Thursday 8 December 2016

Anno 2205 review - The future of corporate plundering is now

Published 25/11/2015 | 17:06

Anno 2205 - Your bustling city and the port that is its lifeline
Anno 2205 - Your bustling city and the port that is its lifeline

You may not have heard of it, but the Anno series has been peddling solid economic strategy fare since 1998. The latest instalment shoots for the Moon with some success.

7.5/10; PC; Ubisoft (Blue Byte)

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Set in the year 2205, you play the head of a corporation granted a permit to take part in the lunar program. That’s right, humans have finally found a way to effectively plunder the moon’s resources. Usually it’s only the big global corporations allowed to work towards the moon, but special permission has been granted to your plucky up-and-coming corp.

Anno 2205 - Craters are the islands of the moon
Anno 2205 - Craters are the islands of the moon

Before you can run rampant in space, your corporation must grow and lay the groundwork. Your first task is to choose one of three temperate zones, each with different topography and special projects. Your choice doesn’t impact greatly on gameplay and you’ll ultimately get the chance to buy out the other zones, so don’t stress over the selection.

As with the rest of the series, Anno 2205 aims to stand apart from other strategy games by putting the focus squarely on economy.

Anno is odd in that it’s your workforce rather than your commodities that produce money. Commodities are used to produce items to keep your workers happy and the more workers you have, the more money you’ll earn. I’m not sure how the logic works, are the workers picking fruit and making fruit juice only to then buy the fruit juice while the corporation makes profit? The result is zero motivation for the player to over produce, which seems odd when you’re playing the role of corporation rather than government. 

Throughout the game you’re constantly pandering to your workforce’s needs. As they get promoted, your workers have increasingly fancy tastes. It’s a vicious circle of upskilling your workforce to produce better goods because the upskilled workers want them. It’s perhaps not the only shot the game takes across the bow of the corporate world, but the urge to grow your corporation drives philosophical ponderings to the dark recesses of your mind.

 

Soon your corporation’s actions will attract the attention of unhappy militants, drawing you in to an odd real-time naval strategy affair conducted on a separate map. Direct your fleet around the sea, destroying targets and collecting pick-ups.  At first the combat sections are a nice change of pace, but soon become a repetitive chore. Thankfully they can be avoided, despite the irritating reminders from in-game characters.

Once you get your temperate climate base to a certain level, you get to select an Arctic region. Build up your Arctic region and you’ll soon be allowed select your very own plot on the moon. Different challenges crop up in each location. While you can mostly build in any old spot in the temperate regions, in the Arctic you must place residences near heat sources (factories) and on the Moon everything must be protected by expensive shield generators. Otherwise it’s business as usual in each area, with distinct workers in each area requires different luxuries.

The only spice offered by having the different area is shipping resources between territories. Workers in the Arctic are big fans of fruit juice, while executive in the temperate region get in a bad mood if they don’t get cybernetics from the moon.

Anno 2205 - All that flat snow in the Arctic means building in straight lines is possible, if somewhat boring.
Anno 2205 - All that flat snow in the Arctic means building in straight lines is possible, if somewhat boring.

Rival corporations are present throughout the game, at least in theory. They pop up to offer random missions or act as agents for each area’s optional big project, but there’s never any real sense of them existing in the same realm. They stay off your patch of turf and there’s little or no competition with them. There’s also no way to haggle or decline the offers they present you with. Compared to faction heads in the recent Civ games, they’re non-existent.

The lack of competition is only the start of a sense of “what’s the point” that grows throughout the game. With little or no end game, you finish your fusion reactor on the moon, essentially the final step and then you’re left to keep tending your corporation like a pretty Farmville.

I tried to put my finger on where Anno 2205 falls down compared to Cities: Skylines, which I loved. First, Anno is a pure numbers game. Where you place buildings makes no difference.  Your workers don’t care that their house is sandwiched between two mines and there’s no pollution to worry about. Yes, there is a logistics resource to manage, but it’s so simple that it makes little difference.

Read More: Cities: Skylines review - All hail the new king of city builders

Anno 2205 - In the future, we shall drink from the sea
Anno 2205 - In the future, we shall drink from the sea

Secondly, there are no external factors affecting your economy. If you build a stable growing economy, you can just walk away and watch the money roll in. Sure, it’s not in the spirit of things, but when you’ve built your empire, you might as well walk away, there’s no nuanced flow of inhabitants to manage or traffic to calm.

The game looks great and the interface works well. There was some slow down during the more frantic naval battles, but for the most part playing the game was pleasant.

I’ll admit to spending a weekend completely absorbed in Anno 2205, it’s a decent game, but at the end of it there was a growing sense of regret and little or no sense of accomplishment. Distracting combat aside, Anno 2205 is a one-trick pony, albeit a pony with a number of wardrobe changes.

It may sound mad when you’ve more resources to balance than toes on your feet, but Anno 2205 really needs more depth. Combat feels unnecessary and possibly unwanted. There’s a certain amount to digest in terms of resources, but the closed nature of the economy means there are never any surprises. There is certainly breadth there, nine worlds to manage on an on-going basis will certainly take time, but there aren't enough challenges to keep the majority of players distracted beyond their first fusion reactor.

 

Anno 2205 is available now on PC


(Deluxe version supplied by publisher to review.)

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