Step into the shoes of a young constructing entrepreneur, use a variety of dirty tricks to overcome your competitors and keep your tenants happy at the same time.
Type: Single-player, Multi-player
Genre: Real-Time strategy
Developer: System 3
Publisher: System 3
Release date: 26 May, 2017
Blast from the past
This game received a bad reputation for having a lot of bugs. However, when I thought the game was bugging out on me, it turned out that it was just my inexperience showing. I simply didn’t remember everything after all these years. It doesn’t help that the game fails to explain some tasks well, especially considering the new players. Older veterans who browsed through the thick manual might still remember the tips and tricks of navigating through complaints and preventing them.
It’s a noble goal to make this remake as close to the original as possible, but it has its downsides. The dated user interface makes things sometimes harder than needed. In the end, the game’s positive aspects clearly outweigh the negatives.
Gangsters, hippies and finally, an explosion!
The stressful life of a constructor
Maps and game modes are all the same as I remembered. Compared to today’s standards there aren’t many maps in this game. What creates the diversity and challenge are the game modes rather than the maps. There are six modes to keep busy with and it has a difficulty ranging from easy to hard plus the added, fear inducing Original(!!!). Unlike most modern games, even the normal difficulty will give someone problems. I’d recommend getting really familiar with the game before trying it out on hard, or original. Game modes offer us goals like getting a certain amount of money in a fixed time, building unique buildings, world domination, achieving a utopian state where everyone is happy, free build and an all out war where the dreaded council missions are absent.
While reaching for our current goal we also have the aforementioned tasks from the council. Failing them gets us instantly fired, so they take priority. In the midst of dealing with them, we have the other entrepreneurs sending over troublesome persons commonly known as Undesirables, leaving our own residents frequently complaining. All of these things create one big hectic mess, in a good way, if you like stress. The longer you survive, the more everything grows and becomes more complicated. More tenants mean more complaints, successful competitors mean more Undesirables sent to your town while the council is bothering you with their own problems, sometimes even to the point of exhaustion.
Who are these Undesirables then? The hippies, for example, can start a street party, which attracts all your workers nearby and makes them uncontrollable for a while. The thief can sneak into your HQ and steal the rent money you’ve collected in the past few months. There are many different Undesirables from the lowly thief to the supernatural ghosts and they all can perform 3-4 different actions to harm your competitors, or you. Used at the right time, they can do serious harm leading to chain reactions that change the course of the game. I’ve had moments where my houses were burning, the repairman was jamming in the street and then the whole block exploded. I lost many good tenants and expensive houses that day.
I could have repaired them manually if I wasn’t occupied with other problems. With thugs raising hell on the other side of the town and the ex-army major complaining about having the wrong kind of trees in his backyard I had my hands full. Police force counters the Undesirables effectively, but of course, they have a cost.
If your Undesirables fail to bring chaos, you can always call up the Mafia. The more you kill, the better weapons your gangsters can carry. Starting with a knife, they eventually gain access to a laser weapon that demolishes even large objects such as houses quickly. The Mafia needs bribes, and if you fail to deliver they won’t help you no matter what is happening around them. Gangsters are also the best cure for any Undesirable since they just go and make the unwanted person disappear. No need for prisons with the Mafia around. I found it was too easy to destroy everything if you rush for the gangsters and get the bribes going at a constant rate. They are really overpowered and can be used to secure the victory early.
If you’d like a less stressful life, you can also build on your own by not selecting computer opponents and just enjoy the game at your own pace.
Build and populate the world
Most city-building games these days offer a lot of freedom in building a visionary city. You can curve roads how you see fit and place buildings almost wherever you want. Here you have rectangular or square lots, and those same shapes are the only ones you can place properties on. There are garden utilities like trees, gnomes, greenhouses, different fence styles and other things to liven up the city with. However, this also works as a source of complaints from your tenants. If some family needs a shed for that extra space, someone wants a dog house. The main emphasis of this game is real-time strategy, not city building. It’s still a lot more building than in an average RTS-game.
Your first houses are very shabby-looking wooden shacks, everyone has to start from somewhere. In total there are five different levels of houses and two different tenant families per level. Some types pay more rent, while others reproduce much faster. You can assign both to pay rent, or to breed, there are no restrictions on that. Sometimes it’s easier to let the “breeders” just pay rent since the other family might waste your time by complaining a lot, and we all know that time is money in the world of business.
Finding the perfect balance between income and breeding is one of the foundations of your success, you need them both. Level 1 families can give birth to level 1 and 2 tenants and so on. There has to be a steady flow since tenants die of old age. Their personality also matters, the greasers need a different environment than the young students. They have different tastes as to what belongs to the garden, what kind of fence they prefer, what house appliances they need and what neighbors they tolerate. As the nerdy tenants say, they know their rights. This applies to every tenant. Rooms are also upgradeable, one thing that was very funny to the ten-year-old in me was that if the bedroom is upgraded then it makes babies come out faster. That fact gave my friends and I many laughs back in the day.
Other than houses and Undesirables, we have factories and the public services like schools, parks, hospitals, police stations, and a few other buildings at our disposal. Everything serves a purpose.
Managing your businesses
There are some serious design flaws in the UI and the general user friendliness. There’s a lot of micromanaging that should be automated. For example, the tasks where you have to upgrade the rooms in every house on an estate. We have to do it one by one, it takes a lot of time in a hectic game and requires a lot of clicking. Click the house, Click the upgrade icon, choosing the right room, and finally click the upgrade button. Doing this for 4-6 houses in a row is a big time investment for a game that requires multitasking and constant fast reactions to situations. It makes the game harder, and it’s unfair to the player since failing council missions will end the game instantly. There are quick keys, but the upgrades are still a few screens away. Sometimes even three seconds is enough for a gangster to start a massive chain explosion on your turf. After getting familiar with quick keys, I noticed how slow the menus were, it defeats the point of having shortcuts since the transition animation from menu to menu slows everything down.
Additionally, the tenants dying of old age is the second most time-consuming management issue in this game. You might have tenants waiting at the HQ, but you have to manually rent the apartment to them. Again, a few clicks for something that we should be able to set into an automated mode. At the time of this writing. there are posts on the steam forums that mention how the developers are looking for a way to change this. Automated populating right away would make the hippie’s squatting ability useless, so that is not an option. Some kind of real estate agent would solve the problem right away, renting out apartments after they have been empty for about 40-50 seconds for example.
Some of the complaints would also benefit from clearer instructions. It’s not always simple to understand what it is that they want such as when an old Major asks for pest control. He fails to mention that he means the whole block should have pest control, not just him. Or the famous cockroach problem that fails to mention we have to physically attack the giant cockroaches after repairing all infected houses. It is kind of absurd to have a gangster shooting massive cockroaches with a minigun, but it needs to be done!
These are examples of the moments I thought I was encountering a bug (isn’t cockroach a bug? pun). Ultimately, I angrily stormed over to the steam forums because my hard work was flushed down the drain. Then and only then did I find out it was my own fault. I had no way of knowing that beforehand.
The AI in the game is decent, but can it ever be good enough (Well, in F.E.A.R it actually was pretty amazing)?
I would have liked to see CPU-opponents harassing each other instead of them all attacking me. Three against one, even though we were all supposed to compete against each other. Other than that, the AI sends Undesirables, gangsters and their work teams to capture buildings well enough in addition to building cities somewhat logically. I tested their recovery skills with a few precision strikes to their infrastructure on the hard setting, sometimes they got back up, sometimes not. They weren’t invincible, even though they seemed to gain some help and free resources without factories.
Having the AI harass each other is (according to steam forums) on the list of things the developers are looking into. I hope they incorporate it. The game would become easier yes, but also fairer. My own playthroughs ended usually in the same spot, transitioning from level 3 to 4 when I was getting bombarded with Undesirables from three different opponents at the same time. Dealing with them, trying to harass my competitors and trying to grow my own city at the same time felt too exhausting.
I wasn’t able to test out multiplayer since no one was ever playing the game when I tried to. Based on what I have read on the Steam forums it has serious connectivity issues and those are also being worked on. This has the potential to be a great multiplayer game, breaking even the strongest of friendships.
Should you buy it?
Yes. It is a complex RTS game requiring multitasking skills, memorable characters, funny (orchestrated) accidents and it challenges players to multitask and prioritize. This is extremely hard by modern standards so be prepared for a few rage quits on your playthroughs. There were no game breaking bugs I encountered. With a little polish from the updates the developers are currently working up, this is a game that you should own if you like the RTS-genre. Though not the traditional setting of massive armies to control, this game still offers hours of fun and is a classic.