You start with an empty plot of land, some cash, and the unstoppable dream of constructing a really tall building
In the mid-90s, a Japanese developer named Yoot Saito created a game strongly inspired by the likes of SimCity. Instead of presenting a sandbox for you to develop your own metropolis in, however, this game allowed players to create their own skyscraper, managing the various offices, stores, restaurants, and suites found within. Originally titled simply the Tower, the game was an instant classic in the burgeoning genre of sandbox strategy simulation, prompting Maxis itself to publish the game in the West under the SimTower banner.
These towers are built on attractive 2D art that effectively communicates how your building is doing without providing anything especially taxing on to your hardware.
This review opens with a history lesson because, outside of a few remakes and repackages of the original, Project Highrise is the first game to build on the concepts of SimTower, bringing the skyscraper-constructing basics into a modern title. So does it manage to capture the magic of building deluxe apartments in the sky? Yes and no. The fundamentals are there, but some frustrating design elements keep Project Highrise from living up to the magic of its inspiration.
You start with an empty plot of land, some cash, and the unstoppable dream of constructing a really tall building. The building tools are simple and easy to use, just requiring you to click and drag a new floor wherever you want it to be erected. Your basement-dwelling construction workers will then put together the new orders. You’ll assign constructed floor space to various functions, depending on whether you want offices, apartments, restaurants, or retailers to take up residence there.
Once you’ve set up a small office space, for example, you’ll have to choose from a list of available renters, each of which has their own specific requirements and desires. A basic insurance office is happy with just an electric hookup, but accountants will also need a phone line and will want your building to have a copy service. Building larger offices to entice more lucrative workers will require you to have a variety of restaurants for their employees’ lunch breaks, as well as more advanced services like couriers and bottled water delivery.
All this requires you to set up a fairly intricate bit of infrastructure to support all your various units. You’ll need power closets on each floor to deliver power, phone lines, and cable TV hookups, as well as plumbing closets to take care of water and gas. Each of those five utilities requires you to run a separate line across each floor to ensure that service is delivered to the rooms along its path, and once you’ve got a big tower with a lot of cash rolling in, there’s no reason not to simply build all utilities on every floor. That ends up making the process of building new floors incredibly tedious, since you’ll be building five utility lines across every single one of them.
That focus on the building such granular bits of infrastructure is odd, especially since the game does away almost entirely with the management of foot traffic, which was the core of the original SimTower. You’re no longer managing elevator waiting times, as now just a single elevator can service the entire building, from the first floor to the 80th. The effectiveness of elevators is measured by their zone of coverage rather than their capacity, meaning that all you have to do to keep everyone moving is ensure that they’re not walking too far down the hall to reach the lift.
On one hand, that eliminates the frustration of watching your denizens turn red and angry as they wait for the elevator to arrive. On the other hand, it means that a ton of the strategic depth of the original SimTower is missing from this spiritual successor. It doesn’t matter if the daycare supporting your luxury apartments is one floor down or fifty, it’s all the same in terms of management. Placement only really matters in two areas: ensuring that restaurants and retailers are in popular locations with lots of passers-by, and ensuring that some space separates your residential sections from noisier commercial installations.
That makes the majority of Project Highrise a fairly rote matter of leapfrogging building requirements. A corporate headquarters will want a wide variety of offices from the same industry in your building, as well as a variety of gourmet restaurants and luxury retailers, each of which has their own set of requirements before moving in. By the time you’ve maxed out your tower’s height, each floor is simply a dumping ground for the requirements of the next thing you want to build.
A series of contracts offer some direction for your building, asking you to do things like attract four different industries to your office space or populate 10 two-bedroom apartments. You can reach the end of this impromptu line of quests in a handful of hours, and by the time you do, it already feels like you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer. Similarly, a series of scenarios put you under various starting conditions and challenge you to complete certain goals, but once you’ve built one skyscraper, you’ll find that most of those objectives are things you’ve already accomplished.
Project Highrise simply doesn’t have a lot of depth. There’s satisfaction to be had in building an attractive tower, filling it with prestige-boosting decorative items and watching your residents go here and there on their daily business. Yet despite the simple pleasure of building that Project Highrise provides, there isn’t enough strategy to that construction to keep it engaging for any length of time.
PROJECT HIGHRISE VERDICT
Project Highrise takes obvious inspiration from a cult classic, but struggles to build compelling mechanics around a proven concept. Constructing a tower still offers its own simple pleasure, but there’s not enough depth here to keep you building a skyline’s worth of high-rises.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Zooming out from the early stages of building your tower and watching floods of office workers come in through the morning hours.
It’s the first game like SimTower since SimTower
Effective tutorials and communicative interface
Attractive visuals make building fun
Stripped-down foot traffic system
Tedious utility management
Most features can be explored in a handful of hours