Review: Concrete Jungle07 Oct 2016 25
Review: Concrete Jungle
Released 28 Sep 2016
I frequently think if I could do it all again, knowing what I know now, I'd be a city planner (for my day job, naturally I'd still write about video games). Concrete Jungle may be the closest I ever get to it and I was instantly intrigued and happy to get to take a look for this review. It's a game where deck building meets city planning for a truly unique experience and recently commuted from Steam to both iOS and Android.
You've arrived in Caribou City, a fresh new hire brought on to help grow the city into a thriving metropolis. Standing in your way are a host of roadblocks. There's an incompetent mayor with a penchant for poorly planned theme parks, a monolithic burger company bent on unfettered expansion, and the biggest challenge of them all: your own decisions made in earlier turns, come back to haunt you.
Concrete Jungle is played on a grid that represents a part of Caribou City. You have a deck of cards which you use to place buildings on the tiles of that grid. Buildings either score points (houses, farmhouses) or affect their surrounding tiles in a variety of ways. Each column of the grid is a city block and you must assemble a certain number of points in that block to clear it, revealing the next (often) open column.
As you progress your economy improves and you earn purchase points that allow you to add new and better buildings to your deck from the "Card Shop". Progress also has a downside, however. Each card has an "expenditure" cost and over time expenditures will accumulate and increase the points required to clear a column. It is important to keep your economy (and the purchases it brings you) and expenditures in balance by managing the cards you play otherwise the game’s difficulty will outstrip your ability to overcome it.
MODES OF PLAY
Concrete Jungle has a number of ways to play. Campaign mode is where you'll start and also serves as a tutorial, introducing you to the game and gradually adding complexity as you go. This game is challenging and it takes a bit of practice to ascend the learning curve, so it is well worth your time to go through the campaign. Plus it’s really well done and doesn’t have that can-I-just-get-to-the-real-game feel that sometimes accompanies tutorials. I highly recommend replaying the early levels until you can get three stars. You'll start to pick up the tricks necessary to succeed in future levels (and other modes of play).
The campaign also unlocks all eight of the game's characters who are employees, residents, or elected officials, of Caribou City. Each character has a different style of play which is emphasized and reinforced by a skill tree. When you earn purchases through economic growth you can spend them on your character’s skill tree instead of in the card shop. Each character has unique cards not available in the shop as well as other non-card bonuses. Naturally, each character also has a different personality. Dialogue between characters is amusing and backed by good voice acting. I usually listen to music while gaming but made a special point to hear each new dialogue scene.
The campaign introduces you to these other ways to play. The "Solo" and "Classic" modes are similar. In each case you set a game length, which is the number of columns that must be cleared to win. Both modes track recent and high scores and your goal is to beat your high score. You can spend one life to clear the first column—handy if you can’t reach your point target, though you take hit in your final score—and if you run out of lives, you lose the game.
There are a few differences between solo and classic. In solo mode you build your own deck and choose your own character. You can grant yourself up to six starting purchases with which you can acquire cards from the card shop or skills from your character's skill tree. Your final score will be penalized for each purchase.
Classic mode is more laid back. There is no deck building and cards are randomly added to your hand each turn. Each card also adds one expenditure rather than what is listed on the card, so the game's difficulty advances a little more slowly. You don't improve your economy based on the cards you play and cannot add cards from the shop or select character skills. Classic mode does level up the power of cards as you go, however, so you do get access to more powerful buildings.
The last mode of play is "Versus". Concrete Jungle supports local multiplayer for up to four human or AI opponents. You can play head to head, two on two, or a pair of players can cooperate to take on the AI. The AI is no pushover, either, and you can choose a normal, hard, or very hard difficulty for each AI opponent.
Versus gameplay is different in that each player, or team, has a lane of tiles where only they can create buildings. The middle tiles and the first column are free-for-all property for anybody to build upon. The game is turn based with each side playing three cards before passing the turn. Scoring is winner-take-all, so if I have five points and you have four when a column is scored, I get nine. You have to play carefully as a result, and pick your battles carefully, as victory can quickly turn to defeat in a closely contested column. One of the great joys of the game is the ability to drop a building in the perfect place to disrupt your opponent's plans and win a column. Versus mode is a lot of fun.
As you play Concrete Jungle in any mode you earn experience points based on how well you did. Experience points gain you levels which unlock different cards to play with. There are 230 cards to collect and you earn them either by leveling or by encountering new cards in the card shop. There is no freemium garbage in this game and you simply have to play and have fun to get all the cards.
Deck building and city building are together at last in Concrete Jungle, and it is an excellent combination. The game is very well designed and implemented and is a ton of fun. Between the campaign and three other modes of play there are a great many hours of entertainment to be had on the cheap. The different characters, cards, and skills inject new elements as you go, which keeps the replay value high. It's one of those games that are easy to learn and difficult to master and definitely rewards experimentation and strong tactics, which will appeal to gamers who love a good challenge.
Aesthetically, the game looks great on an iPad. I really appreciate the attention to detail and little finishing touches like day/night cycles, traffic, and weather. I tried it on my iPhone 6S Plus expecting a worse experience, but was pleasantly surprised to find it held up well on the smaller screen. I'm not sure that'd remain the case with smaller iPhones but I would guess Concrete Jungle would look and play well on the larger Android phones too.
Board gamers, card players, deck builders, competitive gamers, architects, city planners, and anybody else who loves games that are just plain awesome will find this Concrete Jungle well worth their time. At $5 it's a no-brainer and my review would remain unchanged at double the price. Add this one to your mobile-game collection, you won't regret it.