Imagine new Earths across the universe!
The year is 2084, and humanity has successfully migrated beyond its Earthly cradle and out into the far reaches of space to colonize new worlds. Fortunately, there are plenty of habitable planets to choose from, and by carefully managing people and resources, you’ll be able to start life anew quickly and efficiently. Of course, we are not alone in this universe — there are other intelligent life forms looking to do the exact same thing to ensure their species thrives. You’ll need to claim the best planets for the company and ensure that the balance between the ecosystem and the economy is carefully maintained to maximize profits. Are you up to the challenge? Yes? Then welcome to Imagine Earth, Ltd.
Imagine Earth can trace its development history as far back as 2009 when its concept won the Serious Game Award that year; now, over a decade later, it finally graces PCs with its full release presence. What started out as a student project by two German college friends has expanded in scope and vision as the years went on; trying to imagine what Imagine Earth must have looked like all those years ago is a fruitless exercise, as the current product is far too beautiful. With its focus on a sustainable future, Imagine Earth is a city-builder that asks players to remember that humanity can’t survive if the planet can’t thrive.
Fans of the city-builder genre will find Imagine Earth fairly intuitive from the get-go: you land on a new planet and are instructed to foster a city’s growth from the ground up. There will be characters to guide you along the way, asking you to hit specific goals in an effort to teach you the ropes in terms of progression. Build a city center to get things started, then some city districts to attract settlers to this brand new world. From there, you’ll need to construct facilities that provide power, food, and goods for the settlers; after that, it’s time to sit back and collect that sweet, sweet tax revenue as you lather, rinse, repeat with your population and industry growth.
As the campaign continues, new planets will open up, complete with their own unique challenges. One planet will require you to focus predominately on revenue, while another will ask you to get pollution under control. Throughout this time, new events will pop up that will force players to redirect their efforts to solve immediate problems, like a sudden epidemic or natural disasters. It’d be easy to make this a stressful experience, but Imagine Earth feels relaxing — even cathartic — and it’s easy to get lost in the soothing soundtrack and gentle flow of gameplay as you stay on step ahead of the game.
At first, I admit I struggled a little bit with Imagine Earth because the tutorial made references to mechanics like research and tech licenses that didn’t come into play until much, much later, causing some confusion as to how that whole thing worked. It wasn’t until the second world — when said mechanic actually opened up — that it all clicked and I genuinely enjoyed how research was structured. By acquiring tech licenses, players can unlock different facilities, such as wind power plants and cattle farms, that have already been researched by others. After that, you’re able to research different modules that allow those facilities to run more efficiently, such as using less electricity or generating less pollution. Once those are all good and researched, you’ll spend quite a bit of time upgrading all your facilities with the new modules, which means there’s always some sort of forward momentum.
In fact, that’s kind of the appeal of Imagine Earth that players will either love or hate — there’s always something that needs your attention. There’s always pollution to clean up, buildings to repair, cities to expand, facilities to upgrade, research to be completed… and you get to a point where you either find a nice flow and lose track of the hours flying by, or you miss a crucial step in the tutorial and just never find your bearings. Additionally, the game feels a bit at odds with itself, where some things feel extremely urgent to take care of, but consequences for letting it slide seem non-existent. The characters themselves feel a little off, like caricatures of something else, which can set the mood to feel a bit lacking. If you’re an Alpha Centauri or early Civilization fan, this is definitely a game to get lost in; if this is your first city-builder, I wonder if it’ll stick.
I’d like to applaud Imagine Earth for what it’s attempted, which is to create a city-builder that stresses the importance of a self-sustainable civilization despite a seemingly never-ending supply of Earth-like planets. Fostering a future that asks humanity to consider its carbon impact before its capital gains is one we’ll need to see if we’re to thrive in the 22nd century and beyond, and it’s great to see a game where such a simulation can play out positively. Although the characters can feel a bit robotic and the peripheral mechanics could use better explanations, Imagine Earth is absolutely worth adding to any city-builder fan’s library, and that goes doubly so if Alpha Centauri and Civilization IV were your jam.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Serious Bros.; Developer: Serious Bros.; Players: 1; Released: May 25, 2021; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Imagine Earth provided by the publisher.