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Video Game / Surviving Mars

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From the people who brought you Tropico 3, 4 and 5, and Cities: Skylines: Mars is waiting for you.

Surviving Mars is a Science Fiction settlement-building Simulation Game developed by Haemimont Games (who were responsible for Tropico from Tropico 3 until Tropico 6, when Calypso Media signed on Limbic Entertainment to develop that sequel instead) and published by Paradox Interactive (who also published Colossal Order's critically acclaimed Cities: Skylines). It is available on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

The game is somewhat akin to a city builder, albeit in a Martian colony. To ensure its success, you come into play as an overseer for the project. You must choose a mission sponsor, build a retro-futuristic colony, and ensure the survival of your colonists, each of whom has individual wants, needs, skills, and problems.

Several content packs and two major expansions have been released thus far. The first, Space Race, adds rival colonies, trade, and sponsor-unique buildings and vehicles to the game, while the second, Green Planet, adds a full-fledged Terraforming mechanic, allowing you to transform the surface of Mars into an Earthlike landscape.


At PAXcon 2019, it was revealed that Paradox had teamed up with a new developer, Iceflake Studios, to produce a Post Apocalyptic succcessor, Surviving the Aftermath.

The games provide examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: One of the starting game options, "Last Ark", means that you will only be able to send one passenger ship on that playthrough. If you don't build any Biorobot colonists then every colonist (of which there might be over a thousand) will be descended from twelve individuals.
  • Aerith and Bob: Colonists from Earth tend to have normal names, while those born on Mars have more space-sounding names such as Gamma Star.
  • The Ageless: Upon researching the Breakthrough tech "Forever Young", colonists will no longer die of old age and can still have children as seniors, but can still be killed due to lack of resources or commit suicide. Biorobots also never die of old age.
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  • The Alcoholic: A colonist with the "Alcoholic" trait will have their work performance lowered slightly, and gains bonus comfort from bars.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Multiple Mysteries have to do with the PC making contact with, or finding the works of, alien life forms.
  • Ambiguous Gender: While most colonists are male or female, some have their gender listed as "other".
  • After the End: Failing The Last War Mystery causes a nuclear war to occur on Earth. After fifty days contact is reestablished with the survivors, and you will be able to bring in more settlers from Earth, but things are so bad back home that nobody is buying Rare Metals and they can't afford to send you goods.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: Research can be amplified by studying anomalies, yielding research boosts or new entries on the Tech Tree. Planetary anomalies require sending a ship to another part of Mars with the right crew and equipment, but with the Space Race DLC, rival colonies will try to get there first.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Your drones are really that single-tracked and has no sense of priority. If you issue an order to build something, they'd ignore all maintenance and repair tasks and try to complete your order instead of repairing the oh-so-important MOXIE that has failed and requires maintenance.
  • The Ark: Your colony might inadvertently become one. Failing The Wildfire Mystery ends the human race on Earth, and failing The Last War Mystery ends human civilization on Earth.
  • Body Backup Drive: Implied to be what Project Phoenix is, since it brings colonists back young when they die and the icon depicts a baby sleeping in a vat.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Zig-zagged. Your colonists can be religious, which is a strictly beneficial trait (+10 base morale and will never commit suicide) and one of the sponsors sending colonists to live in a high tech colony and work with complex equipment is the Church of The New Ark, but it is also the only sponsor that does not provide any research of its own.
  • Big Eater: Colonists with the 'Glutton' trait eat twice as much food as other colonists do.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Philosopher's Stone Mystery has the map littered with strange crystalline entities that seem to be alive. If you supply them with power, they exude a lucrative, consistent supply of Rare Metals; power them all, and they assemble into one creature, which departs the planet, leaving behind a gift of materials and access to a tech breakthrough that makes the fusion reactor far more effective.
  • Brain Uploading: In one random event, a colonist tries to imprint their own mind onto biorobots, dying in the process. It doesn't seem to have worked, but the effort produces 10 biorobots to work in the colony.
  • Breeding Cult: Colonies established by The Church of The New Ark a birthrate that's twice as high as colonies by other sponsors, and it's Evaluation Goal is to produce eighty Marsborn colonists.
  • Call to Agriculture: With a research upgrade, Farms will increase the comfort level of a dome, because seeing growing green plants on the lifeless planet is soothing to colonists.
  • Captain Ersatz: Two of the sponsors, SpaceY and Church of the New Ark, are based on SpaceX and Mormonism respectively. Both of them were depicted in their original names in the Gamescom demo.
  • The Casino: You can build casinos in your colony. Colonists with the Gambler trait have a chance of losing 20 sanity there.
  • Cloning Blues: Colonists with the Clone trait have half the lifespan of naturally born humans.
  • Continuous Decompression: Domes are designed to be structurally robust enough to withstand the small asteroid impacts common on Mars, but that doesn't make them invulnerable and a direct impact will cause the dome to crack and begin rapidly leaking oxygen. While this is certainly an emergency for those in the dome, it's not necessarily a fatal one so long as the dome gets repaired quickly and there are sufficient oxygen reserves to keep the dome continuously filled back up as it leaks. But woe betides any colony that hasn't taken precautions for this eventuality...
  • Corporate Conspiracy: EsoCorp is secretly testing weapons on Mars behind the colonists' backs. If the colony discovers this they can report back to Earth, but EsoCorp will retaliate with armed rovers.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: EsoCorp and the corporations in Beyond Earth. EsoCorp tests weapons on Martian soil behind your back and even attempts to destroy the colony when you decide to blow the whistle. The Beyond Earth Corps will ruin Rene Goddenbury's legacy by exploiting the ventures after his death with a somber note stating how the idealistic future died with Rene and now the corps exploit the projects for pure profit
  • Creator Cameo: Paradox Interactive is one of the available mission sponsors. They are also one of the hardest sponsors, being tied for lowest funding with the Church of the New Ark, only having one starting rocket, a low number of applicants, require more fuel to launch rockets, and fairly low research per Sol, though they find Breakthrough Anomalies more often, and gain applicants when they research Breakthrough Techs.
  • Crosshair Aware: The impact points of meteors and Dredger drones are prominently shown on the ground before they hit. Preparing for the latter is easy due to the very long delay between warning and impact (several Sols can pass before something happens), but if you don't have defense lasers in place when a meteor is about to hit something immobile, you won't have nearly enough time to do something about it.
  • Cult Colony: Any colony built by The Church of The New Ark. A random event can happen to anyone regardless of sponsor where someone asks you to declare a particular dome a "Holy Dome" but it's up to you to accept.
  • Cute Machines: The drones and shuttles. The rockets are also pretty cute with their shark paint job.
  • Defective Detective: Any officers with the "Alcoholic" trait are this.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: The terraforming in "Green Planet" requires an immense investment of time and resources, but those resources are returned in full with double interest by the end game, as you eliminate all of Hostile Weather on Mars, increase the output of water and oxygen producers (until everyone can simply breathe the air), double the output of wind generators, and have bountiful automated open-air farms that can easily produce ten times the bounty of any normal farm your botanists crew.
  • Dirty Coward: Colonists with the "Coward" trait will lose sanity quicker than other colonists during a disaster.
  • Domed Hometown: The only residence for Mars colonists. All Marsborn have one. Though with the Green Planet DLC and a lot of effort you can change this.
  • Driven to Suicide: Colonists who have run out of sanity and who lack the religious trait are likely to take their own lives.
  • Drop Ship: The rockets used to carry supplies and people from earth, but can also ship rare metals off of Mars for extra money.
  • End of an Age: An event pops up to tell you when your last founder dies, and to eulogize his life.
  • Founder Of The Colony: Your first twelve refugees have the Founder Trait.
  • Free-Love Future: Implied. Colonists will have sex and children with each other, but they do not appear to get married, the children do not live with their parents, and colonists may go on to have children with multiple partners. This is most extreme in the case of Tourists, who pay up-front to go to Mars, and then return to Earth after 5 Sols, leaving behind any children they might have had during that time.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: The Inventor background. Judging by the dialogue options in events, an Inventor can fix, upgrade or figure out nearly any device.
  • Good Shepherd: Colonists with the Saint trait raise the morale of other colonists with the Religious trait. This effect stacks.
  • Guilt-Based Gaming: See shout-out below. To wit, it copies the quit message verbatim from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
    Please don't go. The drones need you. They look up to you.
  • Hospital Hottie: Any medics with the "Sexy" perk count as this.
  • Hostile Weather: Mars being Mars, the weather is quite hostile, though these hazards can be mitigated and eventually removed entirely by terraforming. Each location has four hazards, ranging from level 1 (extremely rare/never occurs) to 4 or 5 (extremely frequent). The four weather types are;
    • Cold Snap: Irregular but problematic considering how cold Mars can get. Cold snaps increase the energy consumption of all buildings and freeze water towers, preventing the towers from distributing their stored water. They can be (somewhat) offset by building special heater structures, though.
    • Deadly Dust Storm: Accounts for two of the four, either in map-wide dust storms or localized dust devils. Map-wide storms increase your wind power output but shut down several other structures (including your oxygen generators!) and coats everything in dust, making maintenance a more frequent complication. Dust Devils are very small Tornadoes that swirl around and generally degrade your structures with Dust and destroy your pipes/cables.
    • Flaming Meteor: Single meteor strikes happen almost everywhere, but certain regions can experience prolonged meteor showers, which can inflict serious damage. Fortunately, you can research and build turrets that use Frickin' Laser Beams to shoot the meteors down.
  • Hot Scientist: Colonists with the Scientist specialization and the "Sexy" perk.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Soylent Green breakthrough technology allows you to turn dead colonists into food, and states that everyone in your colony knows this and is OK with it. Oddly enough, openly practicing cannibalism does not result in any negative PR with Earth or other colonies.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Martianborn tend to be named after things that are prevalent to their environment, such as Oxygen, Rocket, or Planet.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Colonists with the Loner trait lose Comfort every day while living in a Dome with a population over 30.
  • Martial Pacifist: In the Marsgate mystery, if you report EsoCorp to the UN then your Colony Commander gives a speech at the trial about how you hope humanity never goes to war again. However EsoCorp retaliates by sending its weaponized rovers to destroy your colony, and the only way to survive is to build missile defense turrets to destroy said rovers. You can even repair said rovers and use them to fight against EsoCorp's.
  • Nerd: Colonists with this trait gain morale every time the player researches a new technology.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Not all of them, but nothing precludes a colonist from having both the Nerd and the Sexy trait.
  • Nintendo Hard: All buildings need resources for maintenance periodically, you have to practically make sure you have enough farms to produce food at the start, and you have multiple natural disasters that may cost a lot of resources to recover from. Adding to that is that resources are finite (at least, until you unlock the Mohole Mine wonder at the endgame), forcing you to move and build new domes on a regular basis. Throw in renegades and sabotage from competitors, and the game becomes somewhat frustrating to those who just want to build a civilization in peace.
  • Non-Entity General: The Colony Commander has no residence or workplace in the colony and indeed will be commanding the colony effort before there's any life support on the planet. It might be possible that they're commanding things remotely from Earth but the Mysteries that involve something terrible happening on Earth don't affect them.
    • Several events specifically reference them being on Mars though, so the logical assumption is that they command the initial robots remotely and then hitch a ride on the rocket bringing in the founding colonists. Of course, they still qualify for the trope since they don't have a residence and are apparently immortal.
  • Nuke 'em: Toward the end of the tech tree, you can unlock a special project to massively increase the water availability by melting either of the polar ice caps. How? By sending a spaceship overloaded with fuel to crash into it and explode.
  • Once-Green Mars: The Power of Three and Inner Light mysteries reveal that Mars was once inhabitable, and populated by intelligent beings. With Green Planet, you can bring the planet back to life.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Presumably any colony sponsored by Blue Sun Corporation, SpaceY, or Paradox Interactive. Fittingly, one of the advantages of Blue Sun is that they can use the funding to hire more applicants.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted. Despite being a science fiction setting and a Free-Love Future, it is still common for colonists to have the religious trait. Moreover, religious colonists fare better than their secular counterparts in that they have higher base morale and never commit suicide. This can also be defied, as you can instruct schools to instill religious faith in marsborn children.
  • The Paragon: Colonists with the Empath trait raise the Morale of all Colonists in the Dome.
  • The Plague: The Wildfire Mystery involves this. A plague ravages the Earth, and if you don't find and send back a cure then it kills every human on Earth. Or so it seems, as eventually, the shelters reveal there were survivors of the plague and they are seeking the cure if possible, proving Hope Springs Eternal.
  • Planet Looters: The Dredgers mystery revolves around a fleet of alien mining vessels periodically dropping from the sky near resource deposits. If you fail to neutralize them in time, they instantly drain the entire deposit, potentially devastating your economy beyond recovery if you let that happen too often.
  • The Power of the Sun: The Artificial Sun wonder is a massive fusion reactor which, as its name suggests, looks like a miniature sun when powered up. It consumes a monstrous amount of water to fully charge every time you turn it on, but with the right layout of solar panels placed around it, your colony won't have to worry about power for a long time.
  • Really Gets Around: Colonists with the "sexy" perk, which greatly increases their birth rate.
  • Resurrective Immortality: If you discover and research the Project Phoenix breakthrough, half your colonists will be resurrected (and young again) after death.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Biorobots can be researched with breakthrough technology, and then produced in Drone Assemblers. Aside from neither dying of age nor reproducing, they function as humans.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: The "No Pain, No Gain" achievement requires reaching five hundred colonists with at least 500% challenge rating while playing as Russia. Unless you are really, really good at this game, getting this achievement will hurt you.
  • Saintly Church: Colonists with the Religious trait have higher base sanity and never commit suicide.
  • Satan: One possible random event has him drop by to try and make a deal with you.
  • Schrödinger's Gun: The safe box random event presents you with a choice of four codes, and all four of the codes work, each unlocking a different breakthrough.
  • Settling the Frontier: The entire point of the game is to create colonies on Mars and try to make them self-sufficient as possible.
  • The Simple Life Is Simple: Played with. While any colonists can work on a farm, they need to be botanists to get the most out of them. Of course, the entire farming process seems to be at least partially automated, so possibly entirely averted.
  • Shout-Out: Has it's own page here
  • Shown Their Work: Radio stations like Quantum Sonics regularly provide interesting and scientifically accurate tidbits of background info on Mars as part of their entertainment program.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The game generally falls toward the idealism side, but where exactly depends on the Mystery you get, with the Last War being the grimmest. Every game has mentions of basic human foibles, but balanced by a sense of camaraderie, as the colony can only be successful if everyone works together.
  • Sole Survivor: If you fail to find a cure to the Wildfire Plague, then every human on Earth becomes extinct. This means your colony will become the last remnant of the human race. Thankfully eventually you will learn there were survivors of the Wildfire Plague
  • Space Elevator: A wonder becomes available in the late game which can replace or supplement the rockets as the colony's means of trade with Earth.
  • The Space Race: "Space Race" is the game's first expansion, which adds rival colonies during gameplay to compete with for milestones (first to settle colonists, first to find water, etc.) and/or initiate trade routes with.
  • Space Western: The Red Frontier radio station's music has a distinct Firefly vibe.
  • Straw Vegetarian: Some colonists have the vegan trait, the description of which reads "Don't worry. They'll tell you." The achievement "Dream of a Green Mars" requires the player to have 200 such colonists in a colony at once.
  • Take That!:
    • One in-game event involves a dense Martian forming a “Flat Mars Society” whose members are convinced that the planet is, well, flat. If you choose to leave the followers to their own devices, they will eventually build an alleged space shuttle to try to prove that the planet is flat... Which will crash shortly after takeoff, killing everyone onboard.
    • The Green Planet DLC adds one to chemtrail conspiracy theorists.
  • Tech Tree: There are five main tech "lines" in the base game (Biotech, Engineering, Robotics, Physics, Social) plus one special "Breakthrough" line, and one more regular line (Terraforming) added in Green Mars. All techs only appear in categories by-line, but their exact order is randomized each new game, with some weighted to be more likely to appear earlier while others are weighted to appear later. Any tech that is known about can be researched regardless of how far down the line it is, but most techs are hidden by default, only being revealed as techs are researched in that line or anomalies are analyzed. The breakthrough techs are particularly powerful, but can only be revealed by anomaly research.
  • The Theocracy: Presumably any colony sponsored by the Church of the New Ark, as all of their applicants are members of the church.
  • Tube Travel: Special corridors can be built to allow colonists to travel between domes without a space suit.
  • Veganopia: The achievement "Dream of a Green Mars" requires the player to have 200 Vegan colonists in a colony at once.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Seniors don't contribute anything to the colony, with rare exceptionsnote , regardless of their comfort level. This results in a popular strategy where upon reaching retirement age colonists get moved to a "retirement house" dome, which has only cramped apartments and no amenities at all, and eat raw meat or potatoes for the rest of their life, and the only reason they're fed at all is the fact that deaths from starvation result in a sanity loss for the whole colony.
    • The mod that allows for the eradication of renegades also allows you to execute innocent civilians. So if you don't like a colonist whose morale has fallen, you can just mark him for removal and have him offed by being jettisoned into space.
  • Video Game Time: Time is based on Sols (the Martian day) but different aspects of the game treat 1 Sol as a different lengths of time. Colonists and drones work as if it actually is one Sol in length, but other aspects such as rocket travel and colonist lifespans work as if 1 Sol is closer in length to an Earth Year.
  • War Is Hell:
    • In The Last War mystery, the entire point of it is to prevent a world war from breaking out on Earth by using your colony to relieve some of the pressures leading to it. Failing this mystery leaves the world so war-torn that Earth will no longer send supplies or purchase rare metals, and all the colonists are traumatized War Refugees.
    • In the Marsgate mystery, EsoCorp is considered by the international community to have crossed the Moral Event Horizon by secretly using Mars to test weapons. If you chose to reveal what they did, then when you testify as to the key witness at the International Trial, you give a speech condemning war and expressing the hope that humanity will never wage war again. You end being attacked by EsoCorp in an act of revenge, and to save your colony you must build missile turrets.
  • War Refugees: If you fail The Last War mystery, then your colony will only be able to call in settlers because Earth is ravaged by nuclear war and can't afford to buy your Rare Metals or to send you resources. All of the settlers have the Refugee trait which means they have -40 productivity in all jobs, they never get Earthsick, and they have a higher chance of becoming renegades.
    • You can also get a random event offering you refugees from Earth if you're not playing the Last War mystery. The difference being that you're given four options: Take 10 of them (and get a small funding boost as a gesture of thanks from Earth), take them all (again, all colonists have a refugee trait for both options) and suffer a small morale hit, or deny the refugees and suffer a huge morale hit. The last option is only open to those with the Politician trait- post a cryptic tweet to distract the journalists.
  • Zeerust: Many of the buildings have a deliberately retro-futuristic design.
  • Zerg Rush: During the Dredgers mystery, the antagonistic forces normally show up one at a time and thus don't pose a threat. However, the penultimate stage consists of several dozens of them appearing all over the map almost simultaneously, sending you into a scramble to stop them before they abscond with a huge chunk of whatever resources are still available on the map by this point.

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