The lights are on
Banished is a game that (sometimes purposely) strikes me as not a very "special" game at all, however in its home genre of the 'survival' and 'resource building' game-pool, it is actually quite special indeed. The game is not only accessible and enjoyable (albeit with some flaws), but also a pretty interesting look at city-building games as well. It has all the core elements of the genre of games it falls under, and adds a few extra elements to the mix as well, which endears it that much more so to me. What little story there is comes off as relatively simple, but that is an easily acceptable sacrifice considering the fact that the bulk of Banished's experience lies in the gameplay and mechanics anyway.
You are given the task of creating a new settlement and surviving, and while that seems relatively simple enough, nothing is as easy as it ever seems. You start off with scarce resources and supplies, and from the getgo you are tasked with deciding your route to salvation, survival, or destruction. You must balance fairness with necessities, feeding your citizens with carrying out the labor required to ensure your survival, and making sacrifices for the "greater good"- something that should never be taken lightly. It's great that the maps are always randomly generated enough to add some decisive land hindrances and elements to the equation as well, and the surrounding areas and seasons will prove to be big factors in many of your choices as well- for better or worse.
The best thing is, like any story or gameplay reminiscent of a Game of Thrones plot line, there is essentially no right or wrong moral choice, and everything is ambiguously grey. This of course, as you can guess, proves to present some interesting moral dilemmas as well... You are constantly battling the elements, starvation, and your own mind when trying to think of new ways to ensure your population's survival in an unforgiving landscape. Prioritizing tasks and allocating resources to important and less important labor and roles in your society is the primary means of getting things done in Banished, and requires a certain degree of skill and some tactical planning when survival is your main goal.
You are constantly alerted to the condition of your settlement and your people- whether they are starving, spreading diseases, or otherwise being adversely affected by other in-game elements spontaneously spawned in order to make your job even more difficult. At times, your first visual warning will prove to come too late, as Banished is an unforgiving and realistic approach to planning, urbanization, and colonization and settlement in a foreign land. This is certainly a simulation that favors those who plan ahead and in the long term span of things, not those who think things up as they go or change directions at the drop of a hat.
Inevitably, you're going to fail several times before you're even marginally successful with establishing a firm foundation of a settlement and actually surviving for a little while. In fact, that first 'good' colony will probably fail as well, albeit later on down the road thanks to the increasing difficulty and level of stimuli present in the surrounding world and lands. As time passes by, you'll grow more and more invested in your settlements and soon you'll be sinking hours and hours of time into crafting the perfect homeland. All things told like they are, that simple fact is the backbone of the experience in Banished, and it isn't any number of alerts or mechanics that make the experience fun or enjoyable, rather than the learning process and satisfaction that comes with finally surviving for any length of time. Banished is a game that makes failure worthwhile, and learning from it helpful in the long run, and that is easily it's most redeeming quality.
There are no wars or deadly encounters with other civilizations here. There is only the ongoing battle against nature and her cruel, cold embrace. Surviving famines, winters, and plague outbreaks are the steps you will have to take in waging your personal war of survival. The most crushing and interesting aspect of the war is that you could be winning it all the way until the moment you're suddenly left crippled and defenseless, as your last settler succumbs to old age, disease, or some other unparalleled consequence in the world. The graphics aren't too poorly rendered, the story is relatively slim in content, and the sound effects are mundane at best, but the experience is certainly worthwhile and intuitive for those who enjoy the sort of planning required in staking your claim and defending it in a simulated landscape.
Concept: Build your settlement from the ground up, survive the harsh winters and outbreaks of disease that will inevitably attack it, and attempt to make your way in a simple, deadly world.
Graphics: Simple and basic overall, but not terrible in their concept and design. Could use improvements of course, but run smoothly enough with their lower levels of required power.
Sound: All the basic sound effects you would hear in an olden town can be found here, with nothing really out of the ordinary to distinguish them from other games' sounds, aside from knowing what actions are being performed.
Playability: Quite an accessible title as command giving goes, and the controls are pretty easy to grasp once you get the hand of them. The game is addicting and the goal is simple, making for a worthwhile experience as well.
Entertainment: An entertaining simulation and planning/building game that is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy interesting computer games and factoring in your overall survivability in a dangerous, unforgiving world.
Replay Value: Moderately High.
Overall Score: 8.5
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