Blue Byte's futuristic take on their competitive trading and town-building series, Anno 2070, is just a couple of weeks away, and I've had a chance to play with some of the sandbox elements of the game to get a taste of it. Head below for some thoughts on this near-future near-strategy! Or don't. YOU DECIDE.
Those of you familiar with Anno 1404 - handsome, golden beasts with the sun in your smile - will already know much of what to expect from 2070. It is very similar indeed to 1404. For the rest of you, I can say that this is one of the gentler, more compulsive resource-managing games you will find nestled in the warm bits of the internet. While there is violent conflict in parts - limited generally to coastal defences and ship-to-ship battles - this is basically a game about colonising an archipelago as you compete with human or AI players. [And I should say, as a side-observation at this point, that the story works very well - global warming has turned the whole world in a watery series of islands!] It is not SimMedievalMerchant, but nor is it quite like any real-time strategy you might care to mention. It is, however, quite methodical, quite clinical, quite uh Teutonic.
So yes, a full campaign will grace the final game, teaching you the ropes and telling the story of the two sides in this eco-war - basically the wind and sea lovin' Greens and the Old School Oil-burning Capitalists - but I got to taste the "continuous" mode, basically an open-ended set of maps for you to play through at your leisure, and without the pressure of overbearing objectives beyond those you accept from the NPC characters, or set for yourself. There will also be single-mission scenarios in which you are able to compete for quite specific objectives.
Anyway, the core of 2070 is your Ark, which is a giant submersible that turns into an offshore base. Your key ship is produced there, and emergency supplies can be helicoptered in to it if you have the cash. For a game about saving the world (or destroying it) after massive global warming, both parties sure are keen on colonising the virgin archipelagos that you discover - and something cringed in me as I noticed the future world map on the loading screen had the /wrong bits/ flooded - but anyway: building a settlement is the plan, and getting on with that can be a tricky challenge. The way building works in Anno means that your expansion is tightly limited, and it's easy to get yourself into trouble if you're not careful about what you put down. Getting your population up is the most important part, but it's not as important as avoiding be stymied by a lack of specific resources. As in Anno 1404 I did find myself staring a large settlement waiting to see what happens next, thanks to a single resource being slow to produce. Hmm. Odd memory to have, that one. Not one of my treasured ones, I must say.
So yes, thoughts: I've not seen enough of the game to really make any deep judgements on either its scope (I've yet to see the underwater stuff) or to say whether this is a better game than 1404. It's certainly has some character of its own - the world is lavish, and the animations are just lovely. Lots of little flying machines whizz about your islands delivering stuff, and zooming in on the individual houses allows you to see people wandering about in the streets and relaxing on balconies. There's even a logging robot which is like an arboreal version of the exoskeleton Ripley wears at the end of aliens, quietly chopping down trees and taking them to be processed. Lovely, lovely.
The best touch I've seen so far, however, is the shop that turns up. A converted aircraft carrier covered in casino neon, tents, balloons, cranes, and fairy lights. Brilliant.
Browsing the other bits of Anno 2070 that I haven't been able to play from this preview code - various scenarious and missions, the campaign, the fact that there are two competing factions, as well as all the other general options and scene-setting data - I have to say that I am excited. The game looks just as I had expected. It's a kind game, without too much harshness, but with a definite challenge and the chance of danger and failure. My only worries are the voice of the tutorial AI - shut up! - and the few rough edges that appear in this preview code. Hoping the release isn't going to be begging a patch when it hits. In short: I am looking forward to cracking on with the full thing.