Monday 12 December 2022

Before We Leave Review (Switch)

“War. War never changes”, so goes the intro to many a Fallout game. Before We Leave’s opening shares some common ground with the venerable RPG series - a post-apocalyptic world left barren for years, the survivors of war emerging from bunkers to reclaim the land and rebuild society – but that’s about it. Balancing Monkey Games’ take on a ravaged Earth is a much more optimistic take on the setting.

A 4X title with the aim of being relaxing, cosy and hopeful, it charges you with nurturing your Peeps as they emerge bleary-eyed into a planet reclaimed by nature. Some remnants of the past remain; old wooden power generators, rusting hulks, old ships – just enough resource to get society up and running, with the ultimate aim being to colonise islands, and eventually venture to the stars to establish colonies on other planets. The relaxing angle comes from the fact there’s no violence. You won’t find any mutants or roving Mad Max-style gangs here. The biggest issues you face are pollution, the happiness of your Peeps, and the potential to stymie your advancement through poor planning.

If you’ve played any 4X game such as Civilization you’ll know what to expect here, tech trees, hex tiles, and the satisfaction of rebuilding society. And for the most part, it sets out what it aims for. There’s a pleasure to be had in taking your Peeps from basic huts and chopping down trees to researching shipping, colonising islands, then working up to learning how to repair and launch a space shuttle, all without being constantly hassled by roving hoards looking to raze your buildings to the ground and decimate your population.

However, the game comes with its own stresses. Your Peeps aren’t unfeeling pawns, they have thoughts and emotions. Build an iron mine too close to accommodation or highly populated areas and your workers will be unhappy with the pollution. They also grumble about lack of food (which is fair, I suppose), poor clothing, lack of workers and other factors within the player’s control add to the mix. This (depending on your management style) takes away from the chilled nature of Before We Leave, as you shuffle buildings around or build more forests to try to negate some of the pollution. You start managing the shipping lanes to move resources between islands to ensure no-one goes hungry, or to ensure there’s enough of the correct types of research to advance to the next discovery. Of course, you could just as easily think your workers should suck it up, and proceed in gathering all the resources you can, ignoring their concerns and keeping things ticking along.

The presentation is nice, giving you a globe to work on rather then a top-down or isometric view common with the genre, and the game runs smoothly to begin with. As more buildings are erected and ships move between ports, the auto-resolution drops to accommodate the action (at least it does in handheld mode on the Switch), making things blurry for a while. You’re able to adjust the zoom to get up close to your Peeps, and the interface is decent, too. The whole thing is initially daunting, with so many icons and tips appearing on screen, but a decent tutorial (that leads into the main game) does a decent job of explaining everything.

Before We Leave is a hopeful, positive take on the 4X genre. A (mostly) relaxing way to while away a few hours and is a great match for the Switch. It could do with a little more polish though, as some of the tutorials could be a little more explicit in their instruction, and I’m sure that on one playthrough I wasn’t given a power source to repair meaning I couldn’t leave my first island. That said, there’s still enough here to warrant a look for those wanting to advance civilisation in snippets, and for anyone in the mood for a non-violent strategy title (space whales notwithstanding. It’ll make sense when you play it). Before We Leave goes to show that war may never change, but what might happen if society can.


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