The popular wild west city-builder just got ported from mobile to PC, but how does it hold up?
I remember in 1992, that's 22 years ago, when a new game called Caesar came out. It looked a bit like SimCity, but it played functionally quite differently. Taking some inspiration from Settlers, it focused more on a construction of process-driven ordered chains of buildings which rely on each other; starting with things like grain farms and vineyards and moving up to wine makers and so on. There was only one type of residence to house your population, which had to progress through a list of various needs - such as food, clothes, education, etc. - and as those needs were satisfied the building upgraded to the next level; eventually becoming high density villas. It was a great title which had a number of sequels and inspired several successful videogame series coming later, such as Anno and Tropico, which expanded on the idea in different ways.
Putting it bluntly, 1849 is more or less Caesar with wild west themed assets. I can understand why such a concept might be amusing for mobile users. It's the type of game which is well suited to a small screen and a touch screen interface. In-fact, it seems specifically designed with that type of play in mind, to the extent that on the PC the lack of helpful hotkeys is constantly frustrating and the size of the maps is almost ridiculously small.
Animated sprites wander through your town, but the sophistication is incomparable to games like Settlers
Playing the game is something like this: you start up a map, build a road, build a few farms, build a bakery, build some more houses, a bit more road, a sheriff's office, and so on. The buildings available for you to erect on each map are a limited set of the full range in the game. At first, I thought that it was just the standard trope of gradually introducing you to new buildings as you progress through the campaign, but it soon became apparent that, actually, it was just that on some maps the devs had decided that you shouldn't be able to build certain things. In a way, these limitations help to provide a more varied challenge, even if it is a rather contrived way of doing so.
The overall complexity of this title is vastly limited. Maps are simple flat squares with, occasionally, a few scattered obstacles like rocks and trees, which can be removed for a small cost. Sometimes there's a small piece of river encroaching on your land which you can use for fishing, or there's some kind of precious metal deposit which you can build a mine on. Each map in the campaign mode comes with three objectives, which usually involve producing, stockpiling and then trading a set number of resources or goods. Once you complete the goals, you get a score and move quickly on to the next map. More or less, that's all there is to it.
In order to maximise your residences you need to fulfil their list of increasing needs
There are a fair number of different buildings, but at the end of the day there's very little things you need to take into consideration other than how to lay down your crisscrossing road map and the build order of whatever selection of buildings you need to fulfil your current objectives. As long as you don't make an utter hash of things from the get go then money really isn't that difficult to come by. In-fact unless you can't build food producing buildings for one reason or another then you can just stick the game on max speed and take a 5 minute break if you want to let your finances build up a little. Presumably the majority of your automatic income comes from taxes, to be honest I never checked and nor did I have to attempt to understand that level of complexity in the game in order to perform well. I never once lost a map due to bad financial management and, although I did come close on some occasions, I have to admit that I wasn't really thinking about it that hard.
In general the graphics are pretty bog standard. The view is a fixed isometric camera, and the zoom levels are discrete jumps up and down - it's clunky and functional but most assuredly unimpressive. The individual sprites are pretty well drawn, but there's lots of repetition. A lot of buildings in the game have three or four clones which are basically the same graphic with one or two minor differences to distinguish it. The sound and music are of an equal level of quality; nothing to write home about and barely up to par.
The playing area is small, flat, and simplistic
Everything about this game just makes me think that it'd be passable on a tiny mobile device, but that on the PC it's verging on a joke. In addition, it's clear that the devs have done almost nothing to cater to the home computer audience when they ported it over - the game is pretty much the mobile version but running on PC. There are only two types of people I can see truly getting the most out of this game, people who are totally nuts about city-builders and people who enjoy the kind of simplistic and unchallenging games you often find on social networking sites. That's a good measure of the league this title is in, it'd make a half-decent Facebook game.
1849 GOLD RUSH SIM VERDICT
To its credit, there’s nothing actually broken with 1849. Everything works as it should, and there is an actual game there. So, I’m not saying this is unplayable, or even that there’s nothing entertaining about it. There is fun to be had here. It’s just that, in my opinion, the amusement provided is severely limited by the lack of challenge, the lack of diversity and the low grade graphics and sound.
TOP GAME MOMENT
As with all city-builders, maximising the highest density residences gives some degree of satisfaction.