So who here is old enough to remember SimTower published in 1994 by Maxis on the PC? I spent literally days on it trying to build the ultimate skyscraper in order to make lots of money and all the while keeping people happy! Well, thanks to developer SomaSim and publishers Kalypso and Kasedo Games you can now relive, or experience for the very first time, the whole 2D tower building simulation game on modern-day machinery without the need for emulators. I give you, Project Highrise: Architect’s Edition!
Available across all formats, I have been playing the PS4 version of Project Highrise which I won’t lie, felt a little strange on a controller rather than a mouse. The goal is simple, build a tower and run it as efficiently as you can, all the time keeping the tenants happy and the money rolling in.
You can begin your construction adventure in Project Highrise either from scratch or attempt to complete a scenario. The tutorial is probably the best place to start really as there is quite a bit to take in. Starting from scratch allows you to select the difficulty from beginner to hard which will alter how much money you start with and this will also change the economy to either a good or bad one. The lotsize that you want to build in can be chosen and this will affect the size of your tower. Finally, you can choose what backdrop you want from Classic, London Life, Tokyo Towers & Las Vegas.
If starting from scratch is not your cup of tea there are 29 challenges you can undertake through the scenarios option. Here you can play through gems such as “The Merchandise Mart” where there are size and height restrictions to your tower and a main goal such as making it the largest building in the world and highly profitable. Once you have met the goal criteria you can unlock the next scenario and away you go again on a new predefined tower with different goal criteria. “Urban Constraints” is an interesting scenario to try whereby you cannot build any offices and must construct residential apartments only with a more expensive constraint put onto the utility services. Some of the scenarios really make you think and planning is certainly key to winning them.
As you can see from the gameplay screenshots, the screen has a few menus dotted around it that allow you to build, keep up with progress on daily goals and contracts as well as reports that overlay onto your tower to show you areas of concern and excellence. The beauty with Project Highrise, especially if playing a new game from scratch, is that you can take it all at your own pace so to not be overwhelmed by everything. The D-pad of the controller is there to control time and you can pause, play and fast-forward to your heart’s content so that you can keep in control of the situation. I will admit that it took me a while to get used to the D-pad as I kept using it to try and navigate the menus instead of using the left stick!
Building a tower starts as a relatively simple affair. You select to construct a floor, drag the cursor across the screen and voila a floor has been constructed. From your basic shell you can now begin to add in the essential building services that are required to be able to use the space. Purchasing and locating electrical transformers, water supplies, gas mains, phone distribution boards, ventilation and even cable tv is all part of the process to keep people happy and the building populated. My main job away from writing about games is that of a building services design engineer so for me I love this element of constructing the tower and is something that was never to this detail in Sim Tower. Once you have installed all of the main services that you currently require it is also down to you to distribute them throughout the tower. This is achieved by placing closets on each floor and then running cables and pipes from them to each location. Don’t believe for a second that this is a dull task as in the forefront of your mind is always cost and if you take a look at the initial requirements for basic residential studios, offices, restaurants and retail you will find that they do not require every service, so be strategic and watch those pennies!
Similar to games such as Sim City, the economy changes so although residential may be in demand at the moment, you will need a balance to keep tenants happy and also keep a watchful eye on what people are willing to pay to be located in your tower. Towers require lifts, escalators, underground carparks even subway connections and they are all available to you in Project Highrise. As your tower evolves, bigger and better construction options open up, usually with more requirements than the basic versions. Larger offices require copying facilities and even courier services and you must have them present for the new tenants to move into your space. Every tenant is affected by its neighbours therefore siting a restaurant next to a residential apartment will generate smell and noise complaints that could force the tenant to move out and abandon the area. It is very tricky to get a perfect neighbourhood and if a previously occupied space is vacated it must be demolished and rebuilt. The areas that you construct are also affected by degradation over time and you will require a team of decorators and maintenance staff to be onhand around the clock to refurbish and repair them in order to keep tenants happy, this again is an expensive affair and needs to be factored in to how much you spend on construction.
To entice people to your tower you can invest in 24-hour advertising campaigns to promote special offers to prospective tenants and help fill those vacant voids, this will cost you “media buzz” which is generated by happiness and shown by the smiley face icon on the screen. Influence shown by the handshake symbol is gained by having important tenants in your tower such as a big company or a rich resident. Their happiness inturn generates influence which can be used to unlock consultants that can help lobby city hall so that you can build that subway station that you have always wanted or even help hook you up with interior designers so that you can populate your building with fancy artwork and make your place more appealing and inspirational.
Project Highrise is a very immersive game and once you have started constructing your tower you really do not want to stop. As the clock whizzs by and the revenue aculmulates, I found myself with a strange drive to keep going as new construction options unlocked and away I went again with planning on where best to build within the tower and whether I needed to upgrade my building services and prevent another explosion through overload.
The graphics in Project Highrise are relatively well detailed albeit in a cartoon form, not to dissimilar from Sim Tower and I love it. Every tenant is shown milling about the tower and going about their daily business, they can be interrogated and a pop-up display will tell you their happiness and current thoughts as well as giving you the option to name them. There is a good range of different looking rooms that can be built and they are fully animated, lights come on, shutters come down and it gives you a real feeling of a living, breathing building. The Architect’s Edition allows you to construct the tower under a different theme, I particularly like Las Vegas whereby everything is glitzy and elaborate with the availability of casinos, hotels, VIPs and huge shows and events that can be staged at your tower. It definitely adds a lot more to the basic tower building sim.
The ambiance of your tower is a good reflection as to how busy you are, the chatter and elevator call sounds let you know that occupancy is good and when it goes quiet is when you begin to worry! All of the background music and sound can be controlled and volumes set if they start to get to you! Project Highrise is a simulator game and the various locations around your tower are how you would imagine they would sound although it was lacking small children rolling bowling balls across the floor from the flat above.
Project Highrise has a great deal of longevity to boast. Being a simulator game it is something you can really get stuck into. There is no online gameplay, it is purely a game to chill out to and take as long as you like casually playing. You will learn from your planning mistakes and know for next time what not to do, there is a great satisfaction to have when the media buzz and influence start to roll in as well as the money! The scenarios are great to play through however for me it is the sandbox mode of starting off from scratch that I enjoy the most as it brings back great memories of Sim Tower as well as new challenges with the greater range of construction options.
If you love your simulator games then Project Highrise will not disappoint in gameplay, however, moving a cursor around the screen using the Playstation controller just doesn’t feel right. Highlighting areas and dragging the cursor along while building floors and then using the thumbstick to select items from the construction menu just screamed “get a mouse!!” at me. I feel that this style of game is far better suited on PC and if I was reviewing the game in that format I would have awarded Project Highrise the Thumb Culture Gold Award, unfortunately, on console it is too finicky with a controller and only achieves the Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A review code was received to play the game and write this article.