One of the ways you can use to know a true gamer is to ask people if they’ve played any sort of city-building or business simulator for a sizable period of time. They may have played SimCity on the SNES or the PC, SimAnts or some other Sim variant, the Caesar or Patrician series, Theme Hospital, the Tycoon games(including OpenTTD), and so on. Banished is a culmination of what those games had established, but without the crap that SimCity 2013 brought to the table.
Banished is a sandbox city building game designed by Luke Hodorowicz and developed by Shining Rock Software that is mostly bells and whistles, so there aren’t a lot of tech trees and progression. For its barebones approach though, its gameplay can still be quite complex. The premise is that you have a bunch of people exiled in an isolated part of the world, and you have to get them to build a community in which they can survive then thrive. You have resources around you and a number of building options to use in order to create your own settlement.
This game may not be that good for casuals, especially since there’s virtually no micromanagement involved to keep things entertaining during downtime. Behind its adherence to the fundamentals of city-building basics are layers of controls and options that new and casual players may find intimidating. But then again, we live in a world where Dwarf Fortress exists, and the learning curve for that particular game is beyond belief. The simple yet comprehensive step-by-step tutorials touches upon various aspects of the game quite well, so beginners should check those out first.
It’s not really that hard to learn how to play, even though it looks intimidating to newbies. The interface is pretty simple to understand, and yet it has good default hotkey assignments to make things easier for the discerning strategy gamer, especially those who play titles like StarCraft II and such. With a bit of time, they can put up buildings in no time with virtually no fumbling or needless downtime. Some of the buttons and other elements do take a bit of squinting to see and click though.
If you’ve played or at least known of the backstory of the online action RPG Path of Exile, then you’ll recognize the premise of exiles being made to fend for themselves. But instead of killing monsters and gathering loot, this game is all about gathering and managing resources, growing your population, and building from just getting by to its own civilization. It may not be that far-reaching in terms of scope, but it still does quite a bit to add depth to the experience.
A big part of the gameplay is helping your population survive the elements, especially when winter comes. Much of the game is preparation for the winter season when crops don’t grow and hunting game is scarce. If you mess around during the fertile months, you may starve or even freeze to death when snow covers the landscape. This urgency to prepare them for what’s coming gives direction to what’s usually open-ended gameplay in most city-building games.
Unfortunately, a lot of players seemed to have hit some snags in terms of the game’s performance. Some encounter crashes on startup, while others would have their computers frozen once they crank up the time control to 5x or 10x or when they’re saving their game. It seems that there are still quite a few snags that Shining Rock needs to stamp out. They’re not rare crashes either, but recurring fatal errors and freezes that don’t seem to be from the graphics since they’re not that fancy to begin with, so it must be with something in their code that will need streamlining. This is unfortunate for what has already been released as a finished product.
Maybe it’s the 64-bit version of the game or maybe it’s DirectX 11, it’s still a big enough problem to take this game a few notches down. Normally, technical issues in finished games involve the usual bugs and glitches that may or may not arise in the first few hours of play. But when your PC freezes in the middle of a game on multiple occasions, then you have to start wondering if this game ever went through quality assurance at all. That’s what pulls the score for this game down, which is unfortunate since its gameplay does deliver what is promised.
If fixes to these problems do come up though, then this game is a must-play for city-building enthusiasts and curious. It’s not for everyone, so think carefully before getting this title as it’s not one of those games that serve action. This is more about hand-on-chin deep thinking and laying back as things unfold on screen.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 7/10