by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Planning for the future
When you think of the term “futuristic city,” you think of sci-fi movies and their sprawling metropolises. They’re filled with shining buildings reaching up into the clouds with flying cars soaring in imaginary lanes up in the sky. But that’s not what the buildings of the future will actually be like. Urban planners are now looking to see how to create the best ecosystems, where renewable energy and efficient consumption is the goal. Block’hood is a futuristic city planner, and yes, you will be building up into the sky, but you need to think about your resources and how the buildings in your neighbourhood interact with each other.
I took a look at the Steam Early Access version of Block’hood last year, and while various things have been added, the concepts and mechanics remain largely the same. Sadly, some of the flaws remain too. The biggest addition to the full release is the Story Mode, featuring five chapters which introduce you to the concepts the game is built around. It follows the story of a young boy, up through his childhood, and into his adult life. A plot of land he played in during his early years becomes a full time project later on, and he learns not only how to make a thriving neighbourhood, but how - not - to make a thriving neighbourhood. His young talking pig friend (who absolutely loves acorns) is often the voice of logic and reason, and teaches our protagonist that life is not always about creating products for humans to consume, it’s also about conserving and coexisting with nature.
Reach for the skies
In Block’hood, your rectangular plot of land is limited in length and width, however it stretches up as far as your imagination can take you. Each building, resource, or tool you place takes up a single block, and you can build blocks on top of each other, as long as you connect the various levels with ramps or elevators. The story mode teaches you the functions of the basic blocks, and how they interact with each other. The five chapters mostly take place on the same plot of land, starting out as a blank slate and evolving into a wonderful ecosystem. It’s rather a nice story, and the worst part about it is that it ends so soon. With over 200 individual blocks to choose from, it would’ve been nice for an extended story mode to introduce some of the more complex ideas. As it is, the five chapters will be over in less than a couple of hours, and from then on you’ll be left to your own devices.
Instead, the Tutorial Mode is your best bet for learning the more intricate workings of Block’hood. But then there’s also the Challenge Mode, which will also give you more things to think about. It’s nice having this variety in game modes, but it feels like they’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. The challenges themselves are rather bland, simply giving you a goal and the blocks you’ll need to reach it. The game revolves around balancing inputs against outputs. For example, the Bar outputs money, which you’ll need to keep your electricity generators running. However the Bar requires beer for people to drink, it needs people to work there, and it needs consumers to actually visit it. Which means you’ll need enough people in your Hood to not only run the bar and go there for a pint, but there also need to be people working at the brewery to create the beer. You can see how this balancing act quickly becomes a tricky affair.
The menus and tools at your disposal make keeping track of your Hood a lot easier though. In your list of resources, simply clicking one will reveal all the blocks in your building list which are related to that resource, whether they need it as an input, or output it. In Sandbox Mode, which is what you’ll eventually work up to when you’ve got the full grasp of the game, the balancing act is easy to start with. It’s only when you’re several storeys up that you realise that maybe you should’ve been building a better ecosystem down below for the buildings up here to survive. Building monstrous towers of buildings is the best part of Block’hood, but it’s also the most problematic. Finding a problematic building which isn’t producing as much as you want it to is tough if it’s in the middle of a mess of walkways and trees and apartment complexes. The slice tool allows you to view just a specific level of your tower, but even then the camera controls are temperamental at best. Plus, my game clearly didn’t like me using the slice tool, as the graphics started glitching out and the game froze up on me the first time I used it.
Control and stability issues aside, Block’hood is quite a lovely game to play around in. The graphics are simple, yet charming, and the music does a great job of relaxing you as you puzzle through how best you’re going to keep the animals in your neighbourhood happy while also setting up multiple Internet cafes. The sense of progression isn’t as great as in other city building games, but putting together an efficient neighbourhood where everyone lives in harmony is definitely a rewarding experience.
A unique city builder, relaxing atmosphere, charming story mode
Controls are clumsy, story mode and progression peters out