The basics here are very straightforward: you are on Mars. You need a place to live. Get your robots, get your building schematics, and get to work.
The Story & Flow
There really isn't really much of a story to speak of. There are "mysteries" which kind of serve as mini-narratives, like making contact with aliens and other well worn space tropes, but a lot of the story will be what you build in your own head (no pun intended), as these narratives are mainly back-loaded. Story aside, most of your time is spent managing the exploration and colonization of Mars, which is a lot tougher than that sentence makes it sound. There is no breathable air, no water, no infrastructure, and what the hell are you going to eat? The "meat" of this game then, is obviously the actual gameplay, the nuts and bolts of putting the base together, and with nothing else to lean on, it'd better be great. Whether you think it's great or not will largely depend on how much you like the genre.
To begin with, there's no tutorial; sure there are lots of dialogue boxes with vague instructions, but no real direction or guidance on how to implement them. Building a base is clunky, as it requires resources that you, of course, do not have. To acquire the resources needed to get your base going, you have to complete several steps, none of which are obvious. I had to try multiple times just to get my hands on basic building materials.
I figured out that you can build resource gathering stations on top of specific areas, but you need power to, well, power them. Ok, so generators, no problem. Well... a small problem. In order to build power generators, you have to have a certain type of material. But in order to get said material, you either need to get lucky and randomly start with said material, order a drop shipment that takes a lifetime to show up, or break down your only space vessel for parts. Once you make your choice and build the power generator, you'll have to connect them with specific wires and conduits, but none of this is explained, and you basically need to stumble across the answer.I don't mind a game that doesn't insist on hand-holding, but Surviving Mars consistently wanted me to make deductive leaps, and the clues often just weren't there. There was a lot of trial and error, and often, when I figured something out, I felt confused or frustrated instead of clever.
Some items are impossible to craft, and are only available via a drop shipment. Want more worker robots? Sure, just pay up, and have them delivered. This goes for almost a dozen other useful articles. Almost everything is unlocked for you at the beginning with huge price tags, and there is next to no progression. Anything you can unlock is done over a time sink of Research, which gives you a false sense of progression, but requires nothing from you other than research points, which are earned over time or just bought with money.
The game also feels terribly short. You can achieve pretty much anything you want after a few hours if you know what you're doing. And at that point, it's more about making the perfect base than surviving.
Graphics & Sound
This game is gorgeous and sounds amazing. The presentation gives a very well lit, beautiful depiction of Big Red, the topography is exactly what you would expect, and for an uninhabited planet, they sure make it look good. The maps are also huge, allowing for massive builds later on.
The music and ambiance is also very thematic, giving an air of exploration and wonder, and will have you humming along as you build away.