• Thursday, March 05, 2015



Zoheb Mashiur

Banished is an exercise in minimalism. The game centres on a group of colonists (survivalists?) who have trekked into the wild with a few meagre supplies to eke out a living from the land. There is no story, no endgame objective. You specify conditions for your game (referred to as a 'simulation', quite aptly so) and just play until you get bored or your entire population dies. It requires 134 megabytes of hard disk space and was developed by just one man: Luke Hodorowicz, who is Shining Rock Software.
The game is essentially a city-builder, with an emphasis on survival above economic prosperity, or world domination, setting it apart from other examples of the genre. Your first priority in every game is to secure food for your community, make sure everyone has adequate shelter and firewood in the winter. Manpower is strictly limited: unlike, say, Tropico, there aren't regular streams of migrants to prop up your numbers. Population expansion is achieved the old-fashioned  way, but unless you have houses for the happy family to move into, people won't marry or breed. This is a nice way of ensuring your population doesn't spiral out of control, but houses need wood and stone, which must be gathered by people, and people need food. To get food through gathering, hunting, fishing, farming or herding, you need people. You have to walk a tightrope all game as you balance out your community's needs with your ambitions. There are a multitude of resources and approaches to getting them, and everything depends on everything else in some intuitive way. Your backwoods commune doesn't believe in money, and all production is based on the availability of resources, and trade is by barter.
Consider clothing: you can make clothing with the hide your hunters bring back, both activities requiring tools which are made by the blacksmith with iron from your mines. All these activities depend on your stone and lumber industries, your population, and the food infrastructure. You can instead elect to create clothing from wool from your pastures. Where do you get sheep? You trade for them, necessitating a whole host of other activities as you accumulate goods to offer in exchange for sheep. (Or, just trade for the wool directly.)
The game proceeds through seasons, the most important of which are autumn (harvest time) and winter. Winter is the real test of your community's mettle. Half my community (and almost all the children) died of starvation on my second winter; in this way the game punishes your mistakes. Subsequent playthroughs might give you a better idea of what to do and when to do it, making your community relatively well off. You might have food surpluses, stone houses, hospitals and schools. Once you overcome the initial hurdle, it's not so hard. Random disasters such as tornadoes and cholera attacks do keep you on your toes, though. Regardless, the game's lack of actual goals to strive towards means that you will eventually stop playing out of boredom.
The game has a gorgeous interface that is very simple, powerful, and customizable. Want to speed up the game five times? F1+4. Want to have your minimap up all the time? Just open it and drag it where you want. You can have as much or as little on the screen as you want at any time. It's great.  The visuals are lovely, with some of the best weather effects I have ever seen. The soundtrack isn't anything special but it suits the game very well. The sound effects are very satisfying. Aesthetically, the game is beyond reproach. It's so hard to believe it's all the work of one man.
And that's the real point of this review: the content that the game offers is so seamlessly made that it's humbling. If you want a quick, fun fix this game has what you're looking for. It will not suck up days of your life. The genius of Hodorowicz is that he achieves so much with so little, and it is with that in mind that you should approach this game.

Published: 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2014

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