game excruciatingly slow – even on 8x speed. Once you have the ability to produce more workers, however, things start to ramp up and get more interesting.
Extensive Strategic Simulation
As your colony expands, you’ll need to be managing resources, ensuring operations run at peak efficiency, maintaining your structures, and exploring the planet. Trying to make the right decisions to manage your growing settlement and watching it slowly take shape is a genuinely satisfying and addictive experience.
Then there are tech trees that unlock upgrades using points obtained by bringing scientists to the planet to do research. There are three main categories of research each with its own benefits; the Engineering tree provides advances in construction and power generation; the Space tree upgrades abilities to build new bases and import resources to Mars; whilst the Biotech tree improves colonies and planet terraforming abilities.
Expanding your operations to explore more of the red planet is a big part of the fun, with ancient and sometimes dark secrets waiting to be discovered. You’ll quickly realize the large scoop of the game when you zoom out to see the city you’ve been steadily building for the past 2 hours constitutes just a dot on the Martian surface. One playthrough took me about 17 hours in total but with multiple endings, different difficulty levels, and a free-play sandbox mode, there’s a lot more potential gameplay to be had.
Science Fact Meets Science Fiction
Per Aspera is a hard science fiction game that blends scientific fact with fantasy. The topology of the planet is based on real NASA maps of Mars and you will come across actual Martian sites and locations throughout the game. The harsh alien environment will also throw up challenges from time to time – from dust storms that play havoc with your solar panels to meteor impacts that can destroy entire buildings.
Per Aspera does hold your hand somewhat and will use objectives to guide you, but there are some things that the game leaves you to figure out for yourself. For the most, these are intuitive enough to discover yourself, but some elements are not so clear.
When trying to cancel a shuttle flight to Mars, for example, it wasn’t obvious why clicking the big red ‘X’ did nothing. Only after consulting Google did I find out that colonist migration cannot be canceled while in transit to Mars. A pop-up box with an explanation would be good in situations like this.
One of my favorite aspects of Per Aspera was the rich and engaging narrative woven throughout the game. Mission control will contact you occasionally to test your AI capabilities, get updates on your progress and provide objectives that build toward your terraforming mission. You get to choose how you respond in each interaction, which can lead to different endings based on your selection.
The story will have you questioning the existence of mankind and exploring the depths of your digital sentience. Plot twists to keep things interesting and I found the story to be both unique and engaging. However, it also takes a non-linear approach and I noticed that some narrative elements occurred in a different order from how they were supposed to unfold, which made it fragmented at times.
Flatscreen To Virtual Reality
Per Aspera is a flatscreen game that has been ported over to VR. While it’s a fantastic sim on many fronts, I also couldn’t help but feel like more could have been done to make the most of its transition to VR and differentiate itself from the flatscreen version.
One common concern with simulation VR ports is how menu and charts navigation will work using a motion controls. Per Aspera solution is a simple user interface that can be navigated with radial menus that neatly organize large selections of options. Still, there are times when the limitations of the Quest controllers become apparent. Some actions that only take a single keystroke on the flatscreen version require drilling down through menus with trigger presses on Quest. Even if it only takes a few more seconds to select certain features on Quest, it adds up over time and impacts the game’s flow.
Per Aspera VR Review – Final Verdict
Per Aspera VR is a slow burner but if you have time and patience to invest, you’ll find a uniquely engaging base-building strategy sim. Breathing life into the red planet is as absorbing as it is rewarding and the rich dynamic narrative is a welcome addition that’s not often seen in games of this type. While I feel this port could have done more to capitalize on the immersive nature of VR, it still works to deliver an amazing science-fiction tale that is sure to delight fans of this genre.
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