The lights are on
After the Sim City controversy, numerous indie city-building games in development tried to capitalize on the free press to present themselves as an alternative. Yet out of all of them, this was the one that caught my attention - a simple wilderness survival simulator, created, designed, programmed, and composed all by one person. I bought this game for myself as a belated birthday present the day it was released, and I will say that I was not, in any shape or fashion, disappointed.
In Banished, you are the omnipotent voice from above, given charge over a small group of Medieval-era families banished from their native land (title drop alert!). As their controller, you must direct them in the creation of a settlement as they learn to live off the land, and help them grow from merely eking out a living in the harsh wilderness to being a thriving, bustling town.
In a pinch, Banished can be likened to what an Anno game would be like if the developers got drunk and spent a weekend playing Stronghold (one of my favorite games of all time) and Dwarf Fortress (a game I have tried to get into on multiple occasions due to loving the premise, only to be foiled by the lousy interface). Unlike Anno, there are no tech trees - all of the buildings are available from the beginning, and it is up to you to prioritize which ones are most important. Should you focus on trying to create sustainable sources of wood that can double as a ground for nutritious roots and medicinal herbs, or should you just slash and burn that nearby forest in order to obtain the building materials and firewood you so desperately need? Should you set aside some of that firewood, stone, and tools to try and buy livestock for meat, wool, and leather, or should you focus your efforts into hunting, which will produce food and leather in the here and now? And above all, can you keep up a balance of food production and expansion, or will you accidentally starve your citizens to death? And that's not even getting into the plague, fire and tornadoes.
Unlike in an RTS, you do not directly control your villagers, but you can assign them to various professions, such as woodcutters (to produce firewood), builders, hunters, herbalists, farmers, traders, and many more. All of them do something useful, but not all of them have as big a priority. It is this attempt to strike a balance, both with labor and resources, that comprises most of the game, and it is supremely addictive.
Moving away from gameplay, the graphics in this game are beautiful - the guy who created this game was an engine programmer before he started his own studio, and it shows. As the countryside moves through the various seasons, you will marvel at its beauty, and all of the buildings look appropriately plain and medieval without being so generic that you can't tell them from one another. Water ripples, trees sway in the breeze, and deer and children run through the meadows. Plump pumpkins and ears of corn grown in the fields as the farmers attempt to prepare enough food for winter (and despite my better efforts, never quite getting it all in).
All that said, however, Banished is not without its flaws. As a consequence of being made by one guy, the music, while not awful, is incredibly generic and wears on you quickly (I usually mute it and put on the album ( ) by Sigur Rós, which makes very good substitute game music - especially for more laid back games). I can't but help but wonder what might have happened if Robert Euvino, the composer for Stronghold, had been brought in (the soundtrack for that game also makes a good substitute) - not that that's in any way realistic, but a man can dream. Secondly, the user interface does take a little getting used to (I watched a lot of Let's Plays leading up to release and so mastered it instantly), and your window placement does not persist between games. I appreciate that not having everything in your face at once makes for some beautiful vistas, but I feel some time designing a compact HUD might have been worth it. Finally, there is no map editor for the game - not too much of an issue, considering every map is randomly generated and seeds can be shared, but I can never quite get the map I want and would have loved to design my own - or, failing that, choose where I want to start on the map. Many times I have found the perfect spot for a town, but have been hamstrung because my villagers started half a map away in a crappy spot.
Overall, Banished, while not perfect, is an amazing city builder by a talented developer and is worth every penny of the $20 I spent on it. If you have any love for the genre at all, I recommend you pick it up on Steam or Good Old Games at your earliest convenience.
Pros: Building your town from the ground up is immensely addictive; wonderful yet simple graphics.
Cons: Annoying and generic music; death spirals a bit too easy for my liking; would have liked to be able to choose my embark site; some might not like the UI system.
No one has commented on this article.