Per Aspera

Game review by
Angelica Guarino, Common Sense Media
Per Aspera Game Poster Image
Terraforming mission has engaging story, logistical issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

AMI's ethical questions attending to strategy and production are vital to the story, and the player's choices emphasize a necessity to plan ahead and take responsibility for consequences.

Positive Role Models

AMI is a totally moldable protagonist. Her consciousness, or lack thereof, allows players to carefully consider what their role may be. Is AMI a leader, or a vessel to carry out the whims of their creator? Nevertheless, the posturing of this debate invites reflection and consideration that feels authentic. 

Ease of Play

Creating an entirely new civilization is supposed to be challenging, and though the various difficulty levels and tutorials are for the most part helpful, some unclear directives can cause wasted time, which can mean the difference between progress and eminent failure. 

Violence

Players view top-down altercations between assault drones and incoming enemies. Skirmishes resulting in downed drones are represented by the overall number of available defenses simply going down.

Sex
Language

Occasional use of words like "hell" and "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Per Aspera is a downloadable city-building simulation for WindowsPCs. The primary game mechanics center around resource management for building and sustaining the first human colony on Mars, and eventually manipulating the climate to transform the planet into one resembling Earth. The two game modes are sandbox, where players are free to experiment with the terraforming mission any way they please, and campaign mode, which follows the story of AMI, the genderless artificial intelligence entity supervising the endeavor, and their interactions with scientists and colonists. Ethical questions related to consciousness, ownership of land, and environmental protection are raised throughout the campaign mode as AMI faces roadblocks such as limited water supply, facility maintenance, and even unidentified enemy drone invasions. While the story is interesting, the periods of time between events are littered with logistics hiccups that severely affect gameplay.

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What's it about?

PER ASPERA's story mode begins with AMI's initial landing on Mars. The first human it interacts with is Dr. Nathan Foster, the mission control lead on Earth. Following a series of tutorials on mining, power supply, and manufacturing, the secrets of the strange red planet begin to unfold. Through these demanding supply chain development tasks, the freedom to choose building types, locations, and priorities eventually leads to the arrival of the first colony of inhabitants. With their entrance comes research outposts and technology trees, pioneered by on-site leader Dr. Elya Valentine, a levelheaded psychologist who's keenly aware of both the excitements and risks intertwined in the mission's goals. With each technological improvement comes new obstacles, such as weather conditions and unstable food supply. Balance and organization are of the utmost importance, both with regard to resources and relationships. While AMI begins with a semblance of opinions on their purpose, paired choices during narrative checkpoints point them towards a growing self-image somewhere on a spectrum between helpful human subordinate and extraterrestrial overlord.

Is it any good?

While the allure of city-building strategy games often lies in the vast array of choices, it's difficult to create a game that's challenging without coming off as overcomplicated. While a large amount of background information and structure efficiency indicators are very helpful in Per Aspera, they become rather useless once you get too many structures. For a title solely focused on logistical puzzles, the player should be figuring out where the gaps in their operation are and identifying a solution, instead of spending precious time wading through menus, or being haunted by nearly unfixable issues that seem to be either not easily resolved without a major overhaul of the game mechanics or the result of almost obvious quality-of-life features that should have been rectified during playtesting. For example, it's tiresome to keep track of building locations. A search bar, menu overlay, or another tool could've cut time searching for a structure significantly.

But if players are willing to look past these details, there's certainly fun to be had. The story of Per Aspera is intriguing, especially considering the protagonist. Seeking to solve human ethical issues through the eyes of a nonhuman character is refreshing, and many story events feel multi-layered, even though the choices offered as responses are paired What's the cause of building malfunctions, and could it be sabotage by one of the colonists? Who's the enemy already inhabiting the planet, and is there any possibility for peace? Are humans important to terraforming mission, or are they just in the way? These are some of the dilemmas posed to AMI, and players can expect to feel genuine senses of accomplishment, defeat, and panic along the way. The biggest thing about the game is whether you feel you can find similar intriguing ethical questions without the same technical flaws found in Per Aspera in another title. If you can put up with its logistical issues, you'll find an engaging story on the Red Planet.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about humans' relationship with artificial intelligence. Because some of this technology already exists, what are measures that we can take to understand it and responsibly interact with it?

  • How are allocations made for resources in Per Aspera versus how these same decisions are mad in real life? Why does that matter? What are possible repercussions for mismanagement both in-game and in the real world?

Game details

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Themes & Topics

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