New Cycle Preview
One of the most persistent themes in the city-builder genre is survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The player is tasked with rebuilding a civilization decimated by nuclear holocaust/zombies/plagues…or all of them at once. That’s true of New Cycle, too. This time around, a series of solar flares has done the world in. Technology has been reduced to the bare essentials. Your job is to take a series of primitive shacks barely powered by a weakly spinning wind turbine and grow them into a thriving metropolis with air choked by soot. You can do it!
Players coming to New Cycle from other city builders will generally feel at home. It doesn’t subvert expectations. You start with a humble settlement, collect resources, grow the population, and research increasingly sophisticated technologies. At certain benchmarks, you move your settlement/city into the next cycle, unlocking more advanced everything.
While you can — and must — monitor your citizens’ health, wealth, and happiness, you can’t control them directly. Instead, you research and provide the buildings, supply chains, and societal infrastructure to help them live their best lives. The game focuses on housing, health, entertainment, and security. Juggling these is a challenge, and you’ll never feel dialed in completely. New Cycle is a “dieselpunk” game, focused on vast industrial beehives of exponentially increasing complexity. You’re not aiming for the stars, just staving off the inevitable next civilization-ending disaster.
Speaking of challenges, and depending on the level of difficulty you’ve selected, your city will be beset by sand storms, shortages, wildfires, and other natural disasters. However, the biggest cause of societal failure will be you. Poor resource management and inept planning will doom your city to another collapse. But there’s always next time and a new cycle.
The Learning Curve is Steep
We said that fans of city-building games will feel at home. This is true, but even hardcore players will need some time to learn New Cycle’s specific mechanics, vocabulary, and nested systems. The game uses both written tool tips and video clips to explain its mechanics. It’s a bit annoying, however, that you can’t save progress during the tutorial mission. It’s a shame because, at its default speed, New Cycle is a pretty leisurely (code for slow-moving) experience. The pace ramps up considerably in parallel to the complexity of construction.
One interesting wrinkle to the city builder formula is the game’s overworld map of sorts, allowing players to send scouts into unclaimed territory to obtain resources. Refugees will come knocking at your door, too, and there is always a risk/reward for taking them in.
All the Leaves are Brown and the Sky is Grey
As befits a game planted in a post-apocalyptic, hyper-industrial world, New Cycle’s color palette could best be described as muted. It’s impressively detailed and allows for a reasonably up-close view, but traditionally pretty it isn’t. That said, later-game cities are an incredibly engaging mix of smoke-spewing factories, rail lines, electrical plants, and movement everywhere. The day/night cycle and dynamic weather add a lot of literal atmosphere, and the game’s handful of starting biomes have a more than aesthetic impact on gameplay.
Sonically, New Cycle boasts some effective, relatively understated environmental audio. The orchestral music is subdued and lyrical, but it got a bit repetitive throughout long play sessions.
Just dropping into Early Access on January 18, New Cycle currently has a sandbox mode and a campaign mode, with plans for additional content and other modes prior to official release. There is no shortage of city builders in this general wheelhouse. New Cycle distinguishes itself with some extra depth, a very specific setting and story conceit, and a theme that is ultimately hopeful.
***PC code provided for this preview***
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