In the not-too-distant future, mankind boldly goes where none have dared before, the vast reaches of space. In the Serious Bros’ debut title, Imagine Earth, it’s up to the players to take an environmentally conscious approach to planetary colonization as we extend our reach through the stars. Build, compete, sustain, and ultimately create a planet that’s worth calling home.
In Imagine Earth you’re tasked with inhabiting uncolonized planets on behalf of the planet Earth. On these planets you will work on a triangular grid, spreading out the land you claim to make the planet inhabitable for as large of a population as possible. In your efforts to do so you’ll encounter native species, hostile company takeovers, and of course natural disasters. Ultimately, it’s up to you to oversee the colonization of the galaxy and keep the peace throughout.
The campaign of Imagine Earth is set up with each level being a new planet to colonize. Outside of overarching technological research, your progress on these planets does not carry from one to the next. This means that resources and funds can not be shared or carried over and you can only focus on one planet at a time. The planets you are tasked to populate vary in size and the spread of natural resources that are available upon landing, but ultimately not much more than that.
In order to grow your colony’s population, you must balance your supply of power, food, and consumer goods with the emissions that come from the production of these resources. Each resource can be supplied based on what is available in your colonized territory; you can get food from fish or farms, energy from oil or solar power, consumer goods from factories or quarries. Each type of construct offers a different balance of production yield and how much the planet is harmed due to emissions. Outside of that, there’s not much else that really separates what products fuel your colony. I’ve had planets sustained by logging, wind turbines, and fishermen as well as planets run by chemical factories, nuclear power, and cattle farms; I honestly couldn’t really tell much of a difference between the types other than what I could sell in overstock.
Imagine Earth has a very slick presentation. The planets are vibrant and colorful with each triangle of the grid displaying its own unique biome. Zooming out to spin the planet gives a wonderful sense of scale and discovery. The maps in the game are the brightest spot of the title, there’s even an option to terraform your own custom planets and play on other players’ created worlds. However, if there is a spot to nitpick, it would be that as your colony gets denser the buildings can start to blend together. The UI does what it can to alleviate the issue, but I still found myself needing to pause the timer so I could parse out which building was which.
Imagine Earth is very much a casual take on the city-builder genre, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You aren’t required to build roads or attractions for people to flock to your colony, you just plop down the building and as long as it’s not on fire or in a pandemic it just automatically fills up to max capacity. Production facilities don’t really require a lot of planning, you can put them anywhere in your claimed territory and they will compile; the game even helps out by marking the most productive spots in green. Admittedly I’m fairly novice in the genre, but Imagine Earth proved to be a solid level for me, introducing concepts regularly while also allowing the freedom to build at my own discretion.
I found myself pretty often waiting around for something to happen. In Imagine Earth you can set things in motion, but you just have to wait and watch for them to pan out. There are disasters such as tornadoes and volcanic eruptions, but the fallout from those events was hardly ever more than a single click to solve. In the later stages of the campaign, you see yourself competing with rival colonists and this breathes some much-needed life into the gameplay. Unfortunately, this is on the final few planets and doesn’t really go into much more detail than a very basic tower defense style mechanism.
Imagine Earth is a game with a message to convey. There are many running themes exploring environmentalism, colonialism, and capitalism ranging from passive as a gameplay mechanic to “slapping-you-in-the-face” obvious with characters having a lengthy discussion about these topics. The game has seen a lot of development and changes, (several patches came out just as I was playing for the review), but in every aspect, it feels like those talking points are first and foremost the point of the game.
Imagine Earth can be a mixed bag at times. It’s a casual city builder tackling heavy themes that are present today in our terrestrial world with a gameplay loop that often feels behind the curve. The game wants you to stop and think about your decisions. This, however, is at odds with your experience as a player when a chance to complete a level comes with the exploitation of natural resources. The game makes you aware of environmental issues, but in a way rewards you for ignoring them to colonize your planet quickly, with taking them into consideration becoming more of an afterthought once pollution gets out of hand. There’s a stance made and a message spoken in Imagine Earth, but at all times the gameplay feels secondary to that, and not always in a supportive fashion.
A Rocky Expedition
Imaginative but not perfect
Imagine Earth is a game with a message in mind, but that message takes precedence while the gameplay is forced to ride in the backseat, feeling every bump in the road of development.