Anno 1701 Review
|Developer:||Related Designs / Sunflowers|
|Publisher:||Deep Silver / Aspyr (USA)|
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
|Release Date:||26th October, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (Sinna01)|
Anno 1701 is the third city building game in the loose franchise from Related Designs, the most successful development group to come out of Germany thanks to the hugely popular Anno series. In this particular instalment they have managed to overcome many of the drawbacks the average player finds with micromanagement games.
Anno 1701 is played with a traditional zoomable god-eye view of a string of archipelago, upon which you and your potential opponents will attempt to inhabit and thrive in the great colonial rush of the titular period. This will involve farming the appropriate crop for each island, mining raw materials, and managing the processing and distribution of the end product. Keep your populace fed, entertained, and largely drunk, and you'll end up progressing from 'settlers' to 'pioneers' to 'merchants', and so ultimately to 'aristocrats', each bringing greater tax returns and more build options. Since the map is made up of islands, none providing everything a colony will want, the player will need to cultivate fleets of supply vessels, whilst also providing the floating firepower to protect their investment from pirates or unfriendly nations.
The larger game has an excellent learning curve, even after the tutorials themselves. The last page of the manual to SimCity 4 might as well have had 'Players are advised to graduate from LSE before continuing' printed in bold, given the games maddening difficulty from the word go, whereas Anno 1701 is very forgiving indeed, with danger of failure only slowly increasing with the players expansion. For the first two hours or so of play it is actually quite hard to fail, as your sponsor nation will often step in to bail you out financially, allowing the player to farm, weave, and transport the rope to hang themselves.
Anyone familiar with the SimCity games will be essentially familiar with the concept, but the pleasing primary colours of the graphics do not just mask a horrendous nebula of tables, graphs, sliders and other financial humdrum, but neatly replace it all. If a game is carefully balanced and designed, the player should be able to determine what the situation is of a cargo, a settlement or a supply chain simply by looking at what is going on, and not having to consult with a series of drag down menus with the dry figures leading down to a bottom line in black or red. In Anno 1701 unhappy settlers have big lightening bolts over their buildings, grumpy looks on their faces, and possibly burning torches and pitchforks in hand. Like any grumpy child, give them the cookie they've been rioting for and they will fairly immediately forgive you and get back to whatever they were meant to be doing. This simple approach to the games dynamic is one of the key elements that make it so enormously engaging, but can lead to the player punching the screen, after 5 hours of peace and prosperity, as an entire colony sets fire to itself in a fit of pique because the sodding chocolate supply ran out. And god help the colonial governor that lets the booze or the tobacco run low, either of which, unless quickly remedied, will lead to total meltdown. Which can lead to the conclusion the game is actually a PubSim.
Given the friendly cartoon graphics and interface, it might seem odd to compare it to the recent blockbuster Company of Heroes, but Anno 1701 is excellent for many of the same reasons. The designers have realised that a games complexity should come from series of simple actions and movements interacting with each other in complex ways, rather than just a fiddly interface. An example of this is constructing outposts' supply lines. The player needs only to construct a ship, and in a simple graphical menu select where it should stop, what it should pick up and deposit. As many stops as the player wishes, only limited by the space in the hold, and if the relevant goods are available. With two inhabited islands producing different goods, it's a simple shuttle service back and forth. With three islands and a couple more ships, it is small network. By six islands it is a jungle of interdependence, vital delivery speed, requiring a feat of memory and contingency planning. Even at its most complicated, the interface and command system still remain clear and friendly, requiring the players tactical planning to carry the day, not his or her ability to interpret a pie chart.
One of the few criticisms that can be levelled at Anno 1701 is perhaps due to the games attempt to remain friendly and helpful whilst play is at its most complex. A clear and comforting voice, who I suspect is John Cleese, will tell you that a good is running low, or a supply line is not picking up any goods, or a ship is under fire. A small icon will pop up at the corner of the screen, with a little cartoon depiction of the event. All very good and useful. But by the six-island stage with a dozen ships in the water, a extensive supply network, pirate troubles and the natives looking restless, aforementioned little voice seems like a public-school demon there to remind you everything is going colonially pear shaped. And I still cannot believe they are rioting for bloody chocolate!
The meat-and-potatoes of the game is in single player mode, which, much like SimCity, comprises of a single large map dotted with islands and foreign powers both benign and hostile. This type of play will involve establishment, then trading, then eventually hostility as sides begin to covet each other's resources. Eventually, when you have absorbed most of the landmass, you can start to vie for independence from your sponsor nation at the point of a cannon. Personally, I have not managed to progress to the local dominance stage, at some 13 hours of play and two restarts, which gives some idea of the extensive game hours offered. Additionally, there are scenarios to play, which are sufficiently different from the main game to be engaging on their own right, such as the escape from a volcanic island, the hunt for lost treasure, or the suppression of mysterious plague. The scenarios will all require unique approaches, and make for refreshing changes of pace. Any title worth its salt in this day and age will naturally have a multiplayer aspect, which obviously lends itself excellently to Anno 1701. Given the accessibility of the game the bonus of being a noob should wear off quickly and allow general and fair engagement. The build I received had not yet fully implemented the multiplayer, so if anyone would care to comment once they get a hold of a copy, it should make for interesting commentary.
Anno 1701 is an excellent game that has stolen large chunks of my life in a way that few other games have in recent memory thanks to it simple interface, engaging pace, and the fact that - as it doesn't have episodic levels - you don't realize it is four in the morning until John Cleese points out you've been playing for six hours now. The emerging trend of the best game developers relying on intelligent design rather than intricate control systems to give a game depth can only be lauded and encouraged, and Anno 1701 is an excellent example along with Company of Heroes. The game can be played in a myriad of different styles according to the players' preference to city building, military aggression or craft trading, and offers extensive replayablity to try these approaches. Definitely worth your time.
- Engaging, easily accessible gameplay.
- Clean, stylized graphics.
- Excellent learning curve.
- Extensive Replayablility.
- Friendly interface
- Low system requirements.
Not so good stuff
- Destroyed sleep patterns.
- Occasionally overly busy alerts.
- Riots about chocolate, for gods' sake.