Urbek City Builder was released on Steam recently, and being a fan of just about any attempt at a city-building game, I was keen to check it out. What I found after playing for a few days was more surprising than I was expecting!
Outside of efforts from big studios—like Cities: Skylines—modern attempts at city-builders tend to (or, to be more accurate, are forced to thanks to a lack of resources) keep things simple, focusing on specific stuff like transportation networks.
At first glance (and for much of the way through its tutorial), Urbek seems more ambitious than this! It’s a city-builder, but you also need to plot out farms, and chop down trees, and mine for coal, and get factories built, which I know sounds like a lot when you throw in worrying about the regular stuff (building houses and roads), but it turns out the actual experience is a lot more chill.
Because while Urbek presents itself as a reasonable complication city-builder, it’s actually more of a simple puzzle game, asking you to crack some basic challenges like spacing out buildings and constructing a certain number of them. Satisfy those basic requirements and everything else you get to do is just pure sandbox fun, especially since this is a game driven by resources, not money.
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I was wondering when I first booted the game up what the deal was with its voxels, since it seemed an odd art style for a genre that’s normally more at home with cartoonish takes on the real world. Playing it soon answers that question, because the main point of Urbek is that you don’t just build a city, you get to watch it evolve in front of your eyes, as your buildings morph and grow as a reaction to what’s going on around them.
Put down a house at the start of the game and it’s little more than a wood cabin. Manually upgrade it (by satisfying some other building requirements, see my light puzzles comment above) and it’s a nicer house. Build a few of them together and it’s a villa. Put a park in the middle of a few more and it’s a condo.
I know most city-builders have some degree of this, but Urbek’s malleability is so much more fluid and noticeable, it’s wild. Throw in the fact that the game is able to slightly customise its look depending on the buildings and their surrounds—so houses near the water will look totally different to those near a coal mine in a forest—and you’ve got something with the potential to let you get super-expressive and creative with your builds, which really is all a lot of people are looking for in this genre in the first place.
Some other cool features include progress not being an unquestionable inevitability, as some upgrades and unlocks require difficult moral decisions that you may not want to make, and the ability to pick a “biome” to build your city in, which creates different challenges depending on the climate.
Urbek City Builder is out now on Steam.