Sphere: Flying Cities has its head in the clouds
Everyone remembers where they were on a particularly traumatic day. Those living in the US at the turn of the millennium can recall with pinpoint precision where they were when 9/11 occurred; UK residents remember what they were doing when 7/7 — the London Bombings — happened. For many, these horribly horrific events changed society as they knew it, the effects rippling out in life-altering ways.
Where were you when the moon shattered, causing the entire world to sink into complete and utter chaos?
That dire premise directly opens Sphere: Flying Cities, a post-apocalyptic city builder that asks players to keep the remnants of society afloat — literally. Currently in development by Hexagon Sphere Games with publishing being handled by Assemble Entertainment, Sphere: Flying Cities hit Steam Early Access on October 14, 2021 with a launch price of $15.29 (regularly $17.99). Combining “strategy, simulation, and survival elements in an extraordinary and immersive scenario,” Sphere: Flying Cities entertains with a warning: “pay the price for your decisions and be prepared to lose everything.”
After the moon shattered and plunged the Earth into total darkness, scientists turned their collective focus to anti-gravity technology — humanity’s last hope. Turning the AG beacon on for the first time, however, proved devastating, as it vaporized nearly everything in the immediate vicinity. It wasn’t a total failure, however; in fact, it was a rousing success. Like the Biblical City of Enoch, the anti-gravity beacon lifted up the land around it, high into the air and above the clouds. Perhaps here, under the protection of the anti-gravity dome, the surviving class of humans could eke out a meager existence; perhaps here, in the sky, civilization could rebuild.
Sphere: Flying Cities has an amazingly doomful backstory that fans of city survival sims like Frostpunk will immediately love, but what brings it all home is the setting. A floating city hovering at the top of the clouds could either be pretty spectacular or pretty monotonous — luckily, Sphere: Flying Cities is the former. That first rotation to get a good feel of city boundaries slaps players with the sun beating bleakly onto humanity’s last gasp. It’s early on, but after that intro video, it really hits you that this is probably the first time in ages that any humans have felt the sun on their face. To see it above the clouds feels good, but also a bit foreign due to the typically uninhabitable height of the city. Just like how Frostpunk felt bitterly cold, Sphere: Flying Cities offers that quiet loneliness that comes with the elevation.
As for gameplay, Sphere: Flying Cities reminds me a lot of a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi version of Airborne Kingdom. Players will need to build habitation spaces for the survivors, plus a ton of other facilities for them to continue living, like food and power generators. There are resources to gather, like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, that requires moving the entire floating city from sector to sector on a real map of the real world (I can see what remains of my house from here!). Players can also pick up more survivors along the way, welcoming newcomers to their floating abode.
Sounds fun so far, right? Right, about that — let’s just say I’m extremely happy this game released in Early Access because it is most certainly not ready. Sphere: Flying Cities is playable, but even with the tutorial there’s a lot of trial and error. In fact, I think partially because of the tutorial there’s a lot of error — I found myself restarting a handful of times because the tutorial explains things poorly and can set you up for failure. It’s not abundantly apparent you need to connect facilities to roads, and the game will let you build them anyway, meaning you can waste a lot of time and resources without realizing it right off the bat. Additionally, for some reason the power plant isn’t step one, which can be problematic because when you eventually build it down the line, you’ve built up your city to the point where it runs out of power and you die on like step 4 of the tutorial. Either some reworking of the tutorial is needed or rebalancing of the power grid is required.
Additionally, the UI is fairly clunky, which is odd for the genre because at this point I feel like devs that make these games have figured out a solid, easily transferrable formula. Sphere: Flying Cities doesn’t offer a lot of communication back to the player in a way that makes sense. As mentioned earlier, I build a few facilities thinking everything was well and fine, not realizing that I needed to connect them to streets. Some facilities will require materials to keep running, but this isn’t communicated in any way (that I can see). There are so many little things where I had no clue if I was doing things correctly and would only find out if my anti-gravity beacon stopped working and my city fell out of the sky (literally). And don’t even get me started on the unending particle storms making for unending repair work to the point of absolute tedium — the devs have adjusted the rate of said storms, but man do they generally upset the overall rhythm.
I’m very conflicted about Sphere: Flying Cities, because although it is the exact kind of game I want to play, it’s an exercise in frustration in its current state. I think it has amazing potential, and the developers seem responsive, but unless you’re a glutton for punishment or you’ve played every other city survival sim and need another to fill the void, I can’t recommend it at the moment. I want you to keep an eye on it, however — absolutely put this one on your Steam Wishlist — because I think a real gem can rise from the ashes of a rocky launch, rebuilding itself into something incredible. Until then, check the changelog on the regular for news and updates, and when it looks like some of the bigger issues have been resolved, feel free to try your hand at saving humanity.
Be sure to check out Sphere: Flying Cities on Steam today!