Before We Leave Review: The Casual City-Builder We Never Knew We Needed

Before We Leave is a light-hearted city management sim by Balancing Monkey Games. Explore beautiful islands, gather resources, and rebuild your population. Don't worry about impending doom of any sort, just relax and play at your own pace. In a world filled with violence, perhaps we need more games like this.

Before We Leave Review

Before We Leave is a brand new city-builder from Balancing Monkey Games that has recently entered early access. After crawling out of a fallout bunker, it’s your job to help your people, nicknamed peeps, rebuild their world and lead them to a brighter tomorrow. 

The land you’re greeted by is covered in remnants of the old world which can either be repaired and reused or stripped down for parts. The best thing about the world coming to an end is the complete lack of conflict. In Before We Leave you are not bothered by pesky things like war or disasters, rather, the game leaves you to enjoy the bliss of progress without anything to hinder your path.

As an avid lover of this genre, it was a breath of fresh air to play a game that didn’t require weeks to learn or have me sweating bullets every few minutes when another crisis had to be dealt with. 

Before We Leave is launching on May 8 and will be exclusively available on the Epic Games store.

Workers are getting unhappy

Workers are getting unhappy

GAMEPLAY – JUST SIT BACK AND RELAX

Before We Leave provides you a stress-free sandbox to rebuild your world. The game features large hexes where you place your roads and buildings but the islands tend to be rather small. The lack of space makes proper city planning almost impossible but luckily that’s not really a concern. 

The focus of the game then is set more on resource management. Gather wood from forests, stone and iron ore from the carcasses of abandoned buildings, food from farms, and so on. Once you have some raw materials to work with you can turn them into something more refined. Iron and wood can be turned into tools, sand into glass, cotton into clothes, and food into smoothies. Everything is treated as a resource that can be gathered or produced and transported to the relevant buildings, even research and electricity. 

Soon we'll know how to cook

Soon we’ll know how to cook

Your first island will have hexes filled with “green research” that resemble little green gems. These will be returned to your library so you can research the first of around 40 technologies. After collecting resources, research becomes your next biggest priority and leads to the “what’s next” step of each phase of the game. Once you have all the research and resources needed to repair the abandoned ship you’ll find somewhere on your island, you can colonize a second island where you’ll find the red research needed for more advanced technologies.

This new island may also feature resources not present on your first which makes it necessary to set up trade routes to ensure people everywhere have everything they need. There are only 3 island types, tropical, desert, and snow, each with their own nuances. You always start on a tropical island that will provide you with the essentials. Desert islands will have an abundance of sand and oil, and snow islands can’t produce food. You also need clothing for people on snow and desert islands to help them withstand the harsh weather conditions, but curiously those living on tropical islands have no such concerns.

Who doesn't love some stats

Who doesn’t love some stats

Your peeps actually require very little of your attention throughout the game. You only have a small number of them to start with so you need to build a school so new peeps can be raised to a useful age. Happiness becomes a concern later and peeps who are extremely unhappy may refuse to work. Fortunately, there are buildings that affect the mood of those who live nearby, and distributing luxuries also helps in this regard.

Somewhere on your planet, you’ll also find an abandoned spaceship that requires an obscene amount of resources to repair. Once you have it up and running, you can blast off into space in search of another planet to continue your expansion. A new planet comes with a few new resources including electronics and blue research, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same as your first. With a little extra research, you can then construct a spaceship from scratch and use that to either colonize another planet or transport goods back and forth between planets just like your ships of old. My second planet also came with an annoying sphinx, that didn’t look like a sphinx, but just like the mythological creature would pose questions and turn destructive when the incorrect answer was given. I couldn’t actually answer these questions so I grudgingly had to keep repairing the buildings it destroyed, I’m not sure if this was by design or simply a bug from the early-access build of the game.

The game is rather easy to pick up and play but still includes a tutorial which is a full-length game where your hand is held every step. When setting up a new game there are only a few options available like adding pollution from the start, setting how early overpopulation affects your happiness, how many resources are returned when destroying a building, and how many starting resources you will have. This will affect the difficulty somewhat but other than that, your various games won’t differ all that much and I fear that this lack of diversity will limit replayability. 

A view from above

A view from above

STORY – IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

Disappointingly, Before We Leave doesn’t feature a story, which I feel is a giant missed opportunity. When you start on your first island, your peeps emerge from a fallout bunker. This coupled with the ruins found across the map make it clear that the earth was decimated by some catastrophic event. A storyline in a game like this doesn’t do much to add value, but I think the creative team responsible for this game would have come up with something entertaining. 

BUGS – IT’S ONLY SLIGHTLY BROKEN

The game still has its fair share of bugs, but the developer has a few more days to iron these out. Most of them are minor and can easily be overlooked but while playing the tutorial I had an instance where my wood generator would refuse to distribute power, stating “No storage available” despite me having 3 buildings waiting for power. This prevented my spaceship from being completed so I was unable to complete the tutorial. 

3, 2, 1 blastoff

3, 2, 1 blastoff

There are a few other things to mention which are not bugs but gameplay designs that I found bothersome. Certain buildings take up multiple squares and always need their entrance located next to a road. The entrances can’t move to another side and with the limited space available it can be difficult to find a suitable spot for these larger buildings. Also, the top bar of the UI displays all your resources but doesn’t always reflect the true number you have available. Once you issue orders to construct something the resources are assigned to that building but aren’t removed from the resource bar until they’re actually delivered. This becomes a problem when trying to upgrade a building because an upgrade can only be done when all resources are currently available. With the resource bar sometimes displaying inaccurate information, this had me staring at the upgrade screen, sometimes for minutes, until the upgrade button lit up.

DESIGN – A DIGITAL 3D PUZZLE

The world is like an incomplete puzzle

The world is like an incomplete puzzle

I am totally in love with the art style of this game. Sure, it doesn’t feature the greatest variety in terms of building templates, and while the designers included some stellar detail, there is always room for more. But what matters most is that Before We Leave is a visual feast from start to end. Watching the light change with the sun’s movement is a thing of beauty. When you move around, the clouds evaporate so as not to obstruct your vision and you can even see the shadows moving along with the clouds as they disappear and reappear. Each world is a full 3-dimensional globe that looks like a 3D puzzle that is half-built until you complete your exploration.

My only real complaints here are that the roads could be a little more pronounced, and the peeps could do with some animation. The farms, for example, would feature a peep standing with a pitchfork, and produce would appear incrementally with the peep just standing there, staring his crops into existence. 

The sound department did an equally terrific job. The music is lovely and whenever it stops playing you’ll be treated to some soothing ambient sounds. Sound effects are minimal apart from the various noises you hear when selecting buildings, but the game never feels lacking because of this. You’ll even get the occasional celebratory melody erupting from a ship or house which will drown out the game music as you move closer. 

Sunlight creeping through the trees

Sunlight creeping through the trees

Before We Leave - Announcement Trailer
Summary
Before We Leave is a simple, relaxing, and enjoyable little sim. The game offers good variety while not being overwhelming. It's very much like SimCity 2000 from the early '90s, with natural disasters turned off, in that it lets you play at whatever pace you are comfortable with, with nothing hindering your progress. If you are new to city-builders then this is a great place to find your feet. You'll find plenty to entertain as you learn this genre through a series of stepping stones until you are ready to move onto something more complicated. That said, if you just finished playing Anno 1800, or Cities: Skylines, then Before We Leave might not provide the stimulation you're used to. With a little extra attention, Before We Leave could probably turn into a much larger, more sophisticated game. The foundation is strong enough for that to happen with minimal effort, but I don't think that's what the developers had in mind, and truthfully, I don't have a problem with that. What they wanted to create was a relaxing experience for the casual gamer, not another mind-melting AAA title that will have you pull your hair out when things inevitably go wrong, and in that respect, I feel they've succeeded wonderfully.
Good
  • Stunning visual design
  • Fun, casual gameplay
  • Beautiful soundtrack
Bad
  • Limited replay value
7
Good

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