Quick Look – Highrisers (#JustOnePercent 58/100)

Developer: Solar Powered Games
Release Date: July 15, 2021
MSRP: $13.99

Highrisers is part of a gaming genre that I really like in theory, and usually find very frustrating in practice. The primary game loop is to scavenge from abandoned buildings in order to obtain crafting materials to enable your band of survivors to defend themselves against Dreamers (this game’s version of zombies) and repair your helicopter to enable you to escape to a new building full of resources. Maps are randomly generated, and there are also light survival mechanics by way of a slowly depleting hunger meter. The concept is well thought out and engaging – or at least, it would be if it the game could stop getting in its own way.

In an hour of play time, I managed to get through the tutorial (although I had to tab out once to look up how to construct a barricade, because I clicked too quickly when the game was trying to instruct me and then I couldn’t figure out how to access that crafting menu), and then I restarted the game proper three different times. Each time, I could not find any of one of the three resources I needed to make any significant repair to the helicopter.

In one way, it makes sense, because obviously the game intends for this process to take days, despite it repeatedly warning you to not forget about your primary objective. On the other, the game design makes managing your team of survivors in every way far more tedious than it needs to be. Dismantling things is slow, with no guarantee that anything will give you the specific type of resources that you’re looking for. Then, instead of putting resources directly into character inventory or having characters automatically move them to some central storage, they just fall on the ground, and if you’re working on controlling another survivor, that person will just stand idle, with a pile of tiny pixelated resources on the ground that you’re going to need to pixel hunt through in order to see if you even got anything useful.

If you hope to move resources quickly from where they’re scattered, you have no real solid options. Either you can individually place items onto the ground tidily by slowly clicking and dragging them there, or you can click on the character and have them “eject” their inventory onto the ground in a horridly messy pile that you will – again – have to pixel hunt through. Everything about inventory management in Highrisers is infuriating. If I’d stopped playing as soon as I realized that the mechanics of the game were actively sabotaging the concept of the game, I don’t know that I would have completed the tutorial.

Add in annoying repetitive voice lines, a non-intuitive way of switching characters, and the challenge-mode difficulty of trying to do anything at night because of how terribly the darkness impedes the key mechanic of finding the things you need, and I knew I had no interest into continuing. This appears to be a freshman title from Solar Powered Games, and I hope they take it back to the drawing board, because the ideas here are good – it’s the mechanics that make the game horridly un-fun.

SteamDB estimates that Highrisers has sold between 2,100 and 5,700 copies on Steam. Those are respectable numbers, but reviews are mixed, with a slim majority of users choosing to not recommend the game. Common complaints pointed to poor inventory management mechanics, and the incompatibility of fiddly controls with a real-time game. It is ranked 9891 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

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