It feels good to see so many survival and simulation games coming to the forefront. I can recall picking them out of stacks of discs in the late 90s and early 2000s and playing them with a friend of mine through a LAN (or asynchronously), wondering if we’d ever find more people to join us. At the time our crew of intrepid explorers was pretty small, but as the rise of Steam happened and more indie crews were able to bring their visions to life, entire communities grew around them. I don’t know if that level of fame will happen with Aven Colony, but I’ve had a pleasant ride so far by way of its preview build.

Taking several of the (4)Xs out of the equation, you aren’t expected to find planets in Aven Colony, you merely choose them and you’re on the surface in seconds. You’re actually going to be building from the ground up on the game’s namesake planet, Aven Prime, as you encounter alien life for the first time and account for natural disasters and the vastly different atmosphere. Aven Colony throws a wrench in the mix on top of impersonal hazards like electrical storms with the “Creep,” which is basically this game’s version of the Flood from Halo (it even sports the same colour scheme), and in addition to Dune-like Water Worms, they get in the way of your expansion through infecting your settlement—dealing with them is mostly a defensive measure, so they don’t get too in the way or bog the flow down.

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For the most part though, it plays out a lot like Sim City. Citizens have their own needs; they have to work, they want to be happy, and you need to ensure that natural resources are flowing throughout your settlement. This is where the vast array of overlays comes into play, which can be toggled to show just about any type of “meter” or requirement you’d need. When I first heard about the concept I thought it would be unwieldy, but it’s just as minutiae-focused as you’d need from an experience that’s all about micro-managing.

The team also pretty much thought of everything when it comes to acclimating any skill level, so don’t be too afraid of all of this micro talk. There are seven difficulty levels, a helpful tutorial, and a guided campaign in addition to a sandbox mode, so you can take everything at your own pace. In-game missions also help guide you along if you get completely lost. For the sake of science, I jumped into a core scenario without having played the tutorial at all and I started piecing the basics together within 15 minutes or so.

I think where Aven Colony hits me the most though is how Zen it is. Everything from the music to the lush atmospheres of the planet is beautiful, and although there are a large handful of sci-fi builders at this point I appreciate not having to build a coal plant at the start of every settlement. The little touches like creating “tunnels” instead of roads due to the low-oxygen atmosphere help differentiate it from the rest of the pack (we need more worlds like this and Anno 2205).

Screenshots don’t really do Aven Colony justice. In motion, the lighting effects are superb, as are the rest of the unit animations. While many of the designs themselves aren’t memorable enough for me to pick them out of a lineup, I do appreciate that while playing it, it does feel like a living, breathing world. Right now one of the only things I’d like to see addressed is the UI, which is a bit plain looking. The loading screen also doesn’t give the player any indication that it’s actually loading, leading me to initially believe that it was frozen (it wasn’t).

Aven Colony is currently in its beta phase on PC, but it’s scheduled to launch next month on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Until then I’ll try my hardest to stop referring to it as “Avon Colony.”