If there’s one thing I’ve learned from games like Anno 1800 Console Edition, it’s that building a thriving industrial city is a piece of piss. I mean, there are challenges to overcome, of course. Poverty, civil unrest, a shortage of wooden logs, but ultimately it’s not something a quick reload – or failing that, a complete re-do – can’t fix. People are sad, build them a pub. People are too happy, put them to work. People are overworked? Back to the pub again. It’s not rocket science, is it?
In all fairness, I’m over simplifying Anno 1800 a bit. Well, a lot. But the point I’m vaguely meandering towards is that Ubisoft has managed to make the pressures of building and maintaining a strong community fairly stress-free. You can still fail, you’ll still find pockets of resistance who for some unknown reason aren’t happy to chop logs or mine copper until their limbs drop off, but by and large Anno 1800 has a somewhat relaxed approach to the challenges of government.
This is the seventh iteration of the Anno series, and Ubisoft have returned to the Victorian-era setting that made the franchise so popular, eschewing any modern or sci-fi trappings. It also has a full, 20-hour story campaign that leads you through all the steps involved in creating a metropolis of your own before letting you loose in the sandbox mode. Or you can jump right into the sandbox mode straight away, you mad bastard.
The story sees you returning from exile after the death of your father, to find that your brother has become a completely evil despot who regards you in much the same way as people regard that pigeon in Trafalgar Square that has one wing and walks in circles. It’s not just that he hates you, but rather that he also believes you’re about as intelligent as a wedge of old cheese. Your mission, whether you choose to accept it or not, is to prove him wrong. And you do this by building a huge industrial empire that utterly eclipses his own.
Anno 1800 Console Edition has many fail states. It’s not easy for your city to utterly collapse, and often failure will creep up on you slowly. But as with all good city-building sims, each playthrough will see you lasting just that little longer and being just that little bit more efficient. See, you start off with small farmer residences and dirt roads, progressing through warehouses, Union buildings, massive churches, schools, zoos, and cobbled streets.
There’s a focus on resource gathering and management, but also on establishing trade routes for the things you can’t easily produce. You can instruct your warehouses to maintain a minimum stock of certain items, but you’ll be managing each factory and farm down to the workers, pausing them for maintenance and striving to erect more homes to attract more potential grafters.
It’s at this point that Anno 1800 does begin to get tougher to manage. Once you have to start juggling not only trade routes and
manufacturing, but also housing and diplomacy – something that Anno does well but not as in-depth as some games in the genre – it can become daunting. Quite often there’s nothing going on at the ground level, which is when you can focus more on the bigger picture. Icons will appear above buildings that need your attention, and supporting characters will come into the picture throughout the story to offer main and side quests. Completing these is essential to progress, and some of them are as simple as maintaining a minimum stock, while others require you to move around the ever-expanding map to gather items or even stop riots.
You don’t have direct control over the landscape, but you will need to position your buildings in such a way that they have access to roads; factories need to be in range of warehouses, while homes need access to pubs, churches, and marketplaces. Slapping things down higgledy-piggledy won’t get you far, and demolishing things also has a cost. The more you play the more you’ll spot areas for improvement, and 5 or 6 hours in you’ll be looking back at your early efforts scratching your head at what you must have been thinking.
Whatever you’re doing though, Anno 1800 looks amazing. You can zoom right down to street level (though you can’t get right into the streets like you can in the PC version) and watch people go about their little pre-programmed routes. You can reskin your buildings and vehicles for an extra personal touch, while the units themselves will change as you upgrade them. Reaching the giddy heights of “city status” isn’t so easy, it turns out, and it’s nice to be rewarded for your efforts.
Landscapes and the ocean look great. The sun breaks over nearby hills, rain batters your farms and fields, wildlife ducks and weaves between forests and over meadows, and the wonderful ambient sound brings it all to life. It’s spoiled a little by some rampant texture popping when you zoom in or move to a new area, but it’s still a gorgeous game in places. Not so much with people, though, who don’t even attempt to lip-synch to what they’re saying. It’s like watching a badly-dubbed soap opera.
What Ubisoft have done very well, however, is fit the whole lot onto a controller. It uses various action wheels, most with multiple layers, to allow you to access nodes and then the buildings within. So holding down the right trigger will open up the Construction menu, which allows you to erect buildings, or go deeper into sub-menus that allow, for example, the choice between a potato farm and a whiskey distillery, or a sheep farm and a clothier.
As the game progresses these choices become more in-depth, such as a zoo that allows you to select individual animal enclosures. There are commands to speed up and slow down time, or enter multiple graph screens that show the minutiae of your budding empire. It’s a lot to take in, but Ubisoft takes pains to make it as intuitive as possible. This isn’t nearly as daunting or impenetrable as, say, Victoria 3.
Anno 1800 Console Edition is a game that will eat hours if you let it. One minute you’re ruminating over where to place a lumberjack’s hut, the next you’re connecting a huge network of warehouses and resource nodes to keep the lifeblood of your city pumping. Its addictive nature is owed in part to how friendly it is, despite being one hell of a challenge after the initial few hours are out of the way. But every failure is a teachable moment, so you rarely feel you’ve wasted your time. If you can look past a few graphical bugs and invest the time required to truly understand its intricacies, Anno 1800 Console Edition is one of the most charming city builders around.
Easy to get into
Gets complex quickly
Some visual bugs