Aquatico VS Surviving the Abyss: Which Game Is Better?

The city-building sim is a genre that’s been around for decades. There have been numerous takes over the years and it’s a constantly evolving and growing area that always brings out some unique spins on being an armchair Mayor or Overseer of your own colony or growing township.

Aquatico and Surviving the Abyss are similar contenders making a splash in the ring for this genre. Both provide the option to build a metropolis under the waves, but they have differences that make judging which one is the better investment of your time and money a little tricky. So to help make that final purchase easier, here’s a rundown of which is better, Aqautico or Surviving The Abyss.

12 The Playground

First things first, the playground in a city builder is the most important feature as the more space you get to play with, the larger and more complex your burg can become. In Aquatico's case, the map is pretty vast. You have the basic main area to build up in, but other areas outside your influence can be explored to find additional resources or set up additional sites and outposts to capitalize on your new resources.

Survive the Abyss’s playground on the other hand is a little small by comparison. However, that’s for good reason as the core mechanic is about balancing extending your station with power management. Because if you screw up and build into an area you’re not equipped for, the lights might go out. When that happens horrible nightmarish creatures will appear and all sorts of problems will begin.

11 Story

Creating a town is good and all, but without a story to keep someone pushing towards a goal you might as well just stick on Free Build mode. In this comparison, Surviving The Abyss is the clear lead of the two as it has an interesting hook and a more narrative-driven experience to keep every session relatively fresh and interesting.

Aqautico’s plot is, the world has been ruined by an asteroid and everyone now lives under the sea, that’s it. You’re dumped in the ocean and can just build until you get bored. Whilst Surviving The Abyss’s theme is that you’re running a secret underwater research station that’s run by “the military” and is experimenting with the benefits of creating a human clone workforce. It’s a much darker setting that offers a nice, short experience in ethically dubious science. Plus it provides objectives and goals for the colony to work towards.

10 Resource Management

Where city-building games really shine is their ability to provide a satisfying and challenging resource-gathering loop. In Aquatico, there’s a lot of stuff to gather, process and refine at a fairly relaxed pace. These are then put through an array of machines to produce all sorts of unique items and building chains through an impressively large list of construction options. It’s got a lot of plates to spin if you want to, and you can really diversify your colony over time.

If you’re looking for a tense management-focused affair then Surviving The Abyss is the one to look into. Akin to Frost Punk, the types of things you’ll be mining are limited to just a few, finite, and extremely scarce. Self-sufficiency is more the focus here as it’s the overall colony, the effects of the creatures and random events are what you’ll be mainly dealing with. It’s all about survival down there in the dark.

9 Leading By Example

Being in charge of a large group of people comes with a lot of responsibility and keeping your people happy is a mechanic that can often make or break city management sims. Some can be easy, others brutally hard. In the case of Aqautico things are relatively simple. Humans are kept in hab areas, can be given different careers, and as long as they’re kept happy with specific building chains there isn’t really a lot to worry about.

Surviving The Abyss falls into the slightly harder difficulty camp. Here every decision could potentially make or break a colony. Pushing the workforce now might make them more vulnerable to the effects of the nightmare monsters later, or a decision at a special event choice could have repercussions with power management. There’s three different types and they all have needs and wants that must be met to keep them happy, relatively sane, and productive. Every choice has consequences, so if you like something that requires a lot of thought, Surviving the Abyss has it in spades.

8 Dealing With Danger

No city construction ever goes smoothly. Some games might throw destructive weather patterns, natural events, or revolutions out to keep prospective Community Managers on their toes, in the case of these two the types of threats you’re dealing with day-to-day are quite different.

In Aqautico, Sharks can occasionally terrorize your buildings and damage them and to counter them you can build Gaurd Towers to blast them apart. It’s not much, but it adds a fun layer of tower defense to each city project. Whilst in the Survive The Abyss camp the constant threat is a shadowy eldritch horror that’s never fully seen and can only be kept at bay with lights. It can do damage to buildings, but that’s about it. So there’s not really too much to worry about in either game when it comes to keeping your town or crew safe.

7 Building Options

Aquatico and Surviving The Abyss have two very different styles and their approach to building is equally different. As an example, Aquatico has a large range of buildings, wide open spaces and there’s also verticality as domes, piping, pathways and more can be stacked upon each other in numerous ways.

It allows for quite the Hamster maze of a colony to be built in relatively no time at all. So you can go all flair and style with a mini-Rapture or focus fully on efficiency by building a box town. Surviving The Abyss on the other hand doesn’t have this, and its options for construction are a lot more limited and a bit clunky. Whilst also atmospheric, the lack of variety quickly gets dull.

6 Customization

Nothing beats putting that personal touch on a construction project. In Aquatico you can express yourself with architecture in any way you like. As long as there’s a power connection, anything can be liberally thrown down wherever you like.

Do that in Surviving The Abyss though, and you’re in for a rough time. Every construction project has consequences and whilst you can try to be creative unless it’s efficient, there’s going to be an unhelpful resource drain somewhere. It’s hard enough to scrape by as it is, plus there are known pathing issues with NPCs getting stuck, so you’re often punished for over-extending or building too large a colony. Which can be a little frustrating.

5 Tech Tree

No city hits the ground running, especially those that are built underwater. To go from a tiny group of habs to a sprawling metropolis is going to take a lot of fancy tech, but first, it needs to be researched. The differences in Tech Trees here are honestly quite stark. Surviving The Abyss’s Tech Tree is focused primarily on upgrading your current buildings or unlocking a few new ones to collect resources like Extractors, or to help with power.

Whilst it is limited, it does allow for a more streamlined experience since survival and power management are more in the forefront for this game. By comparison, Aquatico has a massive and long list of buildings and tech that can at first seem a bit bloated and filled with padding. Especially as it can take several seemingly unrelated Tech Tree research projects being completed first to unlock certain buildings. So what follows is often a maddening search up and down it for a few minutes to find each part of a chain to get the upgrade you want.

4 Endgame

Once the tutorials are passed and the grind is kicking in, the endgame is what keeps you coming back. With these two it’s another very stark comparison as one clearly has an end goal, whilst the other doesn’t really have anything to do once self-sufficiency is reached.

Once a town is up and running in Aquatico, you can often step back and let it play itself. There’s no end goal other than, just build more stuff, so enthusiasm to continue can taper off quickly. Whilst Surviving The Abyss is different on each new session, has goals, and is constantly changing with random events changing dynamics within the crew and the colony. Such as power drains, exploration expeditions putting half the workforce in hospital, and so on. There’s a lot more to chew into and you’re never truly done as there’s always something waiting to go wrong at the worst time.

3 Pros and Cons Of Aqautico

Now that comparisons have been made, it’s time for the final weigh-in with the pros and cons of each one laid out neatly. First up, Aquatico. The Pros of Aquatico is that it has a lot of diversity in its building chains, a massive Tech Tree to keep you occupied, and its general low threat and relaxing vibe throughout as you build your underwater city.

The cons on the other hand are that the Tech Tree, whilst vast, feels needlessly padded to stretch out content. There isn’t much to do once you’re self-sufficient and the threats from fish are more a minor annoyance than an actual problem. Once you run out of tasks, the tedium quickly sinks in.

2 Pros And Cons Of Surviving The Abyss

The other contender in the ring, Surviving The Abyss, comes off a bit stronger. Its narrative focus provides a great driving force, the micro-management is satisfying and the overall setting is suitably atmospheric and spooky enough that it scratches that deep sea terror itch.

The cons are the initial difficulty spike in grasping what makes a colony survive or fail, the previously mentioned NPCs getting stuck problem, the general lack of variety, and the concern of it being in Early Access. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there’s tons of great stuff still in Early Access, but it does mean the game still has potentially a ways to go and more changes to iterate before a full release comes out. Overall, it’s a solid start but it needs a lot of work still.

1 Which Is Better?

So far all the merits of each game have been set out and in summary, there really isn’t a best of the two as in this example it’s honestly going to boil down to how much enjoyment you can squeeze out of both of them. For example, Aqautico portrays itself as a more relaxed and chill underwater city builder that’s open-ended. Whilst Survive The Abyss provides a more challenging, colony management sim that’s objective-focused instead of free-form.

Those familiar with Frost Punk will find Survive The Abyss a solid spiritual sequel, whilst those that enjoy the more detail-orientated aspect and freedom of creativity will be more at home with Aqautico. Ultimately there's enough there to provide enjoyment for both audiences, but hopefully, enough information has been provided to help with that final decision on which one to play.

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