Notes: A Review code was provided by DECK 13 so we could complete this review. Highrise City is currently in Early Access. As with any Early Access game, you can expect to encounter some issues that you may not expect in a full release. Early Access games also receive regular updates, and significant changes, as feedback from the community, gets taken on board and the final release may end up being substantially different.
Highrise City already has the foundations to become one of our favourite city-builders, thanks to the added economy simulation mechanic that mixes two familiar genres into this one ambitious project.
On the surface, Highrise City (in its current early access phase) might look and feel a little bit rough around the edges. And it’s fair to say this isn’t as polished as some AAA studio productions, and that’s because it’s not.
For the majority of the last eight years that this game has been in development, this has been a project of passion for one single person. The solo developer “Fourexo” has been designing the gameplay and underlying systems for Highrise City by himself. Last year he did get some extra help from two artists, and an intern, along with support from the publisher with marketing and PR to get the game released.
Highrise City already has incredible levels of customisation. Not only can your city hold thousands of different buildings, vehicles and up to 1 million people. But you can also add individual elements to your city to give it the look and feel you want. These range from adding towering skyscrapers all the way down to a dirty old bin bag thrown outside someone’s house.
From the moment you open that first plot of land, Highrise City will feel familiar. If you have played city builders like SimCity or City Skylines before, then you get the concept. You build the roads, you zone residential or commercial areas. You supply them with power and water, and people start to move in.
Once the basics are in place and your city is starting to grow. The residents will need other necessary services that any functioning small town or city would have. Schools, hospitals, police stations, fire brigades and garbage collection are all needed to meet the base needs of the residents.
But where Highrise City starts to step out from the shadow of those other city builders, is when you begin to understand how resource management works through the economy simulator.
At its base level, people in your city need to eat food. And the buildings need construction materials like wood, bricks, and metal. While you can import them at a cost if you are stuck. This cost becomes unsustainable long term, and you need to build the industry to produce the resources instead.
Rather than building a one-off building that will produce X number of Y resources every few seconds, simply by existing. You need to build the supply chain, and the infrastructure around it, to get the natural resource out of the ground, processed and delivered.
At first, this is simple, for example, you need to allocate 1 wood resource to zone 1 square that will hold a tier-one residence. The zoning of a tier two residence will need 2 wood and 2 brick resources. While tier three will need 5 wood, 4 bricks, 2 metal and so on.
This needs to be an end-to-end supply chain. For example, to get planks of wood you need to build the sawmill in an area that has a good supply of trees. The sawmill will chop them down and process the trees into planks. Then you need a carrier to load the processed wood into a van and bring it to the warehouse to store them until needed.
The supply chains get more complicated. The next step is to build your brick supply chain. This is a two-step approach. The first building you need is a clay pit. This again needs to be placed on top of an area with high levels of clay that can be mined out of the gorund. The second building is a brickwork that will process the clay into bricks.
These two are simple single-source supply lines. It gets more complicated as you move into areas that need two or three different supply lines all working in tandem to deliver the necessary resources when they are needed. Metal needs a supply of wood to charcoal and charcoal to the smelter to create the fire to melt the iron ore that is coming in the second chain from the iron ore mine. If either supply chain is underperforming the knock-on impact can be dramatic
Moving resources around your city has to be efficient. You don’t want a van load of clay halfway across the city when your brickwork runs out and the whole process grinds to a halt.
It’s not enough to just build the buildings you need to ensure the delivery in that area can pick up and drop off quickly too. Early on you get access to local carriers that have small vans. They are great for short runs to small processing plants. You soon unlock city carriers that have larger lorries that can carry much more over bigger distances. You can also add centralized warehouses or extra warehousing to each building to increase available local stock.
As mentioned earlier, part of the economy will be a “farm to fork” chain to feed your residents. Vegetable and fruit farms mixed with a fish processing plant can fill the needs of your early city. But as the city’s population grows and gets more adventurous they will start looking for spices, beer, bread, as well and clothing and furniture.
Farming is an industry of its own. It needs big chunks of land and it needs to be well connected to the network of carriers to rush goods around. Your city needs to accommodate this use of land and mix the rural and city lifestyles so they work in harmony.
Your city will likely end up like most real cities, with lots of little systems of production linked together via the infrastructure. This is what gives this Highrise City the potential for additional longevity. Long after I would normally be bored of just building cities I was still deep into building my network of services.
The early game can be a bit frustrating as you try to get to grips with both mechanics. I found that I ran out of wood within seconds of starting a new city. I’m so used to just simply zoning a big residential area! If I was to give one starter tip. Start small, build a small area of residential and commercial (really small) and do work on the supply chains. Don’t be afraid of building multiple sawmills, clay pits, iron mines etc. It might seem like overkill but the city grows and consumes the resources very quickly.
Perhaps one solution the devs might take on board that would help players on board early. IT would help if you could zone an area for free. But the building would not be built until the resource was available.
But either way, I’m confident you will soon get over that initial hump and be building build great cities in no time.
Overall: Highrise City gives you a level of influence over the city that I’ve not experienced before. You don’t just randomly assign areas and hope they fill up with nice buildings. You are the architect of the economy that drives the type of city you want to develop.
The systems working under the hood feel very complex (to my untrained eye). But you don’t need to worry about that from the player’s point of view. It isn’t cumbersome at all. You can easily see the consumption and production figures and as long as you keep production ahead of consumption by building the right things at the right time you never feel like you are bogged down in managing spreadsheets.
Highrise City is an excellent addition to the city-building genre already. The Early Access release has already seen multiple updates and there is a public Trello roadmap to see what is coming in the coming months.
I’m pretty confident that if you like either city builders or economy simulations you will enjoy this mix. The extra layers of economy management give it extra life. When you consider Highrise City was essentially built by one person it is an amazing achievement.
Highrise City is available in Early Access now on Steam and GOG (links are provided for ease of access. They are not affiliate links, and we do not receive any financial reward if you buy the game, but it might make us feel warm inside if you do and you let us know you liked it).Please Join us on your Social Platform of choice