Banished ReviewDeveloper: Shining Rock Software
Publisher: Shining Rock Sofware
The first thing you'll learn while playing Banished is that children are worthless. They sit in the corner like fleshy bins, black food-holes that exist for no other reason than to consume all your food, all your money and all your youth, and they give nothing in return except annoying questions and jokes that don't make sense. Oh sure, they eventually grow into adults, and in Banished working life starts at eleven years old. But that simply isn't good enough. They need to be birthed from the womb with a pickaxe in hand, and crawling should only be allowed if it's in the direction of a mineshaft. There's no room for scroungers here, not in the town of Funsuck. "Are clouds made of dreams daddy?" "Shut up and dig out that coal seam, you wretch."
Banished is best described as a Tory Simulator, as you'll inevitably find yourself cursing any moment your labourers don't spend working, and muttering every time they pluck food from the storage barn. "Anyone could live off seven mushrooms a week", you'll sneer while you sit there scratching yourself and shovelling foie gras into your cake hole. It's a tough, austere and demanding city-building game, and this is both its strongest asset and biggest failing.
The game involves taking control of a band of villagers who have been exiled from their previous home, and must now build their own settlement using nothing but the environment around them, a few provisions and a heavy dose of hard graft. There seems to be no other reason behind this premise than to give the game a more interesting title than "Medieval City Builder 2014" as the fact that you've been banished has no bearing on the game's events. It could equally have been called "Expats", "Pioneers" or "Bored Of That Other Place" and it wouldn't have made a difference.
But that's fine, you've got to start somewhere, and Banished starts by diving straight into the simulation. There's no career mode or sequence of levels here. It's just you, a forest, and your own ingenuity. That and four brief tutorials which do a decent job of introducing you to the basics of city-building. Small-budget strategy games like this tend to skimp on the tutorials, so credit where it's due there.
Presentation-wise, Banished is remarkably pretty given it was developed by just one person. Building models are detailed and the art-style balances the quaint and picturesque with the stern reality of survival that faces your villagers. The weather and environmental effects are excellent. The pouring rain and the fluttering snow give a real sense of harshness to the game's winter months, while in the summer the environment fills with colour, crops grow pleasingly and the forest flourishes with wild flowers, delicious mushrooms and prancing deer.
That said, it doesn't feel quite as good as it looks. Placing buildings isn't particularly satisfying, foundations are laid with a quiet bump rather than the meaty thump of last year's SimCity. Furthermore, villager actions such as mining rock and chopping trees could do with a dash of particles to add a little verve to the proceedings. It's a lovely looking game when still, but when moving it does feel a little lacklustre.