Build it and they will come.
Developer: Plethora-Project LLC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: PC (Review Build)
When it comes to city building simulations on the PC, I thought I had seen it all before, yet the indie scene never ceases to amaze me with new and innovative ideas. The latest of these is Block’Hood, a game that provides players with the scope to expand their ambition of growing a city both outwards and, unusually upwards.
Presented in a manner almost identical to 2012 puzzle platform game Fez, Block’Hood is a quietly beautiful game that features an art style that is absolutely perfect for the subject matter it portrays. Each ‘Hood is built (perhaps unsurprisingly) from individual blocks that are placed into the environment on an invisible, three dimensional grid. The lack of visible guidelines and the uniformity of the interlinked blocks leads to a striking appearance that is clean, simple and genuinely appealing.
The blocks don’t simply coexist visually either, they have dependencies upon each other, and can provide derogatory or beneficial effects to neighbouring blocks depending on the mix. For example, a heavy industrial block will harm a park or communal space next to it, whilst placing several communal spaces together will improve the effect that each provides. There are over two hundred block types in the game, and each has one or more inputs and outputs that are clearly displayed so that players can assess what the likely outcome of placing a block will be.
The input and output system in Block’Hood is perhaps the most unique aspect about the game, and it is unrivalled in its simplicity of execution. Every block has an input – something it needs in order to function – and every block has an output – something it produces. At the simplest level, a wind turbine requires money to operate, and it produces electricity in return. As you can probably imagine, some blocks have three or four inputs, and/or a similar number of outputs, and it is the layer upon layer of interdependent blocks and their inputs and outputs that drives Block’Hood to levels rarely seen in other games.
This layering gets complex quickly, and even the smallest ‘Hood is an ecosystem that must be finely balanced and managed. You may add more apartments, but you’ll need more water, more power, more organic waste processing. Provide these things and you’ll need more green space to compensate, more ways to handle the extra pollution, more food, more beer, more consumer electronics, more clothes, more, more more. The slightest change anywhere in the ‘Hood can ripple outwards in unexpected ways, and the challenge of balancing the subtlest environmental change is often fun and occasionally frustrating.
The yin and yang of each ‘Hood is at the centre of both the gameplay and the relatively short campaign in Block’Hood, which lasts just five chapters. There’s a feeling of slight preachiness in the story, but as an elongated tutorial, it’s highly effective at getting the message across. I actually enjoyed it, but if nothing else, it undoubtedly prepares the player for the freeform mode where I expect most players will spend a lot of their time, and spend time is something you certainly can do with Block’Hood. The sheer volume of blocks and huge number of micro economies that can exist in each ‘Hood leads to unlimited potential, and the size that ‘Hoods can reach is quite daunting.
For all of its uniqueness, it’s good looks and its fantastic ideas, Block’Hood is not without problems, although they are generally minor. The camera and controls can be a bit fiddly, and I found myself frustrated often by an inability to bulldoze blocks that seemingly had nothing to prevent me from doing so. I also ran the game on a more powerful than average PC, but I still came across fairly frequent frame rate drops and other technical issues relating to the graphics. The biggest issue that I encountered was that sometimes, it was impossible to balance the inputs and outputs despite everything appearing to be correct, but I hope this is a bug that will be ironed out soon enough.
At the meagre price of about £6, it would be insane not to recommend Block’Hood to anyone that is a fan of building simulators or similar games. It has some genuinely thought-provoking new ideas about the economic flow of cities – both financial and otherwise, and it has a clean and attractive look that I really appreciate. All in all, it’s a very worthwhile addition to any collection.