Silicon City is yet another building game, which is a genre for which I generally don’t care much for, and this game did not change my mind. The controls are a bit peculiar, and while the game clearly wanted me to find the graphics charming, they did not really appeal to me.
I did like the option to pursue a “story mode” as I went through the tutorial, but as the game’s controls are the opposite of intuitive, I did not particularly enjoy my time in Silicon City. That said, the game does have some elements to recommend it should the retro visuals and mechanics appeal to you.
Silicon City is your typical city-builder, though it clearly has the more casual player in mind. In Story Mode, you have the option of playing through four scenarios, ranging from a village to a metropolis, and you’ll have a guide to walk you through how the various controls work. The game positions you as a deputy mayor who’s filling in while the real mayor is away, so while you do have the opportunity to engage in some construction, you still meander between pre-built towns that you attempt to turn into paradises for your “silizens.”
In the event that you care to skip the tutorial, you have two more options: classic mode and sandbox mode. Classic mode involves the standard city-building game. You set up a world, create your city, and advance along a progress curve, all while juggling building costs, silizen happiness, and managing a score of other details. Sandbox mode eschews the more complicated mechanics for an open-world in which you can focus on building your city without worrying about little details like money.
While Silicon City cleaves to its nostalgic aesthetic, you do have some options with respect to how you view your city. You can choose to toggle to a 3D mode that while offering a 360 degree view, which still remains squarely within the throwback space Silicon City has embraced so thoroughly. The game also offers an isometric view and a completely two-dimensional view, depending on what decade you wish to relive in your gameplay.
While wandering around your town the silizens have a deceptively simple appearance; they’re walking monoliths, which would no doubt make Stanley Kubrick proud. However, don’t discount your townsfolk. The game bestows an actual character on each one of these monoliths, with their own jobs and budgets, and you can interact with them individually via the game’s internal version of social media. You’ll need to keep track of these characters because each of your construction or destruction decisions will impact their lives, a mechanic which begs for your emotional involvement.
Like most city-builders, Silicon City involves juggling a lot of moving parts, but the UI isn’t really set up to handle all the various bits of information you’ll need to bear in mind in order to play the game successfully. Polycorne’s devotion to a retro-style means that they lovingly recreate the experience of having to juggle window after window after window in order to stay abreast of the events in your city. That decision does not make for smooth or organized gameplay, especially when the crisis mechanics rear their ugly heads. As expected, Silicon City does deploy various events to which you must react in real time, even if you’re more concerned with helping the farmers (a frequent task). Juggling the necessary response while balancing your other responsibilities may be a realistic issue for city officials, but despite its attempts, Silicon City’s design doesn’t allow you to manage it very well.
Despite that issue, Polycorne has continued to offer improvements and updates to the game. As it currently stands, the most recent update expanded your options for decorating your gardens and also designing your forests. They’ve also added a terrain editor, which allows you to change the type of soil in each block. Ever wanted to craft the perfect jardin français? Well, Silicon City now offers you tools to get closer to that ideal. Attractiveness of an area happens to be one of the important metrics that you must monitor closely in your city. Silizens seem to leave town arbitrarily at the best of times, but they will flee in droves should the attractiveness quotient of your city drop below a certain value. The parks and gardens therefore constitute important gameplay elements.
Energy, too, falls into that category. In theory, I do like that Silicon City allows you to view the energy distribution around your city in order to determine how best to use your territory, but in practice, it just became one more thing for me to remember to check. Granted, I like that Polycorne improved how energy production and consumption worked in-game because apparently, energy production and consumption did not vary with the game speed you select. I cannot imagine playing Silicon City at higher levels with an energy system that would not keep up with the fast-forwarding required.
Polycorne seems to be invested in their fans, and generally, I like to see that in developers. They offer weekly challenges that pit your city-building strategy against that of your fellow players around the globe. They’re also extremely active on their Discord server and take player feedback into account when they determine bug fix priorities. Player experience really matters to Polycorne, and that’s really nice to see.
However, Polycorne still hasn’t addressed the game’s big issue, which is, as I mention above, how clunky the UI and controls are. As with all city-builders, data management is the key to success, and I found toggling between the windows, construction tools, and social media windows not just tiresome but downright frustrating. The game’s visuals don’t particularly help either. Polycorne has chosen a very retro, pixelated art-style for Silicon City, and to be honest, I’m not the target audience for this. I don’t have enough nostalgic love for 90s-era city builders for the visuals to help me overcome the frustration of managing data in Silicon City’s UI.
If you really want to relive the 90s or 2000s in terms of city-builders, then let me tell you that Silicon City is the game for you. The gameplay is more straightforward than it was in Patron, for example, but an awkward UI and counter-intuitively designed controls render playing Silicon City more frustrating, despite that simplicity. You can pick it up and put it down, and the game has a useful feature that lets you speed up time, which means you can better control how you use your time in-game.
Polycorne Studios has continued to produce updates and fixes since the game’s October 14 release, and they conduct weekly challenges to keep the fanbase connected and interested. That kind of developer investment could make the game’s retail price of $19.99 on Steam worth it for the player looking for a throwback experience, but for me, it’s definitely not a game that I’ll rush back to play again. However, as always, your mileage may vary.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- Polycorne Studios is a developer out of France, and boy, does it show. I loved the opening village name of St. Pougny-les-Ouilles. You’ll also see a very European bent to the housing and road designs.
- Thus, when I mentioned the Jardin français above, I really did mean exactly that.
- Traffic flow is another decently important gameplay element you should monitor. I didn’t encounter any real issues with it, but I barely made it out of story mode.
- I do think Polycorne will continue to add value to the game, but again, it’s just not a game that appeals to me.