Simulation games that focus on the well-being of groups of people tend to come in a few different flavours. City builders, like SimCity or Tropico, are often frantic barrages of paperwork and road construction as you try and balance the books while keeping you citizens happy while 4X games pit and the entire world, or even galaxy, against you, as you attempt to meet the genre’s titular mandate of explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. Thirdly, there are god games that position you as some unflinching deity looking upon your flock as they did their best to kill themselves; interestingly enough, this is perhaps the most relaxed, chill experience among these subgenres. All of these sorts of games offer their own vastly different sorts of obstacles to overcome, which is why it came as a surprise when indie post-apocalypse simulation Before We Leave managed to straddle the lines between all three.
Yes, Before We Leave truly wants to do its own thing rather than be bogged down by minutia and taxonomic classification, which is a lovely idea. Genres can pigeon hole you into trying to be something you’re not. They also tend to make things easier to explain, but that’s really more my problem than the game’s. Honestly, I doubt that Before We Leave would be quite as much an enjoyable and refreshing venture if it had stuck with a more ridged reading of game types.
The game begins with your little peeps, your adorable matryoshka doll looking citizenry, returning to the surface from their bunker following some great world-ending event. The world above ground has mostly returned to a vibrant green affair, pockmarked by ancient machines and piles of junk. Unfortunately, your little denizens have forgotten much of what they once knew, but are keen enough to grow some potatoes and mine out yesteryear’s lifeless hulks for scrap and iron. Soon enough you’ll begin grinding away at rediscovering old technologies and hopefully not dooming everyone again.
Everything starts very small; you’ll have a few huts for your chipper little peeps, then a lumberyard and a mine, all very standard stuff as your boats look for new exciting lands. Then, once all those new exciting lands have been settled, there’s space where you’ll work to bringing the whole system into your resource gobbling machine. Before We Leave really makes good on three of those tenets of 4X games while ignoring the whole extermination bit. In fact, apart interference from plant hungry space whales, Before We Leave is a peaceful, meditative experience.
The art style of this game is gorgeous and cozy. Each little hex has lovely detailed art and the sight of the little bean-like peeps running here and there as they do their work is really heartwarming. Everything about Before We Leave is mellow and serene, despite the aforementioned space whales, which is really is a terrifying thought. Sadly, there isn’t much in the way of music to complement this chill little experience. What is there is nice, but having a melodious aural experience would do wonders for this sort of thing.
The laid back attitude of Before We Leave is pretty wonderful, especially given the current state of the world, but I can’t help but feel like something is missing here and there. I would love some light diplomatic elements here or maybe even a political system with various edicts and policies to help differentiate my populace from the standard. I understand that that could lead to conflict in places, but it could also bring about more challenge, something that this game desperately needs. Easy going is fine to relax with, but the idyllic world can get boring without much to overcome.
Before We Leave is a small indie game that does a lot of big things. The gameplay feels a lot like a city builder, where you’ll assess the needs of your thriving community and put down buildings that bolster your resources or make people happier overall. However, it has the values of a 4X game, always expanding, always exploring and discovering new wonders, always making the best use of the resources at hand, just without the war or diplomatic complications. Then, once things get a bit built up, it has that god game feeling of just watching this clockwork society turning and zoning out a bit. It’s a marvellous little sim that turns into something much bigger after some time, but it does feel like there are a few pieces missing here and there.