Thursday, December 6, 2012

Alpha Game Review: Towns

Ghosts of heroes that starved on a wall they made
Towns is a game from the pages of the city building management genre.  The game is developed by a company that I believe calls themselves SMP, though confirming this has been difficult.  And perhaps this might be a bit of a warning of the undeveloped nature of the game.  Towns is a game that is in Alpha and I'm not going to lie and pretend that this isn't obvious.  There are definitely interface issues, bugs, and AI annoyances in this game.  If you are looking for something finely polished, you should skip on Towns for the time being.

Towns is, as far as I can tell, an open-ended game.  That is, there is no objectives to complete in order to win the game.  You start with a group of eleven colonists on a single size map.  Depending on the type of map, you'll be in a grassy plain, a desert, a snowfield, or a mixed environment.  From here, so long as you are keeping your villagers alive, you can go any direction that you want with the game.  Of course with most open-ended games, the initial set of directions you take will be limited by the resources available.

As far as game concept is concerned, Towns delivers.  Without drawing any comparison to other games, this game is easily classified as unique.  The closest level of comparison to a video game that I can come up with is a cross between ActRaiser from the SNES and the resource gathering mechanics of Minecraft.  In the game, you do not directly control any of the colonists and this can be an endless source of frustration as well as a blessing.  Instead, you issue plans for the villagers and determine how many resources should be gathered or made at all times in your stock supplies.  You could designate a section of land to be tilled, order a section of a mountain mined, or issue orders to cut down trees.  The colonists, in their own time and own pace, will complete those orders.  You can also set your auto settings for, say, harvesting 6 wheat.  Whenever there is less than six wheat in your inventory, a colonist will harvest wheat if they aren't busy doing something else.

Flour!  Makes a great floor decoration!
This interface brings me to the first significant annoyance with this game.  The game is rather clunky with it's controls and the steep learning curve can be an immediate deterrent.  If I want to build stairs, I have to remind myself that stairs falls under "furniture" in the right menu.  If I want to create storage barrels, I can only do so under the "storage" section of the left menu.  Additionally, some things cannot be set for automatic work which can be annoying.  In one example, I was creating a fancy red stone section of wall for an accent to my building.  This requires "Red Color" which is made from red flowers.  I can set the game to automatically produce X red color if it isn't in my supplies.  However, I cannot set the game to automatically gather red flowers.  I have to manually order gathering of my red flowers.  This is a minor concern, my major concern with these limitations comes from wheat.  I can set the number of pieces of bread to be made by villagers and I can set how much wheat to be harvested.  However, I cannot set how much flour to be tilled. What happens is that the colonists will harvest wheat up to the limit, till the wheat into flour, and harvest more wheat.  In one of my earlier games, I had 20 bread and 10 wheat in storage and had over 190 pieces of flour.  The only way to shut this off was to shut of wheat harvesting, which required I paid closer attention to food supplies.

For every map, there is at least one or two resources on that map that can get you killed if you aren't careful.  On my stream, I was playing a Let's Play on the snow map.  The second I setup a stockpile for raw materials, I lost two members of my town.  As it happens, snow piles are a component for making Buckets of Water which can be used for making both a type of food and for making snow blocks.  Snow piles occur naturally in the game and so two of my towns folk ran off to collect them which put them into combat with a Yeti.  This can happen with other resources such as collecting uncooked meat from animals that die naturally on the map and bones from anything that drops bones.  You can manually shut off collecting those resources in your stockpiles which can prevent these deaths, but then mean the resource goes uncollected until you have the means to combat the natural enemies on the surface of the map.

The game's AI bugs were recently announced to be something addressed in a future update and, as an Alpha game I've come to expect these sort of issues with the game.  I still enjoy the game despite having to play a bit more careful to prevent my town members from dying.  Good luck finding both iron and coal early in the game.

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