There are some games that demand a remaster because they’re timeless classics that need to be shared with a new generation. Others get remasters because they were criminally underrated on their original release and need that chance to share their wares with a new audience. Then there’s those that get a remaster just because, and you can’t figure out who they’re really targeted at. Constructor HD is in the latter camp. It was originally released in 1997, it’s been ported to home and handheld consoles alike, and is now on the most current generation of hardware, and largely in its original form, albeit with a decent graphical upgrade. You get the impression that it’s made it out again purely because it was announced rather than anyone really wanting it, and unfortunately, its mechanics really show its age.
Aesthetically, this is clearly a 90’s sim game even if it has been neatened up for the current generation. From the FMV intro to the cursor movement and cartoon style, this is what we’d have been used to 20 years ago. It evokes such fond memories of the Bullfrog released games all you want to do is just dive right in, though cooling your jets and hitting the tutorial is actually the best route. Constructor HD is not a fully intuitive game, and whilst there are elements that you’ll get without needing an explanation, the menus can be confusing and quite deep, so having a walkthrough is essential. However, you’re still not guaranteed to know how to play every aspect of the game from what you’re taught. Character selection which is crucial for correctly building, maintaining and stopping random acts is fiddly, and the tutorial restricts actions until you’ve got them right. Cue lots of frustrated shouting as it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do, or because it’s glitched and is hampering getting any further. At around the point where I thought I’d mastered the building mechanics and was about to get schooled on the combat/interference side, things went crazy and I was wiped out within a matter of a couple of minutes with absolutely no information on why. Was this just the end of the section? I’ve no idea because it was simply back to the menu and I wasn’t about to go through the same tricky tutorial process again.
Taking in the main game options, there’s quite a bit open to get going with. From straightforward endless world building to objective based modes, as well as the ability to custom create your difficulty in a number of different maps. There’s a section of challenges which can be accessed but are all tagged with questions marks saying coming soon… without any indication on how these are opened up. Then there’s the multiplayer which never had anything going on when I tried to pick up a game. You’ll be gathering from these last few sentences that it’s less than impressive, especially when you’re talking a full priced retail release, and that’s how it feels when you’re picking what to play. Overlook it though and plump for a game mode to get you into the action and you’re treated to the “Boycie” narrator who talked you through the game mechanics, reminding you of what you need to do next. At least there’s a decent dose of humour injected into game.
Starting off some of the game modes, Constructor HD adds a nice touch where you can pre-build structures and utilities before starting the timer and getting it all moving. This means that you can populate a large portion of the map and be up and running without painstakingly having to do the same things over and over again. There’s an option to also do it for the AI so that you can be level pegging right from the off. Building houses lets you either sell the property for a small amount of cash, or more preferably, you can rent it out and take a regular income or set the occupants breeding new workers or better future tenants. Managing the money and resources is easy enough because your attention needs to be elsewhere. You’ll be bombarded with notifications about renters demands for home improvements, the noise of your lumber yard, the lack of trees in their garden, the police presence, cockroach infestations, zombie plagues, and that’s before you get into fighting with your rival property developers and the requests for tax payments. This list is just an example of what I saw in 5 minutes of gameplay, meaning what felt like about 60 seconds of actual control of the game. It’s extremely intrusive and distracting.
Adding another black mark (for the game, not the ones you get in game for not resolving your tenants problems), is the fact that once I was into properly building a nice estate for my residents, they started asking for things that hadn’t been covered in the tutorial. It wasn’t anything complicated, simply removing a tree from a garden. I couldn’t find how to do this, which caused the punk who was renting the house to set it on fire, causing it to explode, and wiping out the entire estate with it. Rather unfair I thought having spent time and energy creating a nice environment for everyone. It was at this point that I realised that it makes very little difference to the game if you decide to go off and do your own thing, Constructor HD only wants you to follow its prompts and do the same things in the same order over and over again. You feel hugely restricted and quite frankly get bored very easily. In the maps I played I never even really got towards using the “wacky” characters and abilities to start taking over the other developments, my own were perfectly capable of being sabotaged from within.
Strategy and city building games have come on a lot since the 1990’s, and Constructor HD is stuck in the past. It’ll appeal to some and I’m sure with perseverance you can get the best out of it, but for me it was obtuse, patronising and generally unfair in the way it treats you as a beginner. Coming straight from a game of the same style superbly executed in the form of Aven Colony, I can only recommend going for that instead. The controls are easier, menus simpler, it’s cheaper and generally just a lot more fun. The opening cinematic to Constructor HD has a builder being buried in wet cement, it’s a great analogy for a restrictive and hard game that’s impenetrable to the casual gamer and a difficult one to chip away at even if you’ve an affinity for the genre.
A PS4 review copy of Constructor HD was provided by the System 3 PR team and the game is available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC for somewhere around £30 depending on your platform and retailer.