Survival city builders are perhaps one of the most common genres when it comes to simulation games where you can spend hours and hours just expanding your empire and then sitting there, admiring all of the hard work you have done there. While we have seen many variations of these city builders, Digital Reef Games, and Overseer Games have developed Aquatico, a survival city builder which is set in the depths of the ocean. In Aquatico, you are tasked with surviving on the bed of the ocean with a limited number of humans, drones, and resources to ensure that humanity is able to find a suitable place to continue its existence. This is our preview of Aquatico in which we build our first underwater city and try not to drown in excitement.
On paper, Aquatico plays just like any other city builder. You put down a first structure that acts as the main hub and then you gradually expand your city by collecting resources, producing electricity, heating, and many other utilities, and ensuring that your civilians are happy and comfortable living their lives. Aquatico presents a new challenge on this since it is based underwater, and the options are somewhat limited here. When I first started playing Aquatico, I was getting some vibes of Frostpunk due to its survival aspect and Sim City since pipes play a major role in your cities. As a matter of fact, if you do not have pipes in Aquatico, you cannot have a city since everything is moved around underwater in pipes including all of your resources and fuel. Even for electricity, you will be using these pipes which eliminate the complexity of putting down too many things for basic infrastructure and keeps things simple.
The full version of Aquatico will ship with multiple maps however the preview build that I received came with just two maps however they are decent-sized, and you can spend hours and hours in both of them. After naming your colony, you can adjust the settings for starting the game such as adjusting the quantity of starting resources, the population of humans and drones, and ore, and also setting the frequency for disasters and events. Aquatico is a challenging game but not as challenging as Frostpunk because these factors only affect the first few hours of your experience and once you have gotten your flow going, you will be generating plenty of resources and can easily manage anything in the game fairly easily.
What I like about Aquatico is that it leans towards you learning from your mistakes and despite giving you a detailed tutorial, it leaves the game in your hands at a time when things are about to go wrong everywhere. Depending on your starting difficulty and the resources you assigned yourself before starting the game, the game ended the tutorial at a point for me where the last building I constructed basically drained all of my fuel supply and electricity. This caused the warming system in my domes to go down and my plastic factory got a massive hit on its efficiency. I will say it once and I will say it again, plastic is king underwater, and no other resource gave me as much trouble as plastic. Despite putting a lot of Sponge Collectors and Plastic Factories, I was always looking at the dwindling stockpiles of plastic.
It was at this point that I also found out that one building can only be connected to just one of the pipelines in the game. This means that you can have multiple same buildings connected to the same pipeline to increase production and supply of the same resource to the pipeline system, but you cannot connect two different pipeline systems to one production structure. This creates a closed loop of resources for one pipeline system, and you can connect to as many structures as you want. This means that you can have your whole city connected to just one pipeline system where you keep adding additional production structures into the mix to keep the supply higher than your demand. This goes for both resource collection and power generation systems. Most of the resources are interconnected with each other so increasing one means that you have to increase another with it as well.
For me, the toughest bit was to identify this closed loop aspect of the game because normally, you would create a city block, connect it with utilities and you are done but here, you have to use the same pipeline for all of the resources and you need to ensure that the first pipeline is strong enough to support all of the buildings it is connected with rather than creating different power structures and connecting them with the same structure to provide additional power or resources to it. After 2, or 3 hours into the game, I had my first civilian death due to disease and at that time I figured out that I was not producing any sort of medicines either. There are plenty of resources, materials, products, and things that you have to manage for your civilians, and I started researching more advanced structures and technologies. Things were starting to look good when I suffered another hiccup, and I had no free drones left for construction and different tasks.
Lucky for me, the main HQ sent a few drones to my rescue and with the bonus drones, I managed to set up a drone manufacturing plant and later added a battery production facility into the mix as well to keep a steady supply of drones. One of the things that you do not really notice is that apart from resource requirements, these production facilities also come with fixed upkeep and some of the structure requires a full-time specialist or a drone to work there. At this point, with plenty of research, expansion of production facilities, and different upgrades later, my production-to-consumption ratio was pretty decent across all of the city and I was starting to finally get the hang of everything. It is at this point that you finally start having fun in the game because the starts are always a little hectic and challenging especially when your people start dying when you do not have enough power to heat their houses.
All of this time, I was continuously looking at some of the prettiest visuals I have seen in any city builder. The normal city-building games on the ground look really good, and they have their own vibes but when you start playing Aquatico and after spending a few hours developing a fairly decent-sized city, you start appreciating the art style and visuals of Aquatico more because they are not just pretty to look at but the sense of being hundreds of feet down with nothing really adds to the overall atmosphere of the game. It is pretty, haunting, and daunting at the same time and this is what really sets Aquatico apart from other city builders. The UI is minimalistic however when you hover over the icons, the information displayed is too much. It takes you a while to see everything but the information is there on the screen.
While the industry booms at the bottom, your residents are all warm and fuzzy up in their domes much higher in the water with all of the views. Aquatico actually makes you feel like you are underwater and building a city. It is not just a bland game with a few water animations but there is water life swimming all around you and the overall animations and quality of visual effects are amazing. The game gives you the option of switching between the two views if you want to see the highs from the domes or the lows where most of your city is actually present. I love how the base of the ocean looks while you are in the Dome view because it not only looks pretty but very spooky as well since it is all dark, and murky with a few lights here and there. The sense of height is real at these domes, and I cannot really imagine how safe my civilians actually felt in these mile-high domes stranded high in the ocean with huge ocean wildlife roaming around them.
Personally, I always wanted to have a city builder underwater and with Aquatico, I can finally do that. So far I have managed to spend over 10 hours in the game for this preview and that was on the same map as well. The maps look tiny on the map selection screen but when you are actually on them, it takes a lot of time to gradually expand your city to reach it fully. I am looking forward to the full release of Aquatico and seeing how the new maps play out and what additional features are added to it. If you love city builders, simulation games or just love underwater, you should definitely look forward to the release of Aquatico. I can see myself spending tons of hours building the perfect city underwater in it and I am sure you will be as well.