Greenlit by the STEAM community, Towns is a city building game that promised to cater to our desire to be creatively expressive by allow us to design our own city, while also providing a unique role playing experience. Unfortunately, while these promises in principle have been addressed, the execution is so irritably poor that it is debatable as to whether or not Towns is even a finished game.
When I booted up Towns for the first time, I chose to play it safe and go through the tutorial in full before embarking on my city building adventure. I began the tutorial, and just sat there for a few moments, waiting for the game to prompt me with some sort of instruction on how to play. Nothing happened. I quickly began to scan the interface looking for some sort of indication what I was supposed to do, until I finally found the tutorial’s mission hidden away in a menu. For a game as complex and intricate as Towns, the tutorial system is unforgivably horrible. Only a couple of the tutorials actually teach you how to use the game’s mechanics, whereas the others simply tell you to accomplish a task without even teaching you how. Moreover, when you somehow manage to complete a tutorial, “mission completed” pops up onto your screen, and just sits there. There’s no call to action for the player, and I was left wondering what I was supposed to do. I eventually just quit the game.
Confused and annoyed from the tutorials, I started up my first sandbox game of Towns. I knew in my head what my strategy was going to be. The first thing I wanted to do was make sure I had a steady supply of food for my villagers, followed by a military presence to ensure their safety in their new homeland. Apparently I was thinking way too far ahead, as keeping my villagers alive as soon as the game even started seemed to be an impossible task. Within 10 seconds of starting, one of my villagers ran off to engage a frogman armed with a spear. When the two met, I initially thought the game was glitching, as the frogman and villager literally began pulsing off of each other uncontrollably. This continued until eventually my villager died and I was left to assume that what they were actually doing was fighting. In fact, the game barely has any animations at all. Most of the time, your villagers either rapidly bounce off of something or just stand motionless until something miraculously happens. To add to the irritability, my villagers would occasionally die trying to chop down trees. At first I thought that they somehow managed to cut the tree down and let it fall ontop of them, but that would make too much sense. Instead, according to the combat log, a “tree keeper” killed my villager. The next time I sent a villager to collect wood, I watched closely. Most of the villagers just stood there until a log appeared on top of them, but a couple began bouncing all over the trees in “combat” as soon as they approached the bark. They died. I have come to learn that in Towns there exists a completely invisible, undetectable enemy with no animation called a tree keeper that will kill your villagers if they try to cut down a tree they are hiding in. How could I have been so oblivious to this obvious danger?
If you’re thinking “well, if they find a tree keeper, tell them to run away and find another tree” you’re right, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Unfortunately however, you have no direct control over the villagers and they will throw themselves recklessly into harms way on a regular basis. If they engage in a fight they can’t win, they will typically just pulsate until they are killed. Once you are able to equip a few soldiers with some weapons and armor, they fare better, but you won’t be able to do that until you’ve already lost at least 3 villagers to tree keepers and frogmen. Don’t worry about the carnivorous plants that can kill your villagers as you can just right-click on them and destroy them without issue, another well thought out gameplay mechanic. Another common way to lose villagers is starvation. Sometimes they will get stuck in the game world and just starve, other times they just simply won’t eat despite having food all around them. The third most common way to lose villagers is completely unknown to me, as they seem to just die for no reason at all. And when the stockpiles aren’t bugged, you’ll know someone has died because for some reason, your villagers will take their corpse and store it away as a raw material. Nothing in Towns ever seems to make any sense.
If you’ve somehow managed to keep enough of your villagers alive, and you haven’t completely lost your sanity listening to the game’s only song that is eternally on repeat, you might actually begin to enjoy the game as things start to come together. Assuming you have somehow taught yourself how to play, it can be a rewarding experience to see your town’s bedrooms finally get those walls everyone has been complaining about and watch as a villager finally uses the bakery to make a nice warm apple pie. That sense of accomplishment will only last for a very brief moment as the game inevitably knocks you back to earth with its absolute buggy nonsense.
Although I have played the game for around a dozen hours, I still feel as if I never got very far, as my cities almost never developed into more than a couple slices of apple pie for the 3 remaining villagers who hadn’t managed to kill themselves yet. Part of me wonders if it’s my fault. Am I just bad at this game? Am I making costly mistakes that are ruining my cities? Honestly, I have no idea. The tutorials are so horrible that I genuinely have no idea how most of the game works, and it was by sheer luck that I figured out that building a Tavern will get heroes to come to your city.
In my opinion, Towns should never have been released. The game looks incomplete. It sounds incomplete. It plays as if it is incomplete. In fact, there genuinely does not appear to be a single fully developed mechanic in the game. Towns plays as if it is a game barely out of its alpha stage, and the worst part is that has been released to the public masquerading as a fully featured title. Disappointing.
+ Can be rewarding when everything starts working
+ That feeling you get when your town actually starts to looks like a town
- Absolutely horrible tutorials
- No animations, weak graphics
- Frustratingly incompetent AI
- Very buggy
- Relatively expensive at $15
Towns has potential but it should never have been released in its current state.