Coming into Early Access games once they hit the 1.0 stage has been a mixed affair for me. About half the time it’s when is really ready for prime time with the most glaring issues worked out, the core game play set and the last few iterations being spent on polishing up the overall experience for when the great unwashed will descend upon it. Other times, and this is typical of games that spend quite a bit of time in Early Access, the game has morphed into its own entity that exists by, for and of its community, sometimes to the point of being so niche that going 1.0 is simply a milestone and not much more. Lastly there are those which are 1.0 in version name only, usually being a horrid mess of half-realised ideas and sloppy execution. Oxygen Not Included, having been in Early Access for over 2 years (but coming from a veteran developer, Klei), has feet in the first and second camps with it having most of the trappings of a polished release whilst also being so incredibly complex with all the mechanics it gained over the years making it’s appeal quite niche. So much so, I’d argue, that I think most people who would ever have played it have likely already bought it before then.
You take the role of the omniscient AI who’s been tasked with ensuring the survival of your colony. Unfortunately it seems like your calculations on where to land weren’t entirely accurate and instead of ending up on the surface of an asteroid you’ve managed to find yourself on the inside of it, making the task of establishing a successful colony just that much harder. You’ll have to carefully balance every resource at your disposal if you want your colony to survive as without your help they’re sure to perish in this unforgiving subterranean environment.
Oxygen Not Included brings with it the trademark art style that Klei is known for, reminiscent of the Flash games of yesteryear with their bright colours, heavy outlining and simple effects. It can be a little visually overwhelming at times as there’s so much going on and it can be a little difficult to differentiate different things at a glance. The game does have tools to help with this of course however they only go so far. This kind of art style is also part of the game’s optimisation strategy as when your base starts to grow you’re going to need every single spare CPU cycle you can get. All this being said though the art style fits the tone of the game well, giving off serious AdVenture Capitalist vibes with its mix of happy overtones with a layer of dark humour bubbling away underneath.
The lead design for Oxygen Not Included cites games like Dwarf Fortress, Prison Architect, and The Sims as his inspiration for this game and their influence can definitely be seen in the mechanics they’ve developed. You don’t control your colonists directly, instead you set them tasks which they’ll do, if they’re able, and they’ll attempt to take care of themselves otherwise. It’s up to you to set up an environment for them to succeed by managing all of the resources that will impact on them. The list of what you’ll need to manage is incredibly long, ranging from simple things like food all the way through gas mixtures, plumbing and wrangling the local wildlife. Indeed this laundry list of mechanics is likely what will turn many newcomers like myself off it as it can be quite intimidating to get into them, especially with the tutorial really only showing you the basics before leaving you to figure everything else out.
That being said making a self sufficient colony isn’t particularly difficult, especially in the starter biome which is particularly friendly to your duplicants. Of course a colony like that isn’t really going to be doing a whole lot of much and so you’ll often turn your eyes toward new and shiny technology that you want to implement. This will mean that you’ll need to begin venturing outside the confines of your safe haven which is where things can start to get really tricky. Indeed the first lesson you’re likely to learn is that whilst it’s important to make sure all needs are met you also need to do that in an efficient way otherwise you’re going to struggle even harder as your base expands. So, if you’re like me, your first few colonies will likely get trashed and you’ll start anew rather than trying to fix a mess you created for yourself.
From there is when things start to get really complicated as your base’s needs grow and the means to meet them becomes ever more challenging. To be sure some of the complexities came from my own desires to do things that I didn’t totally understand how to go about but I lay a good part of the blame for that on the game itself. For instance I tried my hand many times at growing pincha peppers and try as I might I could never get the environment just right for them to properly grow. So I Googled my heart out and figured out how I could best approach the problem but even then it was a long hard slog just to do something a simple as growing a plant. This of course then extends into every aspect of the game as everything beyond the basics has requirements that can’t be met simply, often requiring a long chain of things to work properly for you to get your desired outcome.
That’s where the mental load of this game got to be too much for me as whilst small to medium bases were easy enough to manage once they got over a certain size the wheels starting coming off quickly. Often I’d set a task and then it wouldn’t get done due to some other requirement I hadn’t noticed which would then have a cascade effect on other things down the chain. Troubleshooting these long complex chains of behaviour becomes incredibly taxing, especially when you then have to go back to basics to fix certain things only then to forget what you were trying to do in the first place. I’m sure there’s numerous strategies to combat this but in the time I spent with Oxygen Not Included I didn’t stumble across any, nor did I really feel the inclination to after a certain point.
I’m sure for players who’ve been with the game since the start of its Early Access days these mechanics aren’t really that hard to manage or understand but for me it made playing the game a chore after a while. As my previous reviews of other games in this genre will attest to I usually enjoy these kinds of city building games but I like the complexity to be at a manageable level. If I have to spend a good portion of my time debugging a long chain of events in an automated system to figure out the problem I’m quite likely to get bored and simply give up rather than keep playing once I find the solution. In fairness to the game I’m probably not the ideal player for them either as a game who’s influences include Dwarf Fortress is likely to have a very specific niche in mind.
To be sure I can see why the game has the appeal it does and it’s pretty much the same for every game like it: the emergent storytelling. Looking at the screenshot above you can likely guess there’s a pretty funny story as to why one of my duplicants ended up drowning in a vat of urine. So my polluted water storage area was going to overflow so I tasked the duplicants with building out larger bottom for it which we’d flood and then block up the side once completed. The duplicant, of course, happily followed orders and then built himself a prison which he then filled with polluted water by unplugging the bottom. The first alert I get of this happening? His death note in the top left corner of the screen resulting in the rather darkly hilarious picture you see above.
Oxygen Not Included is a deceptively complex base building game that, if it was your kind of thing, is likely already in your Steam library. For those who enjoy building vastly complex simulations that take into account numerous variables Oxygen Not Included will provide endless hours of fun. For players like me though the complexity is a bit too much to overcome, making playing a real chore past a certain base size. Perhaps if I had more time on my hands like I used to I’d find the charm in Oxygen Not Included but today, even after putting a good 6 hours into it, I couldn’t find much else to keep me coming back.
Oxygen Not Included is available on the PC right now for $35.95. Total play time was 6 hours with 17% of the achievements unlocked.
Anno has always been an interesting blend of different genres, enough so that I’ve spent a good deal of time in its last two instalments. When I heard that the next instalment was going to be set in the 1800s I was intrigued as I had always thought it was a futuristic title. As it turns out that’s not the case as the original Anno game was set in 1404 and it just so happened that I got into the series when it took on its future bent. However it seems the setting matters little as this is very much an Anno game at heart, much more so than 2205 was. For the purists it will be a welcome return to form however for me, someone who quite enjoyed the streamlining, it reminded me of the endless frustration I had in balancing the equation that every Anno game puts before you. Therein lies the rub: this is most certainly a game for fans of the Anno series, just not ones like me.
You father was imprisoned for a crime he swears he didn’t commit and his near allies all fled from his side. Seemingly unable to live with the guilt of the shame he brought upon his family your father took his own life whilst still in gaol. With the little inheritance you’ve been bequeathed at the mercy of your uncle you buy a small island and set about rebuilding your name. In your travels however you find out that your father was telling the truth and it looks likely that the crime was a plot conspired by your uncle to snatch away your father’s fortunes. So you must now become the person that your father raised you to be: a cunning but compassionate business person who can take down your dastardly uncle once and for all.
The engine powering Anno 1400, which from what I gather is Blue Byte’s own internally developed one, appears to have received a few improvements for this instalment. Most notably this comes in the form of NPCs wandering around your town, something that I don’t recall either of its predecessors having. It might sound small but simulating those things in addition to the rest of the game whilst maintaining performance can’t have been an easy challenge to solve. The artwork is, once again, top notch even if the animations still leave something to be desired (would it really kill you to do the lip synching?). I did need to give the game a few tweaks to get it running properly but after that the game has been quite smooth, even at late game stages. For such a long running series it’s good to see Blue Byte still investing in keeping their games up with the times.
If 2205 was a simplification and streamlining of the core game mechanics 1800 is a regression back to its true roots with the mechanical complexity of previous games back in spades. The core game loop is still very much the same: you have one island which support so much so you have to expand to others in order to keep progressing your citizens up the hierarchy. One influence from 2205 remains though in the form of the “New World” map which has resources that you can’t get in the Old World. There’s also an item system for getting buffs for certain things like your trade union or ships, although nothing that makes a game breaking difference. There are some remnants of the streamlining still there like the buildings being hidden behind the citizen’s needs which makes it quite easy to ensure they’re properly satisfied. One last new feature is the expeditions, essentially side missions that you send a ship off on in order to get some item or unlock something. It’s pretty much blow for blow the same game as I remember 2070 being, albeit with just a single race to play.
The RTS aspect of Anno 1800 is very much secondary to the rest of the game, really only there to function as another part of the overall political landscape that you’ll be playing in. In any engagement it’s going to come down to raw numbers rather than the skill of any one player so your best bet in winning is just to have as many of the biggest ships you can manage. To be frank you can get away without having much military for the majority of the game as it really only starts to become a concern later on when your allies start declaring war on others which you are unfortunately obligated to do as well (lest you then end up in a war with them). This time around the combat at least felt like it was serving something of a higher purpose, I.E. leveraging a NPC a bit more to get something you wanted out of them. Still in the grand scheme of Anno 1800 it’s not much more than a distraction.
Anno 1800 follows the series’ formula very closely with the standard tech tree advanced through meeting your citizen’s needs so they can then be upgraded to the next tier. Being able to see exactly what’s needed to meet that need through the build menu is a nice touch as whilst it wasn’t terribly difficult to find out in the last couple games it was a bit of a chore to have to remember it all the time. Other parts of the UI have also had some good quality of life improvements as well, like the shortcuts on the build menu that let you define a few often used buildings that are a single click away. Your also unlikely to go bankrupt as easily this time around as I noticed it was far, far easier to run a sustainable business than it has been before. Fans of the Anno series will feel right at home as pretty much everything else is identical from a mechanics perspective.
Starting off things are easy enough as you only have one type of citizen and their needs are basic. Moving up the chain is, as it always was, where the difficulty starts to ramp up exponentially as you have to find the balance in providing all the resources needed so that your colony can keep growing. It gets even worse at higher populations as you’ll usually have multiple islands, both in the old world and the new, which all need trade routes to each other to ensure that you’ve got enough supplies in the right spot to do what you want to do. This is then exacerbated by the constant onslaught of on-screen events like the newspaper guy asking for you input on the latest issue, the various factions commenting on your actions and the expeditions needing your attention.
It honestly got to be too much for me this time around and I found myself simply giving up and shutting the game down every time I hit yet another roadblock for something. Keeping a colony going is easy enough, even at higher populations, but once you’re in the multi island, new/old world end game it can get really tiring dealing with all the goings on. This is, of course, what most people play Anno for and to a certain extent that’s what I like playing these kinds of games for to. However Anno felt like it rubber banded back just a bit too far towards the old school way of doing things as I really quite enjoyed the simplification of 2205 as it kept me playing for longer.Of course I know I’m likely in the minority for that given the backlash 2205 saw.
There’s also room for a little polish in a couple of places. For instance it’s not entirely clear that if you select a shipyard and then click somewhere else on the map you’re actually setting the rally point for it. The game doesn’t have a line marker or anything for it so I routinely had ships disappearing to all sorts of weird places until I figured out what was happening. This is the same for any unit as well and the only remedy is to deselect the unit with esc to get around it. A highlight mode for resource nodes (or even a list like the fertilities) would be nice as it can be quite a chore to track down what resources an island has. Changing these probably wouldn’t do much to remedy the ungodly complexity that the core game loop has but it would at least make it somewhat more tolerable.
Give it’s wild commercial success, shipping 4 times the units in its first week than 2205 did, I’m sure there’s no one out there reading this review to decide if the latest Anno game is worth it. Indeed you probably shouldn’t be reading this to decide either as if this is the first you’re hearing of the series then it’s likely not for you. However if you’re like me, one of the odd few who enjoyed 2205 for what it did to the then 6 year old formula then Anno 1800 likely isn’t for you. Sure it has all the trappings we’ve come to expect from the series but its regression back to the mean assures that your time spent with it will be a taxing one. For some that’s exactly what they’re after however, for me, I’d prefer a little more sugar with my coffee.
Anno 1800 is available on PC right now for $59.99, Total play time was almost 7 hours with a total of 19% of the achievements unlocked.
Transport Tycoon has a very special place in my heart. It started back when I was a young lad, the game likely coming to me from my father who’d got it from some friends at work. I remember loving building little bus networks and trying to figure out just exactly how to make a business profitable. I was so proud when I made my first virtual million, ever so slowly creeping towards the goal as I finally began to understand the mechanics. Decades later I’d revisit it with my wife and house mate. All of us installing OpenTTD and having a blast competing with each other for hours on end. So when I saw Rise of Industry I was instantly intrigued, the gameplay giving me instant waves of nostalgia for those times. Whilst I can very much appreciate the mechanical depth that’s been built into this game there just wasn’t that something, that X factor, to keep me coming back after I’d grasped the base mechanics. It’s a shame really as I think that there’s probably a great game in there somewhere, it’s just not where I’m looking for it.
The premise is easy to understand: you’re a new business owner seeking to profit from the old fashioned game of supply and demand. You’ll choose a place to plonk down your headquarters which gives you the rights to build various gathering and production buildings in the region. The town has demands that you can meet, although you’ll want to pick your products carefully as not all of them will put you on the path to wealth. From there you’ll work through a tech tree to build even more elaborate products and infrastructure, allowing you to extract even more profit from your town. Over time you can expand your empire to other regions and you’ll have to set up transport routes between your different areas as there’s likely going to be things one place has that the other needs. As you’d expect this can all get pretty complex and whilst the tutorial does a good job of giving you the basics from there on out it’s up to you figure out how you and your company will profit.
Rise of Industry has the tried and true low poly look that’s very much in vogue these days. For the most part the developers have done a good job of keeping the visual confusion down with most buildings being recogniseable from a decent distance, saving you the trouble of hunting for that one factory you put in the middle of everything. Performance is also quite good, only really suffering when you fully zoom out and numerous other towns come into view. By default the UI is painfully small but thankfully there’s an option to increase the scale of it, making the game quite a lot easier on the eyes. The developers have also done a good job with the sound design, emulating a lot of other simulation style games. I’m not sure how to describe it, just that there seems to be a certain kind of soundscape that screams “You’re playing a simulation game!” which everyone uses. It seems the 2 or so years it has spent in various beta and Early Access forms has paid off.
Where TTD was focused just on the transportation of a few kinds of goods Rise of Industry takes it well into the next level with multiple different industry types all requiring their own specific set of resources. The staple is the Farmers Market which is mostly focused on items that can be built directly but the rest of them typically have requirements for products that you’ll need to manufacture. Of course that then means there’s usually inputs to those factories that you’ll have to gather first before you can start generating that item. From there you can start moving up different tiers of products which will likely require input of products from the previous tier. This then progresses up a further 2 more tiers, finally culminating in “prototype” products which win you the game once you sell one. There’s also a city levelling system built in, essentially allowing you to help the city expand and, by extension, get more shops for you to profit from. I believe there’s also trade built in here somewhere but I never got to the point where I needed to do that. Suffice to say there’s an absolute truckload of stuff to explore in Rise of Industry which is both a blessing and a curse.
Logistics will play a large part in your success and whilst the tutorial gives you the basics of how to run things it also sets you up for a micromanaging nightmare. Warehouses by default will gather everything produced in their radius, you don’t need to set up requests for them like the tutorial tells you to do. You can, however, direct places outside of their gather radius to send things to them, something which helps immensely if you didn’t plan your layout particularly well. You’ll probably need to make use of the manual routes quite often regardless as it seems that, even in an abundance of a particular resource (say water) some places will still not get their needs filled for whatever reason. Further on you’ll also have numerous routes going everywhere, something that’s easy enough to keep track of whilst you’re building them but becomes a tangled web of crazy once you’ve moved onto the next item you want to build.
There were two things that killed it for me: the feeling that every product is essentially the same and a lack of overall driving force to keep me playing. The first is easy enough to explain: basically every product you produce is basically the same in the end. Progressing through the tech trees really doesn’t reward you much more than giving you another building to look at. TTD at least gave you new vehicles, different kinds of transportation and a changing landscape with the passage of time. Rise of Industry by comparison feels pretty stagnant once you get everything set up and all you end up doing is counting down the time till the next research project completes. It’s much the same feeling I got after playing Stellaris for some time as the mechanical depth feels great initially but after a while it gets tedious as you simply wait until you can do the next cool thing.
The lack of meaningful competitors is probably what’s driving the latter as it’s blindly easy to build a profitable business, taking a lot of pressure away from you. Sure, your competitors pop up from time to time when an event or auction happens but they don’t ever seem to want to muscle in on your turf or say trash talk you when you’re trying to expand and losing cash like mad. The game itself does warn you about these things though, so the mechanism is in there for them to make the AIs something more than the one dimensional automatons that they are now. Without a meaningful adversary and little drive to want to achieve the next tier of products I ended up just getting bored each time I played, ultimately only ever making one save and even then I didn’t go back to it more than once.
Rise of Industry is a game I was so sure I’d like as it had everything that I’d want in a spiritual successor to one of my favourite childhood games. The aesthetics, mechanics and sound design were all done in a way that made buying it a no-brainer. However it just didn’t grab me in the way I expected it to, instead lacking that driving force that used to keep me glued to my seat for hours on end. To be sure I recognise that it’s a very well built game, one I’m sure many will find countless hours of enjoyment in, it’s just that it just didn’t hit the mark for this old reviewer. Perhaps if I’d been involved in it from its early days I might be singing a different tune but for me, today, Rise of Industry is something I’ll be leaving up on the shelf.
Rise of Industry is available on PC right now for $42.95. Total play time was 4.5 hours with a total of 29% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve very much come to enjoy the new breed of city building simulators like Frostpunk and They Are Billions. I think this is mostly due to their more relaxed pace than other games I typically play, allowing me to plod along at my own pace, only spending a little bit of time here or there to fix the minor issues in the mostly automated systems. Of course part of the fun is also figuring out just how those automated systems work and, most importantly, what makes them break. Dawn of Man, from the developers who gave us Planetbase, is another title in this vein and whilst it might not have the same brutal mechanical complexity that its predecessor did it still provided me with quite a few hours of enjoyable playtime.
You’re in charge of a tribe of people at the very dawn of early civilisation. You start in the stone age with all the trials and tribulations that comes with it: the availability of food limited to what you can find and hunt, stored resources don’t last long and working in the winter is a game of life and death. It is your job as the invisible hand behind this colony to guide them from their primitive origins and get them to the Iron Age…alive preferably.
Like Planetbase before it Dawn of Man has that Unity-esque look and feel to it that many indie games do. There isn’t a huge amount of detail packed into each individual asset, made more to be looked at from above rather than up close and personal all the time, but for the kind of game this is the visuals are more than appropriate. The lack of detail is also helps ensure that the simulation engine has enough grunt to keep everything running smoothly without running into noticeable performance hiccups. I didn’t notice any performance degradation during my time with the game so it appears to be well optimised for its task. Suffice to say though you’re probably not going to be playing this game for the visuals, you’re in it more for the emergent storytelling that the engine can provide.
Dawn of Man is like pretty much any other city builder that you’d care to point to as most of the basic tasks are the same. You’ll need to provide basic resources to your colony in the form of food, water and shelter all of which you have varying means of acquiring at your disposal. Beyond that you’ll also need to accumulate knowledge points, a kind of currency you’ll gain for hitting various milestones that can then be spent at the tech tree. To advance to the next age you’ll need to unlock that age’s key technology and it’ll come at a hefty price so you’ll need your colony to be somewhat advanced to make it. Beyond that the only other real challenge is the occasional raid from other humans or possibly even a couple animals but, beyond that, there’s not much more to the game. At least at the base level anyway.
Getting into these games is always a bit of a challenge as figuring out how the various systems interact with each isn’t always obvious, nor does the game really tell you much beyond the basics in the tutorial. Typically this is usually where I’ll restart my first game a couple times over, usually as it becomes clear I’ve backed myself into a corner I can’t get out of. For Dawn of Man though I didn’t end up doing that, instead I was able to find ways out of every dire situation I found myself in. Now I don’t know if this is because I’ve played quite a few more titles like this since I played Planetbase all those years ago but it definitely felt like there were a lot more outs in Dawn of Man than I’m used to having.
I say all of this because it means there’s no funny story of me failing miserably and killing everyone, apologies! 😉
Dawn of Man follows the usual trope of keeping things simple in the beginning but adding incremental complexity as you progress through the game. Progression in this sense is pretty linear as new tech is really only unlocked when you move to a new age and you’re only going to move to a new age once you’ve stabilised your colony in the current one. Of course I was playing on the first scenario so I’m not sure how this would play out in the challenge modes, most of which seem to have another built in layer of complexity in order to ramp up the difficulty a bit more. Further to that the game has Steam Community support so I’m sure there’s likely to be many mods and improvements that’ll add all sorts of interesting nonsense to the game in the near future.
For my colony the primary challenge typically came from being out of a particular resource which would stall my progression. The first of these was tannin, required for making leather which I needed for various upgrades and things to improve my colony overall. What I usually found was that, although those resources were available, the work zones I had put down weren’t getting filled with people to complete the work, there were even people showing as underutilised. The way to get around this it seemed was to put down multiple work zones for the same resource rather than having one stacked with the same number of people. Looking through the forums on this I’m not the only one who’s struggled with this kind of challenge and indeed it seems most of the games real challenge comes from the AI wigging out and doing something completely unexpected.
I had quite a few instances of this in my game, the funniest (well, looking back it now anyway) was when half my colonists were walking around starving themselves to death. For some reason there’s certain tasks that the AI will prioritise over eating, to the point of people working themselves to death before they’ll take 10 minutes to get a meal. I eventually worked out that the problem, and honestly this shouldn’t even be a problem, was that the food I had on hand still needed to be “cooked” even though it had been already. Certain other foods can be consumed instantly and, when they’re not around, it seems the AI prefers to try and keep them working than take the required time to cook. It’s a bit of an edge case, I’ll grant you, but there’s dozens of other emergent behaviours (like the AI not respecting hard resource limits you set) that you’ll have to figure out lest they become the downfall of your colony.
Dawn of Man does tend to hide a lot of information behind dozens of menus, many of which aren’t readily accessible. A lot of good information is shown on the various tabs you can put on screen but for some things, like which colonists are idle and which ones aren’t, need quite a few clicks to get to before you can see that information. Similarly, whilst some information is packed together well (like resource limits on the places where those resources are produced) others, like milestones and knowledge point tasks, are on completely different menus. This isn’t something that’s beyond fixing and at the very least I’ll bet that someone from the community will fix it up with a mod in the not too distant future.
Once you get past the basics with Dawn of Man though there seems to be a couple tricks that enable you to basically do whatever you want. For me I found that wool, which is effectively an unlimited resource, sells quite well with traders and so I was routinely clearing them out each time they came by. This is especially good considering that you can buy tech unlocks from them, something I always ended up doing as I’d routinely have 200+ units of wool just lying around. At that point I really was just running out the clock on the game to unlock all the tech and get the last milestone though. For me though that was enough as I was plenty satisfied with the time I had spent in the game by then. More serious players will likely find a lot of enjoyment in the challenge modes and community mods but for this old player I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth.
Dawn of Man is another competent city builder from developer Madruga Works, one that’s likely to provide many hours of entertainment to those who love this genre. It certainly felt a lot easier than other games in this genre have of late, although that could quite possible be because I’ve played a number of them over the past few years. Still if you’re after a casual, low stress city building experience then I think Dawn of Man will be right up your alley.
Dawn of Man is available on PC right now for $35.95. Total play time was 8 hours with 28% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve started to grow rather fond of these little city simulation games, each of them bringing a different bent on the same genre. Looking back over my gaming history it seems to have started with Anno 2070, a game I never would have played if it wasn’t for a gentle prodding from a good friend of mine. Since then I’ve played quite a few of them (even an Early Access one, breaking my rule!), usually getting to my first victory until I moved onto greener pastures. It’s rare that one manages to bore me into not wanting to play again which is unfortunately what Surviving Mars managed to do.
The premise of the game is simple enough, you’re part of a mission to establish a colony on Mars. You’re given a base set of infrastructure, a truckload of cash and a set amount of time to build the colony up to a respectable level. Mars isn’t a particularly hospitable place though, devoid of much of the resources that you’ll need to keep your humans alive and happy. At the same time you’re still at the behest of your supporters who are keen to exploit the natural resources of this yet untapped world.
Now I’ve never played any of the Tropico series or other titles that Haemimont Games is known for so I don’t have much of a baseline to compare it to. On first glance I thought it had a little bit of that Unity engine feel to it but they apparently have their own, custom built engine which was upgraded for Surviving Mars. It has a similar visual style to that of Cities Skylines with heavily stylized visuals including simple textures and bright colours. There are some cool bits of visual flair like vehicles, buildings and infrastructure all getting dusty after being around for a set period of time. Whilst the simple visuals are necessary, due to the game’s heavy simulation load and potential for a lot of items on screen, they’re certainly not one of the game’s negatives. I only wish the game gave you a little more reason to enjoy them up close (more on that later).
Surviving Mars is a colony building simulator with all the essentials you’d expect from such a game. You’ll be given a starting location and a set of infrastructure to get you started but beyond that you’re left on your own. Initially you’ll just be commanding a drone army, one that needs little more than a stable power source to survive the harsh martian terrain. You’ll use that to build up the minimum set of infrastructure required to start bringing humans down which in turn leads onto bigger and better things. Along the way you’ll research new tech, explore new terrain and grow your colony further. Your win condition will depend on which nation you align yourself to and it could be something as simple as reaching a colony of 200, building multiple domes or researching enough tech. There’s certainly a lot to do and, in true simulation fashion, it may take some time to get to the next thing you want to do. For some that’s part of the charm but unfortunately, for this writer, it was what ended up killing it.
Getting started in Surviving Mars is a bit of a struggle as even the quick game option doesn’t really give you a lot of direction to start off with. It gives you a few basic instructions here and there but unlike other simulation games, which usually give you a simple mission which will help you establish a basic colony, Surviving Mars does no such thing. This leads to maybe an hour or two of screwing around to figure out what you should do, in what order and what each of the mechanics is best used for. I believe this is intended, mostly to keep some mechanics a bit vague in order to generate those desperate moments when you forget to do something and suddenly your colonists are running out of food or something. Whilst I’m all for emergent gameplay elements like that, indeed one of my favourite stories is trapping all my colonists inside their first dome in Planetbase with no oxygen and no power to get out, forcing them takes away much of their charm. Still most of them are easy to avoid even though there’s no base overview panel or similar to keep a track on all the colony’s key stats.
Building up your colony can be done relatively swiftly if you make good use of the resupply mechanic, allowing you to spend capital to get resources from Earth. The limiting factor there will be your research however as the small domes you get at the start are too small to be useful. Making you colony self sustainable is quite the challenge as the specialised buildings you’ll need to fabricate the different resources (like polymers, electronics and machine parts) all require specialised facilities, most only built inside domes, and the requisite resources. Both of those will require colonists and the greater the number and mix of them you have the harder it will be to ensure they all have everything they want. This is somewhat easier in the later stages of the game when you have access to bigger domes of course but it does mean that the first few hours of a game are usually a bit of a struggle. From there though it starts to drag a bit as you get into a repetitive cycle of: ordering new resources from Earth, expanding as much as you can, waiting for some tech to research and repeating until you’ve had enough.
Indeed that’s what killed it for me in the end. I was definitely making progress but I still didn’t have a fully, self sufficient colony that I could depend upon whilst I focused on the higher order things. I did have domes producing each of the resources but the rate at which they did was so slow it was barely enough to keep everything going. So instead I’d be focused on the resource depots (since there’s no page to say you have X units of metal or anything), figuring out what I needed where, ordering enough from Earth and then ensuring they all got transited to the right places. Strangely it feels a lot like one of Paradox’s other games, Stellaris, where you end up getting bogged down in the minutiae of running everything rather than having fun with the big picture.
A lot of this is born out of the lack of quality of life features that would make the game a lot more fun. For example drones have no idea about anything outside of their control zones, meaning that if there’s resources in one zone that are needed in another (even if those zones overlap) they will never get transported there. This makes setting up new areas a real chore as you have to manually transport everything there. The lack of a colony health or overview page makes checking up on resources a real pain with the only indication of a problem being the alerts when things are on the brink of disaster. Worse still the normal notifications like “We have an oxygen shortage” are usually inaccurate, actually meaning that a dome you just built (that doesn’t have people in it yet) hasn’t been connected yet. The research trees are hidden unless you discover it in an anomaly or research up the tree which means there’s no driving motivator to push you along one path or the other. Also there’s no drag to select a bunch of units, a real pain when you want to reallocate a bunch of drones between zones.
All of these things, combined with the dreadfully slow pace of research in the early game, make it really hard to keep going past a certain point. Some of Surviving Mars’ negatives are easy enough to deal with, like the lack of tutorials or quality of life mechanics, but when it takes so long to do so little with so much effort I just end up getting bored. It’s a shame as there’s obviously a good amount of mechanical depth in Surviving Mars but at 6 hours play time I felt like I had been playing for 30. I didn’t even get to check out the “individually simulated” colonists, not that I think that would’ve made much of a difference in anything.
Surviving Mars is a game that feels like it left beta just a little bit too early. The core tenants of what the developer wanted to achieve are there, a colony simulator with a Mars bent, but the things that would make the game actually enjoyable to a wider audience are missing. Perhaps this is par for the course with the developer and the game is perfectly built for their fans, I wouldn’t know as this is the first title I’ve played from them. Still considering their pedigree I had higher expectations for what would amount to their 9th game in the genre. Given that the game has mod support and DLC to come it’s entirely possible that these issues will go away in due time but that wouldn’t be enough for me to recommend the game as it is now.
Surviving Mars is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $39.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6 hours playtime and 12% of the achievements unlocked.
If you cycled back a decade or two the generally held definition of what constituted a game was fairly rigid. Today that definition is far less defined with the indie explosion bringing us all kinds of experiences that dance on the edge of what could reasonably be called a “game”. Whilst I’ll leave that debate to one side (nestling it close by the “are games art” discussion) the games which have kindled that debate are undoubtedly some of the most interesting experiences I’ve had as a gamer. Everything, which comes to us care of the developer of Mountain, is an exploration of the idea that everything is connected and how we define nebulous concepts such as self and identity.
You are something, but so is everything else. How do you define what is you and what is everything? The definition of you can change at any time as you journey through space and time. Wherever you go there is always something which is made up of something else. The worlds you explore are infinite, built upon and under one another. If this is all sounding incredibly nebulous then you’re right, it is, but that’s the beauty of the story that Everything tries to tell. As you explore you’ll be many things and each of those things will give you a new perspective on what this world is.
Everything uses a stylised, low-poly, simple texture aesthetic. It’s a procedurally generated game with various different biomes defined covering everything from lush forests to galaxies to 1D sub-atomic structures. Whilst this does meant that that there’s not much variety within a biome there’s enough of them to keep you interested in exploring for hours on end. For the most part it runs very well however once you get a bunch of entities together on screen performance starts to take a noticeable dive. That’s mostly of your own making though so it’s easy to avoid performance issues if you don’t go overboard. All said and done whilst Everything’s simplistic visuals are a nice backdrop to the game’s music, narration and core game play.
Exploration is the core mechanic of Everything as it puts you in a large world for you to explore. The mechanics of how you do this are a little esoteric and not all of them will be available to you at the start. Initially you can just move around and see the thoughts of other things as you walk past. After a while you’ll be able to become other things and then explore the world from their perspective. From there you’ll then learn about ascending and descending, essentially exploring the next “layer” in the realm of existence. There’s also a bunch of other mechanics in there like herding, dancing and a few other things but they’re essentially distractions from the main exploration mechanic. In terms of an overall objective there’s really none as Everything is meant to be experienced more than played, as evidence by the inclusion of an auto-play system which turns Everything into an overgrown screensaver.
When I first saw a demo of Everything I honestly thought it was a joke. The animations are laughably simple with animals rolling around and the various “thoughts” you come across are typically nonsense cobbled together using an algorithm. However there’s something strangely relaxing about it all, watching a big herd wander across a landscape with the soothing backing music playing away. Once you get a handle on the ascend/descend mechanics then the game starts to take on a sense of purpose as you look around you environments for new places to explore.
If I had one gripe it would be that the exploration mechanics of Everything are so obtuse, even after the tutorial, that it can be hard to feel like you’ve got a sense of control. Initially you’re limited in what you can do, which is fine given the broad scope of the game. However even after unlocking all the mechanics it can still be a bit hard to understand how to ascend or descend, what certain UI elements mean or how to direct yourself to the place you want to go. Of course you could avoid all this frustration by just letting the auto-play do its thing but, realistically, I think that’s really only meant for when you’ve become tired of doing the exploration yourself. Still if you can get past this initial barrier the experience of Everything is quite rewarding.
The story, if you could call it one, is to listen to Alan Watts‘ lecture on his theory that everything is connected. The ideas are presented in a highly consumable way and often enough that you won’t go long without stumbling across another audio log to listen to. Whilst I’ll leave the philosophical debate to the reader the ideas presented are interesting and wholly in alignment with the ideas the game wants to present. I’d be interested to know how this particular lecture played into the creation of Everything as the developer has noted that in creating Mountain he saw the potential to represent more of the world through an experience like this. Either the game was somewhat inspired by the ideas presented or they were retrofitted into the game afterwards. Either way it would be interesting to know the creator’s perspective on this.
Everything is a brilliant exploration of ideas through the use of simple graphics and mechanics. Whilst they’re a little obtuse on first glance after a while they start to make sense and that’s when you can truly take control of your journey through this game’s procedurally generated world. After slogging my way through numerous AAA titles and text adventures of late it was great to be able to sit back and simply explore without a goal to achieve. It’s not a game for everyone but, if you’re suffering epicness fatigue from the last couple months barrage of AAA titles then this might just be the unicorn chaser you need.
Everything is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $14.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2 hours play time and 44% of the achievements unlocked.
I have many fond memories of the hours I wasted in the Tycoon style games. Most of those hours were spent trying to build my business empire in Transport Tycoon but, every so often, I’d take a break for something more…cathartic. That’s when I (and I’m sure many other gamers) turned to Rollercoaster Tycoon, a game which could satisfy that sadistic need every child has to wreck mayhem on unsuspecting NPCs. In the years since though I hadn’t gone back to the various incarnations in that franchise, my attention drawn elsewhere by shiny AAA titles. However you’d be hard pressed to miss the fervor that has surrounded Planet Coaster the latest incarnation of Rollercoaster Tycoon to come out of Frontier Developments. It’s an impressive game however I think the good ship nostalgia has long since set sail on these types of games, at least for myself.
Planet Coaster is your typical business management game; putting you in charge of the day to day tasks of managing an amusement park. You’ll build attractions, rides and design your own rollercoasters to delight and terrify your park guests. There’s numerous variables to fine tune that ensure your park stays clean, enjoyable and above all profitable. Depending on the mode you select you can either pit yourself against a set of objectives, race the clock or simply set yourself free to do whatever you feel like. As someone who hasn’t played any of the intervening instalments in this franchise since 20 years ago Planet Coaster feels like the modern equivalent of that game I lost so many hours on.
The look and feel of Planet Coaster takes inspiration from The Sims franchise, favouring stylized models, a clean UI and a similarly styled sound track. The level of detail is impressive, especially when you see that all the models are constructued from different parts that are available for you to use. Occaisionally there are performance issues which seem to stem from menus not rendering properly but otherwise everything runs well, even at full speed. Considering Frontier Developments’ pedigree this level of polish should come as little surprise as they’ve been invovlved in Tycoon style games for some 13 years now, having developed expansion packs for RollerCoaster Tycoon 2.
There are 3 main game modes in Planet Coaster: campaign, challenge and sandbox. Campaign sets you against a pre-established park with a number of goals that you need to work with and serves as a decent introduction for Planet Coaster’s main mechanics. Challenge gives you a blank slate and a limited amount of funds in order to establish yourself as a self-sufficient park. Sandbox is, as you can probably guess, the creative mode that allows you to do whatever you wish. Depending on how you like to play these kinds of games one of the modes will likely suit you better than the rest. However I’m sure most people will just head straight for creative so they can start building the death-coaster of their dreams.
I started off playing in campaign mode figuring that it would be the best way to get introduced to the game’s mechanics. If you’ve played these kinds of games before you’ll be able to figure most things out and the pop ups on the left hand side will be able to fill in the blanks. However for new comers it’d probably take some getting used to as there’s no clear direction on how to go about the rudimentary tasks that the game assumes you know how to do. As things start to get a little more complicated, like when you’re trying to figure out your finances, this is where the tutorial system starts to break down and you’ll likely be off to the Steam forums searching for advice. This is not a bad thing per se, however it does show that Planet Coaster is still polishing up some of the rough edges left over from its Early Acess days.
I have to admit though that after playing the campaign for a couple hours I simply lost interest in playing. Back in my younger days I can remember having lots of fun building all sorts of wild and whacky coasters. Now though? The idea of building a coaster just didn’t have the same sense of joy it used to, echoing the feelings I had back when I played Contraption Maker (the spiritual successor to The Incredible Machine). I’ve been told that challenge mode is a far better way to play the game and I’ve been meaning to go back, really I have, but the drive to do so just hasn’t been there. It’s a shame really as Planet Coaster seems like an objectively good game, one that does its heritage justice, but it just didn’t tickle me in the right way.
Looking at the stats of Planet Coaster though I can definitely see that I’m in the minority, with the average play time hovering around 13 hours.
Planet Coaster brings with it all the things that captivated many of us in our younger days: the freedom to build the amusement park of our dreams, the thrill of designing the perfect roller coaster and, of course, unleashing untold destruction on your park’s denizens. For this old gamer though the magic just wasn’t there, the couple hours I spent with the game just not hitting the nostalgia buttons hard enough to make me come back. Planet Coaster is an extremely well built game however, one that is likely to provide many hours of entertainment for those who love games like this. Maybe one day I’ll find the drive to go back and change my mind but, for now, it’s going to be sitting on the shelf.
Planet Coaster is available on PC right now for $44.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 13% of the achievements unlocked.
Journey was one of my favourite games of its release year, blending together many well-crafted elements into an enthralling experience. Long time fans of Thatgamecompany weren’t surprised at this though as the developer had a history of delivering atmospheric titles with brilliant sound tracks. For me though it was the multiplayer aspect that made Journey shine; the co-operation through minimal communication a truly inspired mechanic. However Thatgamecompany’s usual release cycle of every 3 years has come and gone without another release, leaving us wanting for the kind of experiences that they were known to deliver. In the mean time however former art director for Thatgamecompany Matt Nava has formed a new games development house called Giant Squid Studios and their first game, ABZU, has just been released.
It’s easy to see Matt Nava’s influence in ABZU, the main character sharing similar stylings to the main protagonist of Journey. Indeed the setting, whilst being the polar opposite of Journey’s desert, shares a lot of the same elements. After a short cut scene, which obviously holds some significance to ABZU’s plot, you’re dumped in a massive underwater world and set forth to explore. The how and why of everything are left up to you to figure out as there’s no dialogue nor walls of texts to explain anything. The only helping hand you’ll get is a few screens that fade in to let you know what the controls are, after that you’re on your own.
Borrowing yet again from it’s spiritual predecessor ABZU has the same highly-stylised, almost cel-shaded like aesthetic. Unlike the barren wastes of Journey ABZU is a world that teams with life, schools of fish and other sea creatures dancing about as you explore. These visuals are then accompanied by an incredible sound track done by Austin Wintory, the same composer behind Journey. I’ll endeavour to stop making comparisons between the two but calling it “Journey but in the sea” seems like the most apt description of what ABZU is on first glance.
ABZU is an exploration game, one that makes full use of the underwater environment to provide you with much more freedom than traditional platformers do. You’ll be dropped into a gated off area, one that you must explore in order to find your way out. Along the way you’ll find various collectibles, unlocks and various items that are used to unblock/unlock your way through to the next section. There’s no combat to speak of however, the game preferring to gently remind you that there’s a better way than throwing yourself head on at every problem. Overall it’s a very simple game but as we’ve seen before simplicity in game mechanics doesn’t mean it isn’t a sophisticated experience.
The exploration is done mostly well, the environments being full of detail that’s worthy of exploration just by itself. Unlocking additional creatures from their underwater prisons adds them directly to the local ecosystem, sometimes changing it radically. You move at a good speed, especially with boost, making it easy to get across a map in no time at all. What’s lacking however is an indication of how complete each section is, leaving you to wonder if you really did get everything or there was something left behind. I may have just missed the signal that showed you that but I remember Journey’s version of that being very obvious and if ABZU has a similar mechanic it was far too subtle for me to pick up on.
I did as instructed when the game asked me to use a controller however even then the controls felt a little janky. I do understand that there’s a certain amount of inertia when you’re in water however the way the character moves sometimes doesn’t quite line up with what your inputs are. It’s not unusable by any stretch of the imagination but it does make some moments far more frustrating than they need to be. I didn’t swap it out for the mouse and keyboard however, so I’m not sure if that might have resolved my issues.
The story is told through your interactions in the world, various hieroglyphics that adorn parts of the world and lots of cut scenes that paint a high level picture of what your character is trying to accomplish. Consequently there’s not a lot of meaning you can derive from ABZU directly, it’s all inferred from what you see on screen. This doesn’t prevent the game from having some truly impressive emotional moments however, many of which are reminiscent of Journey, but it does mean that the higher meaning of the game is somewhat elusive.
ABZU is a true spiritual successor to Journey, taking all of what made its predecessor great and applying it to a whole new setting. The visual and sound design both come from direct from those who worked on Journey and their influence can be seen throughout ABZU. Mechanically it plays largely the same with the added freedom granted by being underwater used to great effect. The controls are probably the one black mark against the otherwise solid experience, making some aspects of the game just a bit tedious and awkward. Overall though ABZU is a standout debut title for Giant Squid Studios and I very much look forward to what they do next.
That is if Thatgamecompany don’t release something before them, of course!
ABZU is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99 on both platforms. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours of total play time and 58% of the achievements unlocked.
The following that Bethesda games have is anything but unwarranted. Their games are some of the greatest examples of giant, open world RPGs that are packed to the rafters with detail. Their continuing support of the modding community has meant that many of their titles have had life well beyond any other similar games. They do, however, have a tendency to be released with a number of quirks, glitches and issues that dramatically affect playability. Fallout 4 continues the Bethesda tradition (and the Fallout franchise) in earnest, giving players an exceptionally large world to explore whilst suffering from some incredibly rough edges that severely tarnish this otherwise brilliant game.
Fallout 4 throws you into a post-apocalyptic wasteland based in the pre-war state of Massachusetts, now called The Commonwealth. You were one of the lucky few to be granted into one of the numerous Vaultec bunkers, protecting you from the war that raged on outside. However your bunker was not like the others, instead of living out your days underground you were instead frozen in stasis, left to dream away the years. You awoke only once to bear witness to a terrible event before you were quickly frozen again. When you awake again and find the world in ruin you have only one goal in mind: to right the wrong that was done to you on that tragic day.
With 7 years between titles you’d be expecting a large upgrade in graphics and Fallout 4 certainly delivers that. All of the expected current generation trimmings are there like advanced lighting effects, dynamic weather and scenes that are chock full of detail. When compared to its current peers though it’s a little below average, with lower poly count models and less detailed textures, however that’s likely a function of the large draw distance that Fallout 4 favours. Indeed there are many other areas that likely received a lot more focus than the graphics and, considering the mod-centric approach Bethesda takes towards their games, it’s likely something they felt would be remedied without a lot of additional effort on their part.
Fallout 4 has a breadth of detail that’s hard to do justice in a single summarizing paragraph and I’m sure there’s things in the game I simply didn’t see even with the large amount of time I spent in it. At its core Fallout 4 is an open world FPS RPG with city building thrown in as an extra distraction and progression mechanic. There’s a main quest line you can pursue if you so wish or you’re free to wander off into the wasteland, searching for hidden places or doing battle with the various inhabitants. You can barter for gear or craft your own, something which takes a rather large amount of investment but is most certainly worth the pay off. You can join factions and help them in their crusade to better The Commonwealth and bring companions along with you who provide interesting dialogue and can do certain things for you. In all seriousness there’s something for pretty much everyone in Fallout 4 as it can be pretty much whatever kind of game you want it to be.
Combat feels very much the same as its predecessor, retaining the VATS percentage based attack system alongside the more traditional FPS style play. I had chosen to not invest points in VATS skills in order to put them elsewhere, hoping that my FPS skill could make up for the difference. Whilst that’s true to some degree Fallout 4’s combat is most certainly based around the use of VATS and I found myself relying on it more and more as I continued to play. That could be partially due to the fact that the FPS experience isn’t as polished as say Call of Duty‘s as the reticle didn’t always seem to be in complete alignment with where my bullets were going. Your mileage may vary depending on your build though as I’ve heard aiming isn’t much of an issue if you’ve built yourself a melee slugger.
Levelling up in Fallout 4 seems to come often enough so long as you’re engaging in some form of activity. Pretty much everything you do, from exploring to building cities to doing quests, will grant you some amount of XP. If you’re looking to power level (like I was) then investing heavily in INT early on is a must as I was rocketing past my friends who had a similar amount of play time. If you’ve focused your build elsewhere there are other ways to increase your XP gain, like the Idiot Savant perk. Whilst the inclusion of a respec ability or service would’ve been great the relatively easy levelling means that you were never too far off unlocking a perk you wanted. Again if you’re reading this some time after Fallout 4’s initial release I’m sure there’s already a mod that can help you in that regard.
The city building part of Fallout 4 is anything but shoe horned in and provides a very effective way to progress other aspects of your character that might be lacking. The picture below is my purified water farm out at Sanctuary, something which provided me both with a reliable supply of caps as well as a relatively effective and free healing item. Getting your settlements up to a good size, with all the right trimmings, does take some effort to get done (especially if you need to go hunting down certain materials) but the rewards are most certainly worth it. It would be nice to have a bit more clarity around what influences certain things, like what attracts more settlers or what influences raids, but after a while you start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
The crafting system feels like a double edged sword. On the one hand it’s hard to deny that the crafting system is deep and rewarding as some of the things you can craft (or mod) are really quite overpowered. On the other hand however it’s marred by the age old inventory problem, where you can never be sure what you’ll need and so you feel compelled to grab everything in sight. Whilst the tag for search system is a great addition it would’ve been nice to have something akin to a recipes book that I could consult whilst in the field. Sometimes I know I wanted to make a certain mod but hadn’t flagged the items for search before I had left my workshop. Jumping out of the quest, going to a workbench, and then trucking back in isn’t something that I’d call fun which is why I often left it. Once your settlement gets to a certain level you can get around this a bit with stores, but it’s still a bit of a pain.
It wouldn’t be a Bethesda game if it wasn’t extremely janky and Fallout 4 is no exception. In my first hour I encountered no less than 3 bugs which completely broke the game for me, leaving my character unable to progress. The most irritating one of these was when I’d go to use a console and then get stuck when I quit out of it. As it turns out this was an issue with systems that would render higher than 60fps, as the physics simulation is tied to the render rate. This meant my character would jerk out too fast and get stuck in his own body with every control proving to be unresponsive. To fix this I had to set an FPS limit on my graphics driver in order for the game to work properly. I have not once had to do that before and honestly it’s astonishing that you could have a PC that’s too good to play a game. It’s telling that my in game save says I’ve played for about 27 hours but Steam says 31 as that’s how much time I’ve lost to bugs that could only be solved by reloading the game.
It’s not just game breaking bugs either, there are some design decisions made in Fallout 4 that just don’t make sense on the PC platform. The 4 choice dialogue system, with its summaries that often don’t match up with what your character actually says, feels like a backwards step. I can understand the pip boy interface is part of Fallout’s aesthetic but actually using it on PC is an exercise in frustration. The city building, whilst brilliant in almost all other regards, lacks an overarching interface to manage many of the banal tasks like assigning resources to task or identifying new settlers. These are all things that aren’t above being fixed but it’s obvious that Bethesda’s priorities were elsewhere and a lot of the clean up is going to have to be done by the modding community.
The main storyline is pretty average with the clichéd opening cinematic giving you a pretty good indication of what to expect. When I was discussing it with some of my Smoothskins we came to the conclusion that if you’re looking for a solid, directed narrative in a Bethesda game you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead the real story comes from your experiences in the game, how you influenced events and what decisions you decided to make. Indeed after finishing the main questline I felt like nothing had really happened apart from being made to eradicate the opposing factions with extreme prejudice, no choice of saving them or bringing them under my wing. With that in mind I think Fallout 4’s story is best left alone and the tales of your wasteland journey take over instead.
Fallout 4 is exactly the kind of game we’ve come to expect from Bethesda: a grand sweeping world upon which you can build your own story (whilst enduring the trademark jankiness). The incredible girth of the game cannot be understated as it can be easily described as a FPS, an RPG and even a fully fledged city builder and simulator. The numerous ancillary mechanics are all well done, allowing you to really craft a character the way you want. However it’s irreversibly tainted by the numerous issues that are guaranteed to plague anyone who wants to brave the wastelands of The Commonwealth, something which can only be solved by mad quicksaving. Overall Fallout 4 is one of this years must play games but it might be best served after a patch or two with maybe a mod on the side.
Fallout 4 is available on PC, PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $59.99, $59 and $59 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 31 hours of total play time with 52% of the achievements unlocked.
There are some genres in which few dare to tread for fear of being crushed by the long reigning champion. For city building games there was really no comparison to Sim City, a game that had been around for decades and had captured the hearts and minds of a generation of gamers. However their last release, Sim City 4, showed that even the mighty can fall and the community began looking for alternatives. There have been others that have recieved some praise, like Banished and Anno 2070, but they never tried to beat Sim City at its own game. Cities: Skylines is a new entrant into the city building genre and it takes direct aim at the crown, going right at the foundation of what made Sim City great.
Despite its namesake Skylines is not the next instalment in the Cities series of games (which are developed by Focus Home Interactive) instead it comes to us care of Colossal Order who’s previous titles are the Cities in Motion series. Essentially these were cut down versions of what Skylines looks to achieve, being focused solely on the deployment and maintenance of subway systems in famous locations. Skylines is then a natural progression for Colossal Order, taking their lessons learnt from the mixed reviews their games received and aiming high in the wake of Sim City’s failures.
Skylines is built on the ever popular Unity engine which means, as usual, it has a very similar look and feel to other titles that have been released on it. For a city building simulator this isn’t much of a bad thing as you’ll spend the vast majority of your time at a birds eye view. That being said close inspection of my screenshots from both games shows a pretty similar level of detail with the main difference being Sim City favours a light and bright colour palette whilst Skylines is a bit more muted. Indeed comparing both of them it feels like Skylines simply directly ripped off most of the visual and interface elements from Sim City as even the order of the bottom row is identical. The layout works however so it’s hard to fault the imitation but usually it comes with just a touch more subtly.
As you’d expect Skylines is a city building game, one where you start out with nothing and have to build your way up to a grand town with thousands of citizens. The controls and mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played their fair share of games in this genre, especially anyone who’s spent even a small amount of time with Sim City. You’ll drop down roads, zone areas for certain types of development and deploy services that your citizens needs. Interestingly most of it isn’t accessible to you right at the start, instead the game slowly unlocks things as your population increases. Considering there’s no real tutorial to speak of (those hints don’t really count) this helps in understanding what each of the services does and where the best place is to place them. On top of this Skylines boasts an AI that doesn’t do the things that made Sim City 4 such a chore to play however it still has its own set of quirks, some of which are fun and others which are downright confusing.
Like all city building games Skylines has an optimal configuration for the roads, facilities, zoned areas and transportation but what that is can be a tricky thing to decipher. My first couple towns, which were centred on a main arterial with small roads coming off it, worked reasonably well at the beginning but quickly fell apart once the population started ramping up. The configuration below seemed to be the best one I could come up with, using long main roads without many intersections and having side roads come off them. The main limiting factor is the fact that zoned areas need to be next to roads so there’s only so much space you can pen in. I wholly admit that this was me trying to solve the transport problem with roads alone as once I added in metro lines things seemed to get a lot better.
There’s a few quality of life features in Skylines that makes your time a little easier, like power jumping from adjacent buildings so you don’t have to run power lines all the way through your city to get it going. The same can’t be said for other services though and so you’ll spend much of your time laying water pipes and other various bits of infrastructure to expand your city. That’s not terribly laborious however it does start to lose its lustre after a little while. It would be nice to be able to create patterns that you could stamp down, something which would form its own little mini-game of developing the best city cells to use for your larger deployments. Thankfully that’s something that might end up happening thanks to the already thriving modding community that’s sprung up around this title.
The city simulation seems fairly robust with things behaving how you’d expect them to. It’s a little more logical than what I remember Sim City being with things like the size of the road mattering when you place down a fire station or university. This adds a little more complexity to the city planning aspect of the game but it’s also far more rewarding when you manage to place a single building that then covers your entire city for that particular service. The AI actors are also not functionally retarded and perennially homeless like their Sim City brethren were, going back to the same homes each night and not taking the least cost path to everything all the time. This means that you can stack certain services on top of each other to service a particular need, something you just couldn’t do in Sim City 4.
As to whether Skylines is “the game Sim City should have been” well in all honesty they both play very similarly, Skylines just has the benefit of the hindsight gleaned from the last failed release of its competitor. The main gripes (poor AI, can’t expand, always online, etc.) have all be addressed but they were things that weren’t above being fixed in Sim City anyway. I do like the potential the modding community has though as that could extend the life of this game well past anyone’s current expectations. Indeed just looking through the mods now shows many solutions to the issues currently plaguing players and some interesting concepts for improving some of the core game mechanics.
Which, if I’m honest, are where Skylines is the weakest. Try as I might to understand why certain things are happening in my game, like below where there are dozens of buildings lying abandoned, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s going wrong. Sim City got around this problem somewhat with the advisors, something Skylines attempts to do with the tweet roll at the top, however it’s hard to trace problems to their root cause when all the information you get is “This building is abandoned!”. I know its hard for smaller developer houses to invest heavily in tutorials or helpers like this however this was what made me stop playing as I really could not be bothered hunting around forums to figure out how to stop buildings from being abandoned, make commercial places produce more goods or the bloody lumber yards from burning down even though they had 2 fire departments right next to them.
Cities: Skylines does a great job of taking the fundamental ideas that Sim City 4 attempted and addressing every issue that the community had with it. The resulting game is something that has the same look and feel of its elder genre brethren but has many of the features the community wanted in it. That doesn’t necessarily make it the game that Sim City should aspire to be, indeed Skylines lacks any real originality or direction to where it might be going in the future. It’s a solid title, one that plays a heck of a lot better than Sim City 4 did, however it’s derivative and the onus is on the community to take it in new and strange directions to help differentiate it from its main competitor. That being said it’s still enjoyable to play and most certainly worth its current asking price.
Cities: Skylines is available on PC right now for $29.99. Total play time was approximately 8 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.