Genre: Strategy Developer: Publisher: Ubisoft Classification: PG Consumer Advice: Parental guidance recommended for persons under 15
Release Date: 29th Nov 2011 Platforms:
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It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining over the blue sea surrounding a perfect jewel of an island. It’s like a photoshopped ad for a holiday you can’t afford without giving up a limb or two, except instead of a beach umbrella and a mai tai, there’s a shiny, utopian city with clean brushed-metal siding, elegant modern lines, self-contained greenhouses growing 100% organic foods and a skyline revealing slowly turning white wind turbines.
On the next island over, somebody appears to have dumped all the remaining sets from Blade Runner and Waterworld before then giving it an extra coating of rust, neon “Casino” signs and a hundred more smoke-stacks belching out something which would make even the most hard-core chain-smoker consider re-visiting his addiction.
I have to admit being intensely curious the moment I started seeing banners and trailers for Anno 2070, even before I made the connection to the strategy series it continues. Images which seemed half-Seaquest and half-Alpha Centauri had me imagining all the possibilities before I’d even seen gameplay footage. I’m not entirely sure which of the thousand ideas in my head were winning by the time the download had finished, but I do know this: I quickly forgot them, and managed to lose the rest of the evening completely.
The Anno series is quite a long-lived one, especially for a cult series. It began in 1998 with Anno 1602, and produced three more sequels over the years before the release of this title. That the series continues is usually a good sign in and of itself, and that I’d somehow failed to play a single one until now has suddenly become hugely shameful to me - especially as a fan of “similar” games like The Settlers, Pharaoh and the Caesar series.
The original games based their mechanics around the idea of founding new self-sustaining colonies in tropical islands somewhere, during the hey-day of colonial expansion, and you can see that beginning in 2070. It may be futuristic, but the mechanics still smack of tall sailing ships and grumpy English governors - which is actually not a bad thing in the slightest. They have a mechanic that works, and have given it a very fresh makeover and not changed what wasn’t broken or couldn’t be done better.
2070 sees you overseeing one or more islands in a real-time strategy environment, building housing, power, industry and managing relatively complicated trade routes between your islands and rival ones.
A little ways into the game, you may think that selecting one of the two primary factions (the ‘greens’ or the ‘industrialists’) is probably not as important as it seems at the outset. You may attack problems slightly differently (building trash compactors instead of air purifiers) but in gameplay terms they seem similar - at least, nowhere near as different as the factions in games like Starcraft. It’s only as the game progresses and the complex minutia of the final stages of the “tech tree” come out that you start to pick up on the very different ways in which the factions play.
It’d take pages to describe the mechanics of this city-building-with-combat-and-trading game, so perhaps it’d be best to briefly gloss over these before going into the more interesting and unique features of Anno 2070.
The bulk of the game is industrial - while you build houses, there is only one type that gets bigger as requirements are met for them to do so. There is only really only one form of ‘entertainment’ building per faction of any consequence, and almost everything else you build revolves around the construction of industrial manufacturing or resource-gathering structures. In short - this is more The Settlers than it is Tropico.
Resources of specific types can become important, you’ll find yourself temporarily (or even permanently) organising trade routes to accrue these precious resources until you can settle an island which has the resource you require.
Relationships between other factions also matter, although when they descend into a state of war, you certainly feel that this is an unpleasant end to a story, not so much something you’d do for fun - the combat is occasionally interesting, but not something which would be hugely interesting in and of itself.
Once the islands on the map are all settled, the game than expands in an interesting way - beneath the sea. On undersea outcrops you’ll be building sealed off futuristic bases, tapping resources that you had trouble getting on the surface. This, I have to admit, gave me much more entertainment value than it had any right to - who doesn’t want to build their own version of Rapture? On the topic of technological development in-game...
Technology evolves a little as your population grows. Instead of a “tree” which you can progress down, the population count of a given sort of person (worker, employee, engineer) must be reached before you get access to certain buildings, which seems to work quite well and doesn’t present the curious position most strategy games are in of making you wonder, “Why did the technology to build phasic quantum blungers magically vanish between campaign mission two and four? Why did I have to ‘research’ it again, and for that matter why does it take 45 seconds to develop a whole new science?”
Speaking of campaigns... the game has a single-player campaign which is serviceable, but really feels like an extended tutorial before you simply bury yourself in sandbox mode, multiplayer scenarios and the most unique part of the game itself... the online content.
When you load the game, you’ll find yourself creating an account and being asked - at the main menu - to vote on both bills and on people. These are not humans you’re voting for, these are fictional in-game entities that run the various factions.
Between your individual games (single player or otherwise) voting results in changes to the game, from subtle to gross. One vote might simply result in a minor decrease in the cost of a certain building, but another might give all players access to certain faction-specific abilities.
For example, the current planetary ruler belongs to one of the three primary factions (of which two are the playable ones I’ve already discussed), and depending on who is in power, different abilities will be available to players in-game.
It’s the will of the players that determine which of these abilities are around for their games. So far, it’s an interesting concept, but it takes some hours before you’ll begin to notice just how much this can affect the games - and why you’ll be desperately voting for your chosen faction in every election.
Mechanics aside, 2070 is a very beautiful game. It has wonderfully detailed, consistent art design and some very atmospheric but unobtrusive music which I never felt compelled to turn off (I admit I often do with other games). The sound design is well done, and I’ve often found myself slightly mesmerised by just zooming the character in and watching the inhabitants wander around my utopian or distopian world.
If there are any complaints to be made about this game, it’s probably just that some aspects of the game are sufficiently detailed and interesting that they actually make light of the areas in which the game doesn’t focus in detail - like the happiness and well-being of your citizens. But that’s not what this game is about.
It’s about expansion, trading, economics, boats, and staring at a lot of awfully pretty sci-fi buildings while you do so... which, frankly, is more than an enough for me.