Reviewed on Xbox One
Tycoon and simulation games often offer some of the best value packages in gaming. I can’t even count the number of hours I have gotten from the likes of Football Manager(too much – Ed), old school Zoo Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon. There’s something satisfying about fulfilling a list of success criteria one by one and working your way slowly towards creating your perfect utopia be it an all-star football team, an accident-free theme part (sorry Alton Towers) or, in this case, a skyscraper.
Project Highrise is all about creating a prosperous tower with a theme of your choice. You can choose to make a hotel, business office, retail park or an overwhelmingly tall housing estate. There’s a degree of crossover between building types as higher-end businesses will also expect suitable catering options. The general goal is to expand your tower over time whilst maintaining a fair cash flow and keeping your attendees satisfied. Satisfaction is based on how well you fulfill their specific needs with different types of rooms requiring a varied level of demands. At the start, you can generally get by from just offering electricity but as you progress clients or customers can begin to expect a lot more.
If it’s difficulty you’re looking for then you’ve come to the right place. On any difficulty above easy, Project Highrise surprised me just how challenging it can be. On my first ever playthrough I assumed it would be quite forgiving like most modern games and threw down a 50 capacity electricity transformer so that I was set up long-term. The result? I managed to drown myself in crushing debt with a complete lack of demand for what had been supplied being my tragic downfall.
Supply and demand is a key theme in Project Highrise, with the key to success being modest expansion managed sensibly. The genre trope of pausing the game for 40 minutes as you triple the size of your establishment isn’t going to work here until late into the endgame when you’ll likely have more money than sense. This difficulty is much appreciated in an age where games seem to be overly accommodating to newer users and not giving us room to just explore and discover. There is a sandbox mode for those who just want to explore and see what crazy towers you can make but I personally don’t tend to get much enjoyment out of tycoon games when the core challenge is taken away.
Converting a complex tycoon like Project Highrise to console was never going to be an easy task. Developers SomaSim hasn’t necessarily done a bad job of porting at all but there are certain barriers that were never going to be overcome. General navigation through build menus can feel clunky on a controller at times and I was all too often left thinking how much more fun I’d be having with a mouse and keyboard. The good news, however, is that with Microsoft finally offering keyboard support to an initial 15 titles as early as tomorrow, it’s not completely out of the question that a title such as Project Highrise would get support too later on. I don’t know if this is in the developer’s plans but with the PC version already being optimized for mouse and keyboard, it would seem silly to not capitalize. To be clear though, Project Highrise does generally control fine on a controller and it is by no means unplayable. In many ways, they have done a better job than I could ever have expected given the difficulty of the task at hand.
The core gameplay progression of fulfilling satisfaction quotas, completing contracts that are effectively just side quests to raise extra funds and expanding slowly over time has its pros and cons. Whilst fun in short bursts, I found this cycle mentally tiring over longer play sessions and just overall a little too grindy for my taste. Once you have experienced this cycle once you’ve more or less experienced it in its full variety. Obviously, as the game progresses and your tower prestige goes up, unlocking a larger variety of facilities for you to use, you do have to meet more difficult requirements but this shouldn’t be confused for gameplay diversity. The core expansion concept of satisfying, completing contracts and expanding never gets built upon properly. For some, this is going to be great and offer everything you can expect from a £31.99 game. For me, I wouldn’t call it bad by any means but certainly repetitive. If I was playing naturally and not for a review I doubt I’d have played for more than an hour a session which is unusual for a tycoon game. The gameplay is just fundamentally too repetitive.
At its current pricing range, I’m not sure I can quite recommend Project Highrise as whilst it offers decent content depth and playtime, actually getting through those hours feels less and less rewarding the longer you play. For shorter sessions or if you’re the kind of person who loves a slow grind you’ll probably enjoy this enough to justify the price. The optimization, most of the porting and a pleasantly challenging experience prevent Highrise from being a bad game. However, considering the biggest positive to tycoon builders is generally how great a value package they are, Project Highrise is a little disappointing in this regard.