There are a lot of settlement building games which vary a lot when it comes to complexity. There’s Anno, there’s The Settlers, and there’s The Colonists. The latter strives to be a more approachable and less intimidating to a new player. And it succeeds most of the time: The Colonists really is easy to get into, but mastering all the basics isn’t as straightforward as I hoped. But let’s start at the beginning.
The Colonists is not a new game — it was released first on PC a few years ago. But I never heard about it mostly because I play solely on the consoles, where there aren’t many games like that. Porting settlement building games can be a challenge, especially for a developer not used to working with that kind of hardware. Thankfully, the devs took their sweet time developing the console version, and in the end we got quite a robust sim that feels good when using a controller.
I must admit I liked The Colonists from the first time I saw the promo art with these little robots running around. That was the main idea — to make it look approachable. The robots are, after all, the protagonists. Unlike most of the similar games, The Colonists is all about making a new robot-friendly settlement, which sounds a bit more interesting that it actually is. What I mean is the robots in The Colonists are practically indistinguishable from humans. They need water, wood and food (yes, as in actual food like fish or fruits) to survive, and their infrastructure looks similar to what we’ve seen in a lot of other games like that.
To be honest with you, I was confused: it looks a bit like The Colonists is a reskin of another game with humans as characters. Why not make more robot-specific features? Well, I am not a developer and I can’t answer. What I can answer is how fun it is.
The Colonists starts simple enough, with a lot of tips and intuitive UI. It felt good playing with a controller, and not once did I feel like I was playing the worst version of the title. Getting used to controls is easy, but as soon as you start the second level, issues appear. The game suddenly stops being as easy to understand, and most of the tips disappear. And you make mistakes over and over again. And sometimes you just can’t see what you did wrong.
In The Colonists you don’t control separate units, you just build buildings, pave roads and take over more and more territory. In order to expand you need water, food and energy. All buildings are semi-independent, but you can decide what material to import or export, and where. It mostly works fine, but sometimes I had problems when my buildings refused to produce materials no matter what. It was infuriating, but most of the time it was my fault. And the game’s, a bit, for being unable to explain everything.
The Colonists looks deceptively simple thank to its art style and lack of clutter. The main objective here is always speed — you need to be fast in order to earn gold medals. Everything is about time, be it economic or military scenarios. Robots are built to be efficient and you need to be like that, too.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my time with The Colonists. The game has proven to be a nice mixture of classic sim elements and modern streamlined design. It looks a bit too rudimentary to my liking, though: nor the robots nor the world have lots of details, and it all reminds me a bit too much of mobile graphics. I wish the game had more character. There’s also no PS5 version in sight — just the basic version for the PS4. Does it need the next-gen version? No. But crispier visuals never hurt anyone.
The Colonists takes the basic idea of settlement building games and makes it more approachable than ever, without it ever feeling dumbed down. It looks a bit too bare for 2021, but the port feels right on consoles and runs with no issues. Just don’t expect another Anno — this one isn’t quite as ambitious.