Happiness In Sustainability

HIGH Lovely hexgrid-based graphics.

LOW Not being able to track what made my settlers so unhappy.

WTF I never expected to feel this relaxed playing a management sim!

Sometimes I long for the days when it seemed like we got two or three new management sims every month, despite the fact that most of them weren’t very good. When I started Before We Leave I felt that same kind of jolt — part nostalgia and part curiosity. Indeed, this title from Balancing Monkey Games seems tailor-made for fans of this somewhat cooled genre.

The player’s goal in Before We Leave is to build happiness, not just buildings. At first this isn’t made clear, especially because the tutorial goes in-depth about how buildings influence each other and how to forage for wood, food and other required materials.

This is different from the usual standard of the genre, in that the player’s objective in the management sims is usually about hitting a money quota or setting up required buildings. In the long run, the objective here is always to mantain a balance between resources that are being used and ones that are being produced.

After establishing the first settlement and providing food, wood and resources, building a shipyard will allow the player to explore beyond their starting island and establish a new city on another continent. Continuing this typical sort of expansion will eventually allow us to explore space — but also, and this is key, we’ll be exploring unhappiness.

Indeed, expansion will require — as it is often the case in real life — sacrifices and pollution, while also cutting down forests and green areas. Balancing the happiness of citizens and the need for progress is where the message of Before We Leave really lies — unsustained growth is bad. Which, hey, is a message that we must ultimately agree with.

Building a civilization on unhappiness, naturally leads to various problems in the long run, especially in that unhappy citizens will not want to work or collaborate with our orders. I am unsure if this can actually lead to a game over, but it sure does make for some tricky balancing acts when there are many resources at play and little space to set up living huts and factories.

As opposed to several notable titles in the genre, Before We Leave presents completely peaceful gameplay — there’s no war or diplomacy here. On the other hand, it’s also fairly devoid of concrete goals. There is no ‘doom clock’ ticking away towards extinction, nor any big goal on the horizon other than learning to expand and seeing how it impacts the game’s denizens. This may sound too chill for some, but in the end, I think it was perfect for my current tastes. My time with it was fairly zen and relaxing, but I can see how this might not be juicy enough for genre connoisseurs.

While there are some small issues like a slightly clunky and complicated interface, Before We Leave ended up being a great little sim that was pleasantly peaceful and delivered a kind of gameplay that I think will be perfect for sim fans looking for something on the lighter side. We may not get as may of these as we used to, but I’m happy we got this one.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Balancing Monkey Games and published by Team 17. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed (even though it’s non-goal oriented). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it doesn’t seem to contain any particular offending elements. Considering its overall interface and complex systems, though, I would recommend it at least to a teen audience.

Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue, everything is relayed through text. The text cannot be altered or resized. In my view, the game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game is controlled via the mouse with some additional keyboard shortcuts, it is not possible to remap the controls.

Damiano Gerli
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