Drop from orbit and reclaim the Earth, starting atop three cliffs.
Genre: Management, Strategy
Developer: Lion’s Shade
Publisher: Lion’s Shade,
Release date: 26 Apr, 2018
Managing management games
They keep on coming. There is no stopping them. I am not talking about Zombies, I am talking about the management games trend. Since last year, I have built medieval cities, prehistorical huts, fantasy islands in the sky, steampunk settlements and so on. While I am very glad to see a resurgence of this genre, I also hope that the market doesn’t get too saturated and that all these developers can manage to sell their titles! Lion’s Shade brings us Cliff Empire at a bargain price. Is it a worthy addition to your collection, even though it is still in Early Access?
The world of Cliff Empire is rather interesting: after a nuclear war, most of Earth is inhabitable and a chunk of the population lives in orbit. Some of the doomed people below still managed to build artificial cliffs, in the hope that it would eventually help new settlers reclaim the planet. Unlike most post-apocalyptic settings, this one does look rather pristine with white cliff atop snowy mountains. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but the cliffs also greatly impact the game on many levels. First, as you can imagine there isn’t a lot of space up there, so the player has to carefully think about the positioning of every single building. Then, it creates an interesting dynamic of having to manage three independent locations that can be connected with bridges and trade with each other.
Starting the game gives three preset scenarios that can be customized to the desires of the player: Sandbox with infinite currency, Default mode with money to earn and occasional hazards, and finally a so-called Tower Defense mode that actually adds frequent Marauder raids, and it is mandatory to build defensive buildings against their armadas of spaceships. That’s the mode that you pick once you know well the game and you are looking for an extra challenge.
Harvesting the cliffs
Notwithstanding the Marauder attacks, Cliff Empire is very chill and relaxing. There is no RTS element and no need for twitch reactions, you can manage your fledgling city at your own pace. If the base speed does not satisfy you, you can pause, switch to 3x or 6x. You start the game with a stock of resources and a few flying drones – these are your most important tools, as they relentlessly soar through the sky, bringing resources where they are most needed: without them, no building is made, no crop receives water, no mouth receives food. And while you might want to increase their numbers early on, they require a lot of parts and time to be built, so you will have to make do with a small number of them. If you need them to do something important first, you can attribute a priority to each task (keep in mind that you can have your citizens famished simply because you gave a higher priority to something else). There are many important resources to manage, such as electricity and matter. Matter is mined directly from the cliff in order to build everything else that you need, but you can also buy it or anything else from a Trading Portal. For most industries, there are alternate buildings that are a better fit for your budget or the specific conditions on each cliff (not all of them contain Uranium)(solar panels do not work during the night). While managing resources is the main activity that you will organize, you must also keep your population happy and healthy. You need to produce (or purchase) different types of food, but also watch out for pollution and build parks to increase the prestige of your city.
Capitalism is always solo
As you progress further into the game, you realize that you don’t have the space to build everything in one place, so you need to be as efficient as possible and make use of the possibility to trade between your cities. While on paper it sounds awesome, in practice it can be frustrating when one of your cities is basking in riches and another one is in debt. That’s because they each have their independent budget, and in the early game, it prevented me from having a cliff dedicated to housing while the industries were exclusively on the other cliffs. Later on, it’s possible to play with banks and loans, but I would say that this was the only thing that I really didn’t like about this game.
Overall, it works wonders. It’s relaxing but challenging, and progress has a nice flow, never becoming dull: you constantly have something to look forward to. If you are a beginner or if you are too sloppy, you can find yourself in a very dire situation; it can be satisfying to turn the tables around (with or without exploiting some tricks, such as dropping a new storage building from orbit). The graphics are pretty, and there is just enough life on the ground to avoid the ghost town syndrome that some games of this genre sometimes suffer from (and it’s very cool to see the ballet of drones in the sky). The limited space setting bears some similarities with ISLANDERS that I reviewed earlier this year, and I must say that I was much happier with Cliff Empire and quickly sank a lot of hours into it. Even if the campaign doesn’t get more developed during its time in Early Access, since the game was cheap, I already felt like it was a worthy investment. There is so much to play with, and it is also very pleasing to the eye!
All you need to know
At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the interface, especially when trading – you have to manually input numbers of when to sell or when to buy, and when building bridges I was confused when the box was grayed out – for each resource, you can only set rules from one side and one side only, and you have to set it back to nil if you want to affect the other side. The information for what your city produces and consumes is hard to find at first, and then it’s hard to read, but at least it is very precise. It’s a bit dry, but once you get used to it you can always find what you are looking for.
Cliff Empire runs very nicely, besides the drones clipping in the buildings I never saw anything wrong, and I never suffered any framerate drops. The game actually goes above and beyond in terms of customization, letting you play with the color palette. So, if you are ever bored with the vanilla art style, you can create yourself your own unique atmosphere! (Check out my reddish screenshots) The only downside is that I did not manage to create a different night and day cycle, and just for that I was happy to frequently switch back to the base color scheme. It is also possible to change the camera angle for something that looks isometric if that’s what you like, or you can simply press TAB and walk on the ground. All of this is amazing, and now I am going to want other games to do the same! Last but not least, there are frequent updates, Lion’s Shade is taking good care of its baby.
Cliff Empire is a pretty sci-fi city builder with a very satisfying resource management layer, always keeping you excited for what comes next, always maintaining you on edge as you need to keep on top of a lot of things with very little space and workforce. It is just a sandbox and not an actual campaign, but at this price point, it’s perfect. It will keep you entertained for a fair number of hours, and there is a mode in which you are under attack for an extra (optional) challenge. Unique, atmospheric and interesting, it’s a nice title to have if you find the screenshots or videos attractive.