Per Aspera Preview: Galactic Supply Chains And Freaky AI Introspection
Have you ever wanted to terraform Mars, all whilst contemplating your own existence as an artificial intelligence experiment run by humans? If so – that’s oddly specific – but Per Aspera is going to be right up your alley. Combining a beautiful interface with futuristic supply chain management ideas, Tlön Industries is building a simulation game with some real oomph.
Silky Smooth UI
Per Aspera, its name aptly taken from the Latin phrase “Per aspera ad astra” (through hardships to the stars), has us play as an AI named AMI. We’re tasked by the Houston-based ISA to spearhead the colonization of Mars. Starting up my mission on the Red Planet, the first thing I notice is how beautiful and smooth the user interface is. Buttons and menus are placed intuitively on the screen; the HUD feels well-designed and cohesive. However, the lens system in particular is a standout feature. You can switch between traffic, power, maintenance, and scanner lenses at the touch of a button – each with a completely unique visual design. These differing layouts help guide decision-making when mapping out buildings and narrowing down which areas need the most attention.
Sound also contributes to the UI’s polished feeling. The effects that play when you scroll across and click through buttons/menus are an attractive blend between subtle and modern. Many may not care, but I truly appreciate the nuance of the sound design here. The music itself serves as a nice accompaniment overall. The tracks are interesting but don’t attempt to be too overbearing, which is important considering the amount of time you’ll spend colonizing Mars. Changing the game speed (as you often will) can affect the tracks as well, adding another dynamic layer to Per Aspera’s gameplay.
The camera functionality is equally as impressive, with multiple layers to view as you zoom in and out. Up close, the building and worker models have plenty of detail. The camera even features an artificial “focus” when zoomed all the way in, blurring the graphics that surround the central POV.
Although there is certainly a learning curve involved (as with any deep supply chain game) – it is fairly intuitive. From my experience, the requirements from the story coupled with the left-side taskbar gave me enough guidance to get off the ground.
Surprisingly Deep AI Introspection
Fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ex Machina will quite enjoy the mood of the narrative. You undertake the role of an AI who slowly journeys through a renaissance of self-enlightenment. Gradually acquiring her self-awareness, AMI develops philosophical stances from conversations had with herself, Nathan Foster, Elya Valentine, and beyond. We’re given relatively black and white response options (pick A or B), but being able to participate in dialogue helps provide depth.
I enjoyed the tension between AMI’s inner dialogue and the clear-cut mission and ambitions from the human cast. As I play, I’m currently in a state of curiosity wondering if our AI protagonist will eventually be able to deviate from directives, in favor of finding more substantial purpose.
The voice acting is quite compelling too, and is one of the core reasons that the characters are so believable. I actually noticed a few minor discrepancies between the voice acting and the accompanying subtitles, which I assume is due to liberties taken by the voice talent. It didn’t bother me, as the performances were largely convincing.
On the subject of immersion, the planet’s setting is portrayed in a realistic manner, “using geographical maps straight from NASA.” From the Ophir Planum region to the Huygens Crater – you can essentially learn Mars’ geography as you play. That’s not to say you won’t be running into some extraterrestrial life, as hinted at in the trailer above…
The two elements that could decide Per Aspera’s value are scalability and intentionality.
The variety of buildings, environmental interactivity, and how each scales is massive in titles with supply chain gameplay at their core; it’s the real meat-and-potatoes behind them. In Per Aspera’s case, they tick each box, but nothing has really hooked me so far. The setting features resource veins, corresponding mines, factories, and an expected slew of administrative and colonial buildings. I think there’s greater potential to change up the formula a bit. But honestly, I’m not sure how deep it goes yet – exploring that will require more time with the build.
This leads to my next point. Giving players a cause to continue building may be the most important factor. Sure, you can always speed Per Aspera up through the slower parts, but the real driving factor will come down to AMI. Specifically, I’m intrigued by the character development of AMI and how she interacts with humans, the Red Planet, and the mysterious third party. I’d love for the story to have shocking twists as more of Mars is explored, and for the dialogue choices to have real weight. If that’s the direction Tlön Industries is taking things, then I’ll be sticking around for more.
A beta version of Per Aspera was provided to TheGamer for this preview.
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A bit of musical expatriate, Andrew studied trumpet performance in college before drifting towards his love for creative writing and video games. Some of his favorites include Homeworld, Warcraft III, Starcraft 2, Apex Legends, Cuphead, Katana Zero, and Bastion. When not hunched over a keyboard furiously typing, you’d likely find him engulfed in anime or Apex — avoiding the sun entirely.
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