There has always been a certain appeal to the idea of building your own civilization and watching it grow, from creating little houses from Lego, to painstakingly constructing a vast metropolis in games like Sim City, the draw seems to be nigh universal. HandyGames aims to bring this appeal into VR by combining strategic city-building with elements of classic ‘God-sim’ games like Black and White in Townsmen VR.
Platforms: PC VR
Release Date: Out Now
Starting the game sees the player introduced to Sir Clunks-a-lot, your advisor and dispenser of tutorial tips. He appears as an armored head floating in mid-air, which is somewhat immersion-breaking for something so early in the game, but it’s easy to move on from as you turn your focus to the game mechanics. Movement is fairly straightforward, as you simply pull yourself along by ‘grabbing’ empty space, though the dearth of comfort options might make this uncomfortable for some players.
The player’s first task is to assist some villagers who are stuck on a wrecked boat. Picking up logs and dropping them into the boat allows the villagers to begin repairs, and subsequently sail to an island where a new town can be set up. New gameplay elements are gradually introduced, and the player learns to keep track of resources, tasks and their overall population.
Stone and wood are needed to make new buildings, and you can send your villagers out to start mining stone and chopping wood etc. The rate at which new mechanics are introduced, such as farming or combat, is well-balanced, never overwhelming the player with information but still keeping a good level of challenge and interaction. There are thirteen different islands to build on, and twenty building types to use, which when combined with the range of tasks and the challenge of combat, as well as the alternative ‘Sandbox Mode’ option gives the player plenty to be absorbed in.
One of the nicest things about Townsmen VR is the level of detail. The player can change perspective and get right down amongst the villagers to see the buildings, characters and landscape from a ground-level perspective. Though the graphics are fairly cartoonish and stylized, they still have a good level of craft and detail that shows care and attention has gone into the look and feel of the game. There are a number of delightful small touches, such as if you pick up a cat, it will start purring, with the sound getting louder if you hold the cat close to your ear. Or if you stand still for long enough, the tiny birds flitting around might land on your hand. Townsmen VR is full of such pleasing easter eggs which makes the game environment a genuinely pleasant place to spend time.
The sound design is excellent, the aural cues give the player an indication of what is happening and where, correctly changing the sound to account for distance and direction. As such, the player can identify if a building project has just been completed, or if a villager has fallen into the water and needs to be saved from drowning. The music is gentle and not overbearing, with an appropriately medieval feel, though some of the loops feel a little short.
Not all players will appreciate the level of micromanagement needed to build at maximum efficiency. Though villagers will cheerfully continue at an assigned task, such as gathering wood or farming the land, it’s far more efficient to pick up a villager and drop them on whatever area needs to be currently worked on. Though the well-designed menus and audio cues help the player keep track of things, your attention can still be stretched thin, especially when you are being attacked.
There are some minor niggles, too. It’s a little too easy to accidentally brush a villager off the island into the water, prompting you to drop what you are doing to save them from a watery grave. The physics engine also seems to sometimes have issues, especially with items such as the catapult, and some event triggers can fail to activate properly. On the whole, though, Townsmen VR runs well.
Townsmen VR is not perfect. There are no multiplayer elements, which is a shame as the combat, in particular, would benefit greatly from being able to play and compete with friends. The combat itself feels a little unbalanced at first, as the player can find themselves quickly overwhelmed until they have amassed a considerable armory of soldiers, catapults and crossbows.
That said, Townsmen VR is the sort of game where you intend to spend only an hour or so chilling out and finishing a few tasks, only to remove your headset and find that half a day has passed you by. It’s a very pleasing place to spend a lot of time, and provides a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.
Townsmen VR Review – Final Impressions
Fans of God-sims and city builders will find a lot to enjoy in Townsmen VR, and even newcomers to those genres will appreciate how well the extensive tutorial guides players through the process of creation and combat. The ability to change perspectives and enjoy the world from different levels provides a new level of immersion for this genre that is very welcome.