Does it ever come alive? Do you ever get to the stage where you think "ah, a stone mason" rather than "ah, a formula for turning a particular resource into a different resource"?
Not really. It's very mechanical and how the cards are named/what's on the picture vs how they work is rarely connected, so no wonder you just look at the numbers after a while. But it's just that kind of a game - (largely) solo optimization. I'd say the "setting" is there, there's just no theme. You either accept it and take the game for what it is, or not. If you want thematical card games, FFG is your direction. Or, apparently, Terraforming Mars.