“Quaint beginnings, peaceful living, rapid development, intergalactic exploration and big, hungry friends await…”
Before We Leave is a quaint city-builder come civilisation management game, developed by indie studio Balancing Monkey Games. After emerging from an underground vault (Fallout?) which has kept them safe for generations, your Peeps (yes, that is their actual name in the game) must learn to rebuild a thriving society from scratch. There are no immediate threats to the Peeps; no bandits, no monsters and no cataclysmic events waiting immediately around the corner. Indeed, this is a peaceful game which allows you to embark on a civilisations new beginning at your own pace and in a world filled with possibility…
With little knowledge left over from the last time their civilisation lived above the ground, the Peeps start out understanding only the very basics of how to survive. Their skills are limited to little more than the ability to construct huts, build wells, explore the land and farm potatoes. Truly, what more do you need when taking that first brave step into a strange new world? Of course, as your Peeps become comfortable in this new-found lifestyle, their eagerness to develop further, enjoy life and expand beyond the boundaries of their simple island begins to emerge. Quite quickly, the game develops into something bigger and brighter than simply helping out a few Peeps in the single figures who are trying to get by.
In many ways, Before We Leave is actually a non-aggressive 3X strategy game in disguise. If the hex-based map style didn’t give it away from the offset, the way in which you grow and manage your civilisation certainly will. Exploration, expansion and exploitation of resources are the basic core mechanics around which the Peep’s cultural development revolves. Once you have set out your base starting settlement with a few huts, wells and potato farms, it is time to see what else lies beyond the hefty doors of the bunker. Explorers can be used to find, investigate and gather ancient technologies, through which your librarians can carry out research into how the Peeps who came before managed to survive on the surface. From new food options, including tea to bump up your Peeps’ happiness, to new ways of harvesting raw materials such as metals, the continued existence and prosperity of your peeps relies heavily on this research and development mechanic of the game.
Whilst some technologies in the tree seem to be in something of a mismatched order, there is a palpable excitement every time you can research something new. Whilst early game research is rapid and simple, though, you soon find that you must broaden your horizons in order to grow your knowledge any further. Hence, constructing a sea-worthy vessel becomes a goal of upmost importance. Thus beckons a new era in Before We Leave, where now you must manage multiple settlements of Peeps around the globe. It is worth noting at this point that the whole game map is hexes constructing a sphere. It is quite a spectacle from the offset, but becomes increasingly awesome as you more actively move and explore around it. Combined with a highly effective day-night cycle, manipulating the world to manage your peeps never ceases to be exciting as a feature in its own right. For the map design to be one of the best elements of a game is quite something, but in Before We Leave this is very much the case.
Expanding your horizons in Before We Leave offers both new opportunities and new challenges. Discovering different types of historical technologies allow you to conduct new forms of research (helpfully colour coded for your pleasure). New environments offer suitable habitats for different forms of food, such as fruits from orchards. And of course, having multiple settlements around the globe allows you to increase your productivity, with more workers active at any given time and the ability to set up shipping routes to transport goods between different settlements following different activity agendas. On the flipside, you are forced to settle now in much harsher environments. Some islands beyond your starting home are predominantly desert, meaning that you must use the available grassland very carefully and wisely. Crops and wells, for instance, can only be built on grassland, meaning the micromanagement of which tiles are used for which jobs become critically important. This is a welcome new challenge as you move beyond the first hour or so of the game, and one that does not feel crippling in nature. With smart road design and sensible resource transfers between settlements, surviving in the sand can be very sustainable indeed.
What you also soon find as a token of your heightened exploration is a crashed and damaged spacecraft. Not only is this the first sign that you can expand beyond this starting planet in the game, but it is also the perfect example of the loose objective-based gameplay which Before We Leave employs. Rather than giving you a hefty to-do list at any point outside the tutorial, Before We Leave prefers to allow you to explore and figure out the next steps for yourself. Of course, a crashed spacecraft with a repair option is a gaping clue, however even upon the discovery of this vessel you are yet to discover all the resources needed to fix it, and thus the mystery persists. You are subtly encouraged to keep going, with the promise that all will be revealed through your own efforts and actions. It takes some time, but each time you find a new element to be put towards this ultimate goal it feels incredibly rewarding and consistently pushes you onwards. Eventually, the fruits of your labours are realised, and your intergalactic adventure awaits…
Once you fix the spacecraft and begin to explore the other planets in your solar system, the challenges of settling in a new environment shift beyond the mere tribulations of living in a desert. It would be a shame to spoil the surprises of these new and different worlds (although there will be one necessary spoiler shortly…), but the isolation of those who left for new horizons in itself is a great challenge. You do not have the stored resources of the bunker to support your initial expansion on this new planet, so you must choose carefully which things you build first. You will need to start from scratch in all but knowledge here, at least until you can discover the secrets of space travel once more and begin to carry carrots through the cosmos between your worlds. Once again, this stepped challenge is super satisfying and enters the flow of the game at precisely the right time to keep things feeling enticing and interesting. The same can be said for the… SPOILER ALERT
…space whales, too. A few hours in and the game’s only real, tangible threat emerges in the form of large, should-be aquatic beasts that take a liking to your veggies. Indeed, protecting your greens from the space whales is an entirely different kind of challenge to anything you experience up to this point in the game. It is exciting, perplexing and at times even frustrating. Whilst they do not seek to destroy all that you have built, they are hungry and relentless, and seeming to have little concept of sharing. It is a somewhat bizarre twist in the tale but oddly fitting and strangely satisfying, even if only in the sense that your Peeps finally know that there is other life out there. Unfortunately for them, it is bigger and munchier than expected!
Quaint beginnings, peaceful living, rapid development, intergalactic exploration and big, hungry friends await the Peeps as you enjoy the varied yet wonderful experiences which transpire in Before We Leave. The refreshingly calm and free-feeling city builder is equal parts chilled and challenging, and seems to strike a perfect balance between elements at every stage along its adventure. The game feels as though it is very much handed over to you from the very beginning, and you are at one with the Peeps as you collectively explore and expand across the globe and the galaxy in search of new sights, settlements and secrets. Many games are fun to play, but Before We Leave is a pleasure. If you can ignore but a few minor bugs (such as units attempting to exist in the same spaces) then this game is exceedingly easy to recommend.
You can purchase Before we Leave on the Epic Games Store here – https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/product/before-we-leave/home
Before we Leave is published and Developed by Balancing Monkey Games
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