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Banished Review: Survival of the Fittest

Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: 02/18/2014

 

At first everything seemed to be going so well, when the first winter came my little band of exiles had roofs over their heads, food in their bellies and a well-stocked woodshed. Hope was in the air, hope that together we’d be able to turn this wilderness into a flourishing community. And for the next few decades everything went great, population went up, new food sources were exploited, increasingly complex structures were completed. My citizens steadily climbed their way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and this new Eden would be secure forevermore. Unfortunately this optimistic mindset continued only up until the the point that I noticed that there were suddenly no children.

I’m playing Banished, an indie city management sim developed by one man, Luke Hodorowicz, under the studio name Shining Rock Software. Banished is actually more of a village management game – well it is if you’re as bad as me. You begin with a small group of exiled people (banished if you will) in the middle of a wilderness with nothing but a cart stacked with clothes and tools and a little food. It’s you job to hand out roles, order resources to be collected, place building plans and build a new settlement in such a way that your little community can grow into a (horribly inbred) town. The only enemy you’ll face in Banished is the world itself, for winter is always coming and it’s your job to make sure all your villagers are stocked with thermal underwear and firewood; of course it’s also your job to make sure that your villagers remain ‘busy’ when they go back to their cabins.

All those question marks? They're a very bad sign.

After the initial confusion of seeing that zero next to the children column I hastily pulled up a few more demographics that I hadn’t bothered to look at until that point. Who worries about little details like population age while people are freezing to death in their cabins? The fact was that my village of inbred mutants was on the edge of a disaster I hadn’t seen coming; my failure to realize that my citizens would be less than keen to get ‘intimate’ when there were several families crammed into a single log cabin had led to the complete absence of a next generation.

Based on the engine for a zombie shooter, Banished is a surprisingly pretty game, smoke curls from chimneys and when winter rolls around snow blankets the landscape and turns a village into the most twee Christmas card you’ve ever seen.  Because of the realistic rate of village life you’ll spend most of your time at 10x speed lending the world a hypnotic beauty as trees grow, storms come and pass, snows pile up and citizens go about their business, all in a matter of moments. Of course watching the time fly by can lead to problems, problems like forgetting to build new houses to support population growth.

The 80-year-old woodcutter working here is doing a great job, but won't be for much longer...

So there I was with a village consisting largely of octogenarians. At first things seemed under control; there isn’t a retirement age in Banished so every important job was still held by someone over 70, but then they started dying. The rapid population decline reversed my progress and sent me back to the beginning of the game, with no-one spare to run the school, the church, or (god forbid) the tavern. Soon I was back to square one, back to hoping my people would have warm clothes and firewood for the winter.

Banished doesn’t forgive mistakes, but it does a good job of creating a balance between accessibility and complexity. However, in later playthroughs I discovered that once a certain level of civilization had been established the struggle to survive (and most of the challenges and fun) fades away. That being said, there is a still a satisfaction to be found in watching your bustling metropolis and remembering it all came from a few hopeless exiles and a cart.


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