This is by far one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write; I don’t mean the game itself is hard (although this is actually somewhat true), but rather I’m conflicted on my overall view of Reus. In many ways this is a beautifully and creatively designed game with a brilliant, original, concept but it also proves to be horribly formulaic and, at times, quite dull.
Let’s wind it back a bit and take a look at what Reus actually is, as it’s not entirely obvious at first glance. If we’re talking genres then this is a strategic god game within the same vein as Black and White or Spore. This is a bit of an ignorant description, however, as Reus ultimately brings a new play style to the table. You’re the omnipotent ruler of a spherical world, which can be morphed and formed by a group of four giants who act as conduits for your decisions. Forest, Rock, Swamp and Water giants can create their associated landscapes on your world as well as plants, animals and minerals. These in turn create the crucial resources: wealth, food, tech and awe. With this in place, humans start inhabiting your world and setting up towns and it’s in the development of these communities that the game measures your success.
It sounds simple, and at first it seems simple. Spend a few more hours with the game, however, and it becomes clear that this is actually one of the most complex games you’ll ever encounter. This complexity stems from the acute balance you need to strike when placing your resources, and the creatures/plants/minerals that create them. Each of these natural sources, of which there are hundreds, has a bonus which grants you more resources than the base version and can be accessed through specific placements (or symbiosis, as it’s named). For instance, if you place a blueberry section within the radius of a chicken section, then the chickens, and therefore the town that owns them, gain a +3 boost to food production. This mechanic forms the meat of the game; almost every achievement and goal relies upon your careful placement of natural sources.
It’s a good new concept that effectively forces the player to micromanage the small amount of space they’re given without ever feeling unnecessarily restrictive in the same way as SimCity. With this, though, is my only significant issue with Reus. The combinations for gaining bonuses are so specific that there’s a certain lack of creativity and freedom involved in the placement of sources. What’s more, the in-game visual aids do very little to inform you of the possible upgrades that can be achieved by creating symbiosis; instead, you’ll find yourself either placing things randomly or heading into the game’s wiki to see the various tech trees and upgrade opportunities (or aspects, as they’re called in-game). This breaks the immersion and is essentially a boring task that could’ve been removed entirely if Abbey Games had just been a bit more lenient with their source placement mechanic; an improved interface would also help matters.
It’s a fundamental part of the game, so it’s a shame that it feels so ironically restrictive. Of course, this is just a personal view; I’m certain there are some players out there who would enjoy having to dig out the specific info in the wiki. There is a nice sense of complexity to it all that means it’s very satisfying when you do find the right combination.
Despite this flaw, there’s no chance I would ever describe Reus as a bad game as there’s a hell of a lot to like about it. The visual design of the title is what’s likely to attract a majority of buyers, and rightly so, as this is a visually stunning game in every conceivable way. The cartoon style has a warm and vibrant edge to it that sits perfectly with the overall presentation. As ever, though, it’s the details that make this such a beautiful game. For example, each village within the different regions (forest, swamp and desert) have their own unique look; even the little people look different. Those same people are also greatly implemented by looking sharp and well illustrated but not so much so that there’s only a few on screen at once. Add on top of this the spectacular landscape with its varied creatures, plants and minerals, and I have no qualms in saying that this is one of the most visually rewarding games I’ve ever seen; it’s just a joy to watch the world grow and change. I would even go so far as to say that the great looks are an entire reason to buy the game; something I wouldn’t dare say about even the most technically impressive graphical performer.
Audio is also top notch; grand yet chirpy tunes, like a mix between Civilization and Angry Birds, form the filler background sound and manage to stay fun as opposed to annoying. Zoom in to the different regions and you’re treated to ambient sound reflecting what you’re seeing. Birds tweet in the forests, dust blows in the desert and Didgeridoos...Didgeridoo, in the swamp. Again, it’s the little things that make this a great element of the game and it’s so good to see a small developer really embrace the presentation of their game and not allow themselves to be over-influenced by big name titles.
Continuing the originality of Reus is the goal and game mode system. It’s nothing special, and improvements could certainly be made, but it’s a nice idea. You’re given an allotted amount of time, from 30 to 120 minutes, to achieve as many of the various goals as possible. During games, objectives come in the form of special buildings that require certain amounts of resources, forcing you to think about placement once again. It means you’re essentially playing ‘free’ mode all of the time (despite a separate, but basically same, free mode). So aside from the decent tutorials, there’s no story mode to be found. In many ways, a story mode would have been perfect for Rues, not so much as the main component, but as something more substantial than a tutorial to guide the player and help them understand and remember all of the placement combinations. Would have been a deal breaker, in my opinion, and greatly improved the game.
So here’s the basic reason why this has been so tricky to review. Reus is, at times, annoyingly specific; and so can become boring or frustrating even after a decent amount of play time. Yet I found myself loving the game for its outstanding visual and audial design, as well as the great original concept. Reus is a good game, wrapped up in the image of a great game, but for what is essentially the lowest end of PC game pricing, I can happily recommend it to any gamer. All of this aside, however, it must be said that it’s a brilliant debut game from Dutch developers Abbey Games, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
Reus (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Reus is a good game, wrapped up in the image of a great game, but for what is essentially the lowest end of PC game pricing, I can happily recommend it to any gamer.