EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Clockwork Empires, sounds more like a Free to Play strategy game than it does a survival game disguised as a city builder, doesn’t it? It’s the latter, not the former and a fairly intriguing proposition as a result. You are not some far removed deity slamming down houses and setting up production chains, you are meddling with the very lives of colonists, right down to where they work, what they eat and where they sleep. From my far-too-short time with the game, I’m thinking it will be a rather formidable task indeed.
The promised land
Your adventure begins with a trip in a (currently imaginary) steam-powered airship. Armed with wood, tools and weapons, you find your new home in a rather precarious state. Besides yourselves, there is absolutely nothing except for what nature provides, which includes a number of dangers lurking just beyond the unexplored edges. So far, these come in the form of Fish People and Raiders, neither of which seem too keen on giving you time to settle in. Survival, it would seem, is your primary concern right from the get go and food a number one priority.
Fortunately, the motherland does pitch in. As you build workshops and houses, supply drops and fresh-off-the-boat colonists come by regularly. I found out the hard way that relying on those is not wise. Without a woodshop churning out planks, every other project stalls. The drops do not always offer relief and I ended up starting over several times. Once you have the basics of food and shelter covered, you can start to look into ways to improve the lives of your colonists. Better food, better housing, better protection from would-be party spoilers.
More than shelter
Unlike, say, SimCity, you aren’t just zoning areas and watching them develop. The zoning bit is replaced by drawing foundations for specific buildings in a flat and suitable area. Colonists will start bringing in the materials required for the floor, walls and ceiling straight away but just offering shelter from the elements doesn’t quite do the trick of getting production started. Workshops need to be set up with tools and workbenches, kitchens need ovens and a steady stream of meat and vegetables, and houses need beds.
This is where it actually starts to feel like a survival game, losing its city builder shine in the process. You see, all of these things need to be created. The airship’s cargo hold carried only so much and supply drops won’t always bring exactly what you need. Like as not, you will see your colonists starve on your first try - if the Raiders don’t get them first of course.
Clockwork Empires is not for the faint of heart either. Fending off those raiders means dealing with dead bodies. If you don’t do it swiftly, you’ll have to deal with colonists munching away at the remains while more virtuous colonists projectile vomit at the sight. I have not been able to see beyond such an event, but from the various thought bubbles that popped up overhead I gather that this will cause some sort of a divide that may well split the colony.
Not like Clockwork
So why was my time so short? Well, the game is not exactly running like... clockwork. While the premise intrigues me to no end, the game is severely “technically challenged”. Placing objects in houses and workshops is a real pain in the ass, and moving them is a continuous frustration. Other areas of the interface are similarly lacking. Dropdowns are too twitchy, selecting objects or areas to be cleared can turn into a game of trial and error, and extending buildings or deleting items neigh on impossible. Not a single session went by where I didn’t end up with objects sitting in the middle of fields that had been intended to be part of a workshop. In some sessions, the framerate would drop to a nauseatingly low speed.
Considering that Clockwork Empires has been in Early Access for almost six months now, you’d expect some level of stability. I’m dying to find out what level of interaction is possible between the colonists, I want to know what happens when cannibalism runs rampant, and what happens when the colony decides it no longer needs the motherland - if ever.
It is for this reason alone that Clockwork Empires is getting a “Watch” recommendation. The game is brimming with potential and could turn out to be something truly special, but there is a lot to be done before it gets there.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.