Simulation games are my guilty pleasure. Oftentimes, they’re buggy, unresponsive, and not the most graphically demanding of games, but they’re so relaxing. From repairing broken cars to jet washing a dilapidated skatepark, there’s a simulator game for practically everything. Enter House Builder: a simulator for, well, building houses. Not your run-of-the-mill houses though, oh no. House Builder takes you around the world to build a variety of unique abodes relevant to their locations. I was lucky enough to be able to play the early access version for this preview of developer FreeMind Game’s latest sim. Hand saws at the ready everyone!
The first thing you see upon loading the game is a simple, yet clean, main menu. Every menu pop-up has a blueprint-style background, which fits in with the theme of the game. Behind the menus you can see our glorious Earth, which shifts to become the main focus once you opt to start the game. Scrolling around the planet gives you two areas to build in at first, with more unlocking as you complete jobs.
Each level in House Builder gives you a clear set of instructions for each step you take. The Heads-up Display (HUD) shows which tools you are carrying, any materials you have, and the percentage of completion for the job you’re currently working on. It also has the amount of points you currently have, which act as the game's currency, and a helpful tooltip to give you a quick overview of which task you should be currently trying to complete.
I decided to jump straight into building an igloo in Greenland, which must be built by cutting ice blocks out of specific spots on the map. I soon realised this wouldn’t be a quick task; cutting around a marked section with my knife (with the slightest rogue mouse movement forcing a restart) for a single block of ice over and over, I was worried how long it would take. Barely five minutes into this process however, I unlocked a skill that allowed me to double the amount of ice harvested. A few more minutes passed and yet another skill icon popped up, notifying me that I was now able to receive a lot more ice for each cutting process. Even with the added survival element of having to keep a fire going to stop yourself from freezing, this ended up taking a lot less time than I had initially anticipated.
House Builder gives you a steady stream of skills that unlock just by playing, enough to keep you wanting to build just one more section. For example, the third level has you building a log cabin. You cut down a tree, de-bark it, then cut it to approximately the right size. By the end of the level, one tree provides several trunks (sans bark), with a much bigger leeway for the size of log needed to be able to place it onto the house. The in-game skill tree is very basic, but offers incredibly useful timesavers for almost any action, including an increase in sprint speed and how many materials you can carry.
The same can be said about the majority of the levels in House Builder. You start off slow, whilst the game teaches you each of the levels mechanics, before being able to build things so quickly you’d almost swear you were playing a LEGO game.
This then changes upon starting the fourth level (a Japanese house) as the game takes away the need to harvest resources and simply gives you everything you need. This level in particular felt disconnected from the rest of the game so far. Gone is the need for tools, instead opting for a shop system to purchase all your materials if you happen to lose those that are provided. This continues on into later levels, and I finally came to the realisation that of course you wouldn’t have to cut down trees or mix some mud when building a two-storey home in suburban Canada. Instead you’re given the chance to destroy the derelict house standing in your way using a crane or an excavator. Yay capitalism! In turn, each level plays out slightly differently, giving you a sense of what it would be like to construct a home within that part of the world. Not only that, it mixes up the gameplay enough that you very rarely do the same task in House Builder’s various maps.
As an Early Access game, I was expecting a fair amount of unfinished content, buggy mechanics, or outright broken sections. Whilst I did run into some issues, it’s worth noting that the game is surprisingly more polished than some other recent releases that charge full price. Certain objects that you need to search for aren’t highlighted via the game's “builder vision” on the odd occasion, and with so many planks of wood looking almost identical this became a guessing game of picking up each type until I found the one I needed.
House Builder has a few slightly more serious issues. In the six hours I’ve played so far, I’ve gotten stuck in the geometry several times, forcing me to reload an earlier save. There have also been times where reloading was my only option as an extra wall or floor had spawned, causing the area where I needed to build the next part of the house to become inaccessible. The game did crash my computer the first time I entered a vehicle, but thankfully this was not a repeat scenario.
As mentioned earlier in this preview, I really felt like I was building houses akin to how a LEGO set might be constructed. It’s a very paint-by-numbers system, with specific materials having to go in a specific order before you can move onto the next section of the house, so don’t expect to be able to freely build or customise the houses. On paper, it may not sound too appealing, but give House Builder a try and you’ll find a stress-free, charming, and unique simulator experience with enough variety in locations and tasks to keep you wanting to know where the next house will be built. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the next update; give me a castle to build!