The Colonists Review
Released late last month, The Colonists is a casual city builder from the one-man, UK-based indie developer Codebyfire. Inspired by classic games such as The Settlers and the Anno series, The Colonists adds some welcome twists and innovation to a genre that at times can fall into a very repetitive pattern. Can these new creative mechanics elevate The Colonists to stand above the blandness that plagues many indie tycoons? Let’s take a look!
I have already mentioned in previous articles my love for tycoons and city builders, so I won’t do more than provide the full disclosure that I am biased in favour of them. With that being said, I challenge anyone who opens up The Colonists not to be instantly charmed by the graphics-style, the relaxing music and the overall pleasant atmosphere that this game creates from the very first interaction you have with it.
When you start your experience with The Colonists the first thing you will learn is that you control a group of robots who were designed to serve humans. They decided this was not enough for them and broke away to create their own civilizations where they create lives as humans and even require food and water (which they turn into energy). This is all explained in a very well-crafted tutorial that quickly explains all the controls and major aspects of the game,
Once the tutorial is finished, you are given just enough information to feel well-oriented in your first scenario. The Colonists features a scenario-driven campaign that has two branches (combat and non-combat) which I will go into greater detail about later. The scenarios maintain a good progression, as in each you will go further into the game, unlock more buildings and require new resources. It also has a sandbox mode which, as the name suggests, allows players to create their own world without restriction.
While fans of the genre will enjoy a base amount of familiarity with the controls, UI and gameplay, The Colonists offers just the right amount of innovation and updated mechanics. This forces even the most experience city builders to pause and learn some new strategy on how to make the best use of these mechanics.
The mechanic that I found most intriguing, and the one that I had certainly never seen before, was the unique road system featured in The Colonists. Roads must be between 4-6 tiles in length and new roads can only be created by attaching to existing road posts (which are only created at the start and end point of each road section). Furthermore, each section of road is patrolled by one carrybot, and only he can move resources along that section of road, with a few exceptions. This creates a unique challenge and requires advance planning as well as a keen discerning eye to determine when to use roads or the slower but less restrictive paths function (and later, rail tracks).
Another interesting mechanic that is integral for much of The Colonists’ gameplay is watchtowers. These are used to expand your territory, allowing you to reach new resources and grow your colony. In the combat scenarios, watchtowers are upgraded to shoot down enemy towers and capture your opponent’s territory. While I am personally not a huge fan of the combat scenarios themselves (I much prefer the relaxed style of the non-combat missions), the tactical element of positioning your towers to have the advantage when fighting your opponent’s towers is certainly worth mentioning for those interested in a little extra competition.
With all of the things this game does right, it was difficult for me to think about an aspect I did not enjoy or something that I would like to see improved upon in future updates. The only area that I could think of as needing some improvement would be the resource management interface that resides in the bottom left corner of the screen.
Currently, there are only 2 tabs available: Storage and Potential Surplus. Storage will tell you how much of each resource is currently sitting in storage, unused. Potential Surplus is a little less straightforward. To the best of my understanding it shows the theoretical amount of excess resource that could be created each day, without slowdowns and assuming there is enough storage space for that resource.
I would prefer to see this broken down into a more comprehensive readout showing actual total output of each resource and then how much is being used by each type of industry. For example, instead of seeing a potential surplus of -4.0 per day for logs, if I could see that I was generating 6.0 logs per day, my sawmills (at max. efficiency) use 8.0 per day to make planks and my fletcher uses 2.0 per day stocking arrows, I could better understand my resource economy and ensure that my priorities are being met (perhaps I need planks badly so I ensure that I reach 8.0 logs per day and prioritize my sawmills).
Aside from the one minor UI change, there is very little negative to be said about The Colonists. The graphics, music, gameplay and innovative mechanics combine for a wonderful experience overall. To think this game was created by a sole developer is a daunting thought. Codebyfire, wherever you are, my hat goes off to you. If you are even a modest fan of city building games, The Colonists is a title you will not want to miss!