Monday, July 07, 2008

Build In Time Review

Build In Time, developed and published by Reflexive Entertainment.
The Good: Straightforward and informative interface, randomized customer requests, optional goals are neat, numerous upgrades, fitting music
The Not So Good: Very repetitive, speeding up construction is annoying, can’t queue build orders
What say you? A click management game that suffers from tedious gameplay: 5/8

With the U.S. economy in a slump, one industry that has been hit hard is real estate. Homes are dirt-cheap (well, not that fancy store-bought dirt loaded with nutrients) and most likely your home isn’t worth what you paid for it. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back in time, when the economy was strong, men were men, and women were subservient? Say “hello” to Build In Time, a click management game where you build homes for people throughout American history, or at least the past 50 years of it. If only real homes were just a mouse click away. Is Build In Time a beautiful mansion of awesomeness, or a disappointing double-wide of failure?

The 2-D graphics offered up in Build In Time are OK. The caricatures of towns and streets are good enough to be functional, although obviously nobody will mistake them for real locations. The homes themselves could be a lot more detailed: it can be difficult to tell the difference between two styles; this not only makes your village look blander, but it also impacts the gameplay. There are some nice effects present in the game: the reactions of your customers when you complete their abode are humorous, and the interface is generally well designed, making it easy to navigate through the game. While the overall sound is average for the genre, I do like the period-specific music that adds to the theme of each era. So while Build In Time won’t win any awards for its presentation, the design is not complicated to handle and that’s all you really need in a click management title.

As the protagonist of Build In Time (you ARE Mark Retro), you are in charge of constructing new homes for customers. Each level corresponds to one year from 1950 to 2010 (how futuristic!) where you must complete each house in a timely manner before your customer storms off in a fit of rage. You are gradually introduced new game elements along the way, and each decade comes with a different interface theme. All customers will require a house of a specific color (as indicated by an icon next to their picture, and some houses will also need garages and decorations. Each of these steps must be completed one at a time, meaning you cannot queue your painting team up on a house that is under construction. While this does increase the difficulty of the game, it also makes Build In Time much harder to manage. Most click management games lets you execute three or four orders in a row, so that you can be better organized. However, Build In Time limits you to one order at a time per team, and that limitation feels arbitrarily restrictive. I mean, the FedEx guy knows about other packages in his truck; he doesn’t need to return to the depot after every delivery, right?

Customers have a satisfaction rating that slowly decreases over time: the quicker you build their home, the more profitable it is. Cash then can be spent on a number of upgrades: additional building or painting teams (since you can’t queue, they are a necessity), appliances to increase buyer approval, and new or upgraded designs to bring in more straight cash, homey. Build In Time makes it easy to tell which upgrades you can afford by highlighting them, so the upgrade procedure is very painless. In addition to simply building houses, you can also earn stars for earning a minimum amount of money or placing specific customers at specific locations on the map (like that cowboy that’s afraid of water). These optional side missions are a nice addition to the game. In addition, you can unlock a bonus if you put three houses of the same type, color, garage, or scenery item in a row. This bonus involves what I feel is the most annoying part of the game, and that’s speeding up production. In order to hurry along your workers, you can repeatedly click on the house to give a small boost towards completion. While this is a novel idea, it quickly becomes very irritating and not fun at all. And you have to do it, because if you don’t, you could potentially miss the customer deadlines. I would much rather be planning my layout to maximize bonuses and scores than clicking my left mouse button over and over again. The aforementioned three-in-a-row bonus speeds up production even more when you click on a house, so then you really need to do it. I just simply got tired of clicking after a while, and wanting to quit the game is never a good sign. The customer requests are randomized each time you play, so if there was a reason to play Build In Time over again, the layout would be different. But once you go through the game once, the game doesn’t really hold any replay value unless you really like it.

While the basics of Build In Time are fine, the game’s wearisome nature is a detriment to the overall experience. Not only is the game repetitive (as a lot of puzzle games tend to be), but also speeding up your work crews by clicking away on them is downright bothersome. That’s too bad, because the remainder of the game can be enjoyable if you are a fan of this genre. I really like how each request is randomized so that you never know what’s coming next, even if you play the same level over again. The overall time-based theme is well done, from the subtle changes in the interface to the musical shifts. There are many things to unlock and multiple components (up to four) to each construction project, but you can’t queue up all four in a row, which makes managing your company much more difficult. Build In Time is one of those games that has potential to be entertaining in many areas, but a couple of questionable design decisions makes the game less than enjoyable.