Somewhere between the city-building of SimCity and the global control of Populous or other “god games”, we find Imagine Earth. Taking a few elements from each of these game styles, it distills them into a simplified, easy to grasp version. The player is cast into the role of one of many newly-hired planetary colony-builders, with the tutorial planet, a small orb named Tuto, acting as an introduction to the game’s mechanics as well as the in-game hiring test. The question at the core of this though, is does it work to take these familiar elements, throw in some new twists, and boil them all down into such rudimentary form?
Maybe it’s worth explaining what I mean by “simplified” before I really get into this. Imagine Earth is all about colonizing a planet, and making sure the colonies you’re building have sufficient resources. These are divided into three different categories, which ebb and flow depending on what you build, as well as how you build it. Your basic concerns are simple: Energy, food, and goods. Buildings for each of these categories, as well as for your city itself, can be constructed anywhere within a specific radius of your city center, the core of your colonial expedition. Upgrades, new buildings, and so forth are purchased with ‘development coins’, which limits your progression pathway as you go about trying to strike a balance between expansion, population happiness, and the looming threat to your planet that all of these things represent by their affect on the ecosystem.
The interesting thing, to me, about Imagine Earth is just how much emphasis is put on the ecological impact of everything you do. There are buildings and upgrades that exist solely to help mitigate your impact on the environment, and for good reason. As you damage the ecosystem, a number of things will begin to happen; from rising sea levels that can consume your buildings and take away the precious land you have to work with, dangerous weather patterns, and unhappy citizens will all become major concerns if you go too far. Fortunately, once things progress to a certain point, reforestation becomes an option, giving you a mechanism for trying to wrangle your poisoned planet back to something more hospitable – though, of course, some of the damage done can’t be reversed. You’re never going to plant enough trees to cause sea levels to recede or the ice caps to re-freeze, after all.
Control-wise, and frankly in every other area, Imagine Earth is pretty easy to get the hang of. I wouldn’t recommend it for seasoned sim veterans who are looking for a complex, in-depth game to add to their repertoire, but for the more casual or those uninitiated in the planet/city simulation genre, it’s a cool little game that takes a lot of good things and makes them pretty accessible. There’s still quite a bit to keep track of, made easier by simple navigation and time-elapse speed control, so you’re never in more of a rush than you’d like to be unless everything tips over and you’re unable to get back on track. If nothing else, the free demo on Steam – sporting three levels, including the tutorial planet – will give players a good idea whether they’d be interested in the full version, which will run for $20 upon its anticipated release in May. I’d like to know a bit more about how many levels make the final cut before recommending it at that price, but I’d guess there will be plenty of content to justify it to those who find themselves having as much fun as I did with the early-look planets and missions.
[+Easy to understand controls and mechanics] [+Simplified but not dumbed-down gameplay] [+Very cool ecological system] [+Crisp, easy to look at graphics] [-Probably too simple for genre veterans] [-Some repeating of informational pop-ups gets tiresome]