Undersea city

Aquatico Review

Aquatico Review


need to know

What is it? Underwater city builder focused on resource management
expect to pay: $24.99 / £19.49
developer: Digital Coral Reef Game
publisher: Overseer Game
Reviewed on: RTX 2080, Intel i7-9700K, 16GB RAM
multiplayer game? No
associate: Official Website(opens in a new tab)

Imagine looking down at a bustling city skyline and instead of seeing a flock of birds or an airliner, you see a pod of dolphins or a gliding submarine. This is Aquatico, and you build a city on the ocean floor after an asteroid strike makes the surface world uninhabitable. You’ll build pipes instead of roads, you’ll have submarines instead of city buses, and your farm will grow oysters and seaweed instead of wheat and pumpkins.

Actually you were able Wheat and pumpkins can also be grown in submerged greenhouses. How about: Instead of tornadoes and floods threatening your buildings, it’s shark attacks? That’s even better.

While Aquatico’s environments are unusual, your city will grow and thrive according to many of the same elements found in city builders that take place on the surface. Mine for oil and stone, create plastic and glass, farm for a living, buy and sell goods with other subsea hubs, and generate electricity using turbines and solar collectors. But even with a sprawling settlement built on the ocean floor, with a large population living in waterproof domes, my time at Aquatico felt less like building a city and more like assembling a series of busy factories. While the pipes connect everything together, I’ve never actually connected to an underwater city myself.

sea ​​trial

Resource management is where Aquatico really shines and there are a lot of resources to manage. The humble beginnings of harvesting sponges from the seafloor gave birth to plastic factories producing everything from construction materials to clothing. Oil can be pumped from the ocean floor, processed into fuel, and piped to every building that needs it.

Turbines generate electricity from strong ocean currents, and once the oxygen generators are built, humans join the colony with hardworking automated drones. Rapid expansion requires infrastructure to support it: build too much, too fast, and angry red exclamation points appear around cities, indicating a lack of fuel or oxygen. I found building in the bubbling blue abyss to be mostly a soothing and relaxing experience, but moments of panic and panic when I didn’t plan ahead and ran into fuel, power, or air shortages made the experience even more active.

Growing your city requires a careful balance of resources (Image credit: Digital Reef Games)

It’s also very enjoyable to sit and watch the ever-growing city. Human workers wear robotic-like diving suits to weave across the seabed, and aquatic drones zip through the water, planting and harvesting crops and delivering supplies with their tiny mechanical claws. Automated submarines ferry resources between warehouses, warehouses and the city center, while sea creatures of all kinds swim above the city, from swarms of giant jellyfish to gigantic sperm whales.

Each building has a pleasing sci-fi look and subtle but pleasing animations as resources and products are produced. As a nice touch you can also paint each individual building or assign color schemes to buildings of the same type, I found this helpful once my cities really started to sprawl and I started losing track of what I quickly found where certain key factories were built.

Public transport: underwater cable car. (Image credit: Digital Reef Games)

There are many other creative and imaginative undersea encounters, such as a farm that grows cucumbers (and sea cucumbers, of course) and an animal enclosure that raises tuna instead of cattle. There’s also a second level of buildings, accessed by hitting the Tab key, where you can build large domes for your growing population. The dome slowly becomes a neighborhood of houses, shops, restaurants, schools and even pets, which are even visible when you zoom in and look through the shell. There is public transportation here in the form of a cable car, so people can move between the domes without having to put on a wetsuit. One little detail I like about the gondola: the adults would sit on the seats while the kids would stand by the windows, looking curiously at the sea passing by.

Another highlight is the expedition system, which is somewhat similar to Frostpunk. After building a special hub, I can load a submarine with human explorers and supplies and send it offscreen to investigate SOS signals, abandoned colonies, or new sources of food and resources. These missions offer the tiniest of narrative threads, and often boil down to a single choice (fight a pirate sub or try to be friendly?) but it feels like my city is just one of many different undersea colonies.

Sharks are a threat, but guard towers can bombard them with lasers. (Image credit: Digital Reef Games)

technology crash

But I do particularly hate one of Aquatico’s systems: the research tech tree. Instead of laying it out in a list of logical layers, combine everything into one big, incredibly long, scrollable menu. It’s hard to find where certain unlocks are in the huge tech tree, and their placement doesn’t always make sense.

I had to research jewelry stores and defense platforms to build the most basic fast food restaurant

For example, once my supply depot was full, an in-game prompt suggested I build a warehouse, which I first needed to research. But just finding the warehouse on the tech list required a lot of slow scrolling back and forth, and when I found it, I saw that the prerequisites were research schools. Unlocking the school requires me to research glass, which requires me to unlock quartz first… all in order to build a warehouse, which is just a bigger version of my existing warehouse. Thing is, the warehouse doesn’t even need glass to build, but I was forced to research it first anyway.

There are many examples of this in the tech tree. Before building more advanced farms, I needed to unlock a policy that taxed engineers, and before building the most basic fast food restaurant, I had to research jewelry stores and defense platforms. The result of this poorly organized system is often the result of having to spend weeks of technical research at 8x speed – and spend a fortune in cash on it – just to get the item I want to unlock because it’s hidden in an unrelated technology or policy.

Drones process grown seafood for hungry colonists. (Image credit: Digital Reef Games)

Another problem with Aquatico that I’m not too sure about, but after a few hours of playing the game, I’ve built a huge city, which unfortunately never really feels like a city. It feels like a large network of factories connected by pipes.

My city is very grand, but I never really liked it.

Part of the problem is that nearly every factory and building footprint is a perfect square, so my city ends up looking like one big flat grid, which prevents it from developing a real personality. The human settlers are so separated from everything else, the communities are confined within the square domes of the second level, rather than the more organic blend of industrial areas and farms. Quite frankly, straight pipes with 90-degree bends are not nearly as pleasant as winding roads, bridges, and highways. My city is very grand, but I never really liked it.

Aquatico’s resource management system is very deep, with a lot of fascinating detail and some creative thought in the undersea builder. But like the water it’s submerged in, my city ends up feeling cold. It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.