Project Highrise review (PC)

Project Highrise marks the return of the tower building simulation – and manages to improve on the classic that came before it.

To call “tower simulation” a genre would be an overstatement. When I think of similar games, only SimTower comes to mind, and that’s over twenty years old now. Still, it’s a game that was so impactful that the first screenshots of Project Highrise immediately evoked memories of the Maxis classic. Visually, the resemblance is clear – but developer SomaSim did tweak the gameplay a bit.

When we met with SomaSim’s Robert Zubek and Matthew Viglione earlier this week, they clarified that SimTower was indeed an inspiration for them. They enjoyed the game itself, and being from Chicago they had also developed a fascination with skyscrapers and their inner workings. In essence, this meant that they wanted to do for SimTower what Cities Skylines did for Sim City.

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Project Highrise gives the player more opportunities to dive into a building’s ecosystem, including its infrastructure and economics. You also get to design the building yourself, adding floors and allocating spaces for basic utilities, office space, retail business and/or apartments. Early on you’ll go for a functional design, but in later playthroughs it’s fun to play around a bit with extravagant tower designs. As a result of the game’s focus on ecosystems, this will make your game significantly more challenging as well.

The game’s sandbox mode is a great way to get familiar with the game’s inner workings. You’ll make a lot of mistakes at first, but the tutorial/popup system will help you remedy the most glaring ones very quickly. The depth of the game’s simulation doesn’t come into play until later though, when you find out that your design isn’t working. You might not generate enough income to keep up with your operational costs, or you might realize that you need to re-design your building for it to be effective in the long run.

This can have a number of reasons, and you’ll learn about them as you play. People might be bothered by smells from nearby restaurants or trash rooms, or people might not appreciate large volumes of people walking by their business or apartment all day. When your building grows in stature you gain access to additional unit types as well, including luxury apartments and larger retail/restaurant spaces. These can potentially generate a lot more income for your tower, but they also have more requirements for you to meet – and meeting them will cost you money. As such, you’ll constantly be balancing your investments with the revenue they will generate, as well as with the happiness of the people living and working in your tower.

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The game also has ten scenarios for you to play through, which set up three goals for you that range in how difficult it is to attain them. Making the right choices, you can reach a bronze goal in about two hours – but in reality it’ll take you longer, especially on your first playthrough. Achieving subsequent goals will take longer, or they might be out of sight because you no longer have money to invest or even keep your tenants happy.

There is a lot to discover with Project Highrise’s dynamics, but after about four hours play and several restarts, you’ll have a pretty good grasp of everything there is to see. At that point, the scenarios become the perfect challenge for you to apply that knowledge in different ways, as each challenge requires a different strategy – while keeping the basic needs of each tower in mind.

The game doesn’t revolutionize the formula that SimTower introduced, but Project Highrise does manage to add quite a bit of fine-tuning to it. Its graphics might feel oversimplified for some – with a lot of units looking similar or exactly the same – but I’m not sure how manageable a tower would be if every unit looked unique either. Still – tiny variations would have been welcome, since we’re sure not every insurance company looks the same in real life – even if we think they do. Regardless of that, Project Highrise is a fun tower simulation with enough depth to provide a reasonable challenge and plenty of ways to spend many hours exploring your options. It might not have the lasting appeal that a city builder has (in terms of the variety of ways in which to play the game), but that shouldn’t stop you from playing a fine version of a classic niche within the simulation genre.

Score: 7.8/10

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