There’s nothing more meditative than a civilization builder. There is no story to follow, no cinematics or dialogue to pay attention to and, best of all, no expectation of success. It’s a great time to lean back, put on some music, and figure out what tech tree I need to research to keep my citizens from dying of heat stroke.
While I often gravitate towards high stress competitive games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Valorant, I have lately felt the need for a calm game I can pay at my own pace. When Before We Leave popped up in my inbox I thought: “Perfect”. And it almost was.
Before We Leave was developed and published by Balancing Monkey Games and will be released on May 8 for PC via the Epic Games Store.
Give Me The Civ
As I mentioned befor,e part of my love for civ builders is their lack of story. Just put me in the middle of nowhere with five villagers and let me turn that barren piece of land into a metropolis. Before We Leave starts almost exactly like that. The first villagers, or “Peeps,” allotted to you quite literally spring from a hole in the ground. From there, the game simply encourages you to provide the basic necessities your Peeps need before advising you to explore its world and find new technologies.
Research is really the backbone of Before We Leave. Its basic system of requiring the construction of a library to begin researching new technologies is nothing new, the way you earn points to pay for research is interesting.
One of the first buildings you construct is an explorers’ hut. From here, one of your Peeps will roam the surrounding landscape in search of ancient alien technology. To a small extent, there is a level of environmental storytelling going on here. As you discover new islands, new technologies and ruins become available for you explorers to find. It isn’t much, but it is a nice addition.
Road to Utopia
For the most part, the traditional gameplay loop of a civ builder is here to be enjoyed. To keep your Peeps thriving you must provide them with food and water, but you must also monitor their happiness. Sustenance production is largely uncomplicated but the happiness factor is what gets you into trouble. As you grow, you start requiring more industrial elements such as power plants or forges. While necessary to sustain your Peeps, the pollution they create makes them unhappy, and when they get unhappy it sure does take a lot to make it up to them. Eventually you will be making them better clothes and creating markets for them to buy various niceties.
With its added elements of discovery and exploration, Before We Leave should have been everything I could want. It has one glaring problem, however, that caused me a deep frustration throughout my time with it.
The entire game map is based around a hexagonal grid system. Every single object you can construct takes up at least one of these hexagonal tiles, if not more. This also includes the roads needed to quicken the pace your Peeps travel between their homes, work, and the market. With a lot of the space already feeling rather claustrophobic, it was unbelievably frustrating to have to factor in one of my roads being the size of a damn house. In the end, I’m just annoyed that my creativity is so heavily hampered by that one simple design flaw.
It Ain’t Broke…
Outside of this, Before We Leave is a well put-together game. A clunky UI aside, it is a pleasant game to look at as well as listen to. The Peeps’ character models are pretty basic, but the buildings and environments have a unique quirk that I enjoyed. There is also that spherical landscape effect similar to games like Super Mario Galaxy or Planetary Annihilation. It was sometimes a little disorienting trying to navigate between my various colonies but otherwise it was a pleasant effect.
Sound design is fairly minimal, which is to be expected in a game like this. There are some basic environmental sounds and the clatter of new construction underway. My favorite sound is the music that comes from my Peeps’ homes as they party. At least that is what I assume they are doing. Once you build a school your Peeps start to breed so it could possibly signal hanky panky.
…But It Could Be Fixed
Before We Leave is a fun, albeit simple, civ builder. It tries a few new things but otherwise plays it safe. It is charming, fun, and most importantly, relaxing.
It’s such a shame that that serenity is broken by frustration when trying to plan roadways and neighborhoods. This may not seem like much of an issue for some, but for someone who finds odd satisfaction from having complete control of how my society will look, it kept me from falling in love.
Review copy provided by Balancing Monkey Games for PC. Screenshots courtesy of Balancing Monkey Games.