Terraform from Holgersson Entertainment is a turn-based strategy/puzzle game that challenges players to physically alter planets by using a variety of tools and the weather itself. Although the sheer number of variables involved in the gameplay can be overwhelming at times, Terraform is enjoyable enough in both its premise and presentation to keep players coming back for the next challenge.
Play begins in tutorial stages descriptively named “University” in the game. These levels introduce players to the general premise and mechanics of the game. Early on, each level provides a new lesson which then culminates in an exam at the end of each year. There are five virtual years in all that are spent going through these University stages before the story advances. While I like the fact that they place the instructional stages within the context of a virtual school, after a couple dozen of the 30+ University stages it can begin to get as wearisome as the real thing. Although players will be immediately applying what they’re being instructed on, the fact that the University is such a large portion of the game may induce learning fatigue while waiting to see how the story opens up. It’s a double-edged sword though, as I feel all of the instruction is necessary in order to succeed. Terraform continues to introduce new tools and rules throughout the entirety of the game, but the bulk are taught early on.
Each hexagonal tile map starts with each tile occupied by some natural landform, whether it be soil, a tree, a hole, etc. A variable number of spaces on that map must be converted or returned to a particular state within a specified number of turns. Tools are introduced one by one to the player, along with an explanation of what effect they will have on the environment. Basic weather patterns like rain or excessive heat, as explained by the instructor, will affect the state of the map and can even bring on larger scale weather phenomena like hurricanes or fires. Once the player has finished performing operations for a particular turn, he must choose to kick the game over to the next turn and see how their actions unfold in the world. The effect is not quite Rube Goldberg-esque, but it’s still interesting to see rivers flow or settlements demolished based on one action performed or left undone. Thankfully the game grants unlimited retries and a few undo turns on each map, because there are bound to be unintended results.
It’s fairly easy to catch on to the goals of Terraform, but the turn-based structure can take some getting used to as you must anticipate how changes to the environment will spread when you advance to the next turn. Terraform is a difficult game, and players who aren’t accustomed to failing may get frustrated even on the earlier levels. Each level does include a hint, but even the hint is just a general guideline, not specific information on which turn to perform which actions. In terms of strategy involved, I believe Terraform is a good match for players who enjoy chess. The ability and patience to picture the game state multiple turns ahead of time is a huge advantage. I must stress that I don’t believe the difficulty is a detriment to the enjoyment of the game – though it certainly is a pain for review deadlines! Instead I feel like it makes the game more like a crossword puzzle in the sense that it’s something players will want to come back to for a new challenge every day, rather than play in a binge gaming session.
The presentation quality of the game is adequate in most areas and quite excellent in a few cases. While playing the game, the UI contains pretty much everything players will need, and this helps avoid frequent trips to the menu. Options to undo turns when mistakes are made and even an option to change music on the fly are present. Speaking of music, the songs range from ambient to soaring, the latter of which nicely set the tone of a player reshaping planets. I just wish there were more track selections than the three or four included. The visual design is pretty simplistic in nature. I would prefer higher-res images for the various map tiles. But because there are so many of them, I understand why more detail would be difficult to see in such small, repeated spaces. For a good chunk of the early game, there’s not much to the story aside from the instructor who guides the player through the educational process. Later on, there are cutscenes and dialogue exchanges thrown in with other characters to advance the story. It would’ve been nice if these started a bit earlier in the game to draw the player in.
Terraform is a solid puzzle game and I think it will be fun for most gamers once they get used to the pacing. Like a fine wine it should be sipped rather than gulped. In playing this way, I believe gamers will find real enjoyment in tying together cause and effect as they transform one planet to the next. The ability to upload your scores to a leaderboard and an unlockable level editor are added incentive to keep playing. For those interested in picking up Terraform, it’s currently available through Desura, GamersGate, and Holgersson Entertainment’s online store. Any way you choose to purchase, it’s not a bad deal for a game that will likely provide many hours of brain-intensive challenges for those tough enough to move mountains.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the developer for that purpose.
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