Reviews - Updated on January 19, 2023

In the first month of 2023, two underwater-themed strategies were released at once – Aquatico and Surviving the Abyss. Both are urban simulations, which involve peaceful development, building technological chains, logistics and production, and not heated battles at the seabed, which the most famous strategy series about the underwater world, Submarine Titans (we know as “Sea Titans”), is remembered for.

Comparisons cannot be avoided – the projects have a lot in common, and the release dates are less than a week apart, so the obvious question arises: what is better to play for those who want to feel like the mayor of an underwater metropolis? Let’s try to answer it together – since Aquatico comes out a few days earlier, we will dedicate our review to it, and in the comments you will tell us what you remember about Surviving the Abyss and why it is better or worse.

Rescue of the drowning

In Aquatico, humanity went to conquer the depths of the sea not from a good life. The ocean became the only hope for salvation after a global catastrophe destroyed the largest part of civilization, which had reached a level of development that made it possible to think about conquering other star systems. But the experience of surviving in a hostile environment for people came in handy – under water without a space suit or a protective dome, a person will live hardly longer than in the Martian sands or the vacuum of outer space.

In addition to robots, our colony is inhabited by people who can create families and raise children.

In addition to robots, our colony is inhabited by people who can create families and raise children.

The whole plot is a small intro video with a story about the cataclysm that happened. Don’t expect a scripted scenario for a scripted single-player campaign, or a RimWorld-style story generator where the gameplay itself creates a narrative, or an eerie atmosphere of Frostpunk’s icy hopelessness. Everything is much simpler – there is a seabed, a set of buildings available for construction on this bottom, and a small number of inhabitants whose needs must be monitored. The player is forced to entertain himself, moving towards his own goal – Aquatico does not have a finish line, after reaching which it can be considered that the game has been completed.

There is no storm in the depths

The gameplay turned out to be just as insipid. Perhaps the only unique feature that distinguishes Aquatico from a typical city-building simulator is the strict separation of residential and industrial zones. On the seabed, we are engaged in the development of minerals, building plants and factories, laying a pipeline network, which becomes the main transport artery, and people live and rest a little closer to the surface of the sea, under the protection of huge transparent domes installed on long piles.

All the adults left the base, but for some reason did not take the children with them.  Four babies, however, feel fine in a colony inhabited by drones.  Almost like the plot of a fantasy movie!

All the adults left the base, but for some reason did not take the children with them. Four babies, however, feel fine in a colony inhabited by drones. Almost like the plot of a fantasy movie!

It sounds interesting, but it has almost no effect on the gameplay: the reason for this is the huge amount of free space and the minimal influence of distances between buildings. Resources are transferred instantly through pipes, and those production facilities that require manual labor of people or autonomous drones are hardly affected by the stretched routes along which workers move.

It seems that the same pipeline should make life difficult (remember the conveyors from Factorio, for example), but nothing like that happens – the pipes only slightly interfere with the placement of buildings, which is not at all a problem, given the huge amount of free space.

There are a lot of resources, but there is almost no difference between them - variety for the sake of variety.

There are a lot of resources, but there is almost no difference between them – variety for the sake of variety.

Tonem

If at the very beginning of the passage you look at the number of buildings available for construction or evaluate the variety of professions, then it seems that Aquatico will be a real logistical hell with dozens of interconnected resources and the needs of the population, clinging to each other, like parts of a complex mechanism. In fact, we have a purely linear process, there are almost no long production chains, and resources are mined only in order to satisfy the growing demands of residents.

Upgrading buildings is another annoying part of micromanaging: manually updating each building gets boring very quickly.

Upgrading buildings is another annoying part of micromanaging: manually updating each building gets boring very quickly.

In addition, the process of unlocking new buildings and technologies, carried out with the help of scientific research, is terribly stretched in time. What is annoying is that each item of this huge scheme is studied relatively quickly, but it is impossible to put several in the queue at once. As a result, every minute you have to be distracted by the research window to select a new element. At the same time, many discoveries are just new types of industrial and public buildings.

The game does not give any other incentive, except to study all the available improvements and open all the “techs”. The only technology that is of interest and at least somewhat different from the next factory for the production of new resources is expeditions. We build a submarine base, recruit a crew, load fuel and resources, and then send scouts to study the points marked on the global map. There you can get hold of valuable goods and increase the population of the colony, for example, at the expense of rescued hermits. Sometimes even some kind of choice is offered with the opportunity to risk for a greater reward – but what’s the point if everything goes on as usual in the main settlement, there is no plot, and the atmosphere is no good?

I have not tried Surviving the Abyss yet, but something tells me that Aquatico will lose miserably in the confrontation between two underwater strategies. As a city-building simulator, it is too boring and monotonous, and the underwater setting, with the exception of appearance, is almost never used – neither in the gameplay, nor in the plot, nor in the atmosphere. An unsupported deep-sea entourage is not enough to draw attention to the project – a direct competitor comes out a few days later and, judging by the description, will try to captivate at least with an original plot.

Pros: underwater setting; the ability to build a city on the seabed without much tension of convolutions.

Cons: lengthy research; no call; the player is forced to engage in the banal construction of houses without clear and complex goals.

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