Constructor originally released 21 years ago for MS-DOS, swiftly followed by ports to PlayStation, Mac and Windows the following year, and now it’s been remastered and released for modern machines. It’s a quirky strategy game with mechanics that are almost unique in the city-building genre, mostly focused around sabotaging your competitors.
Early in any given game, you will build a lumber yard, then a house, and then find some tenants. A tenant’s happiness is crucial and they will complain if something is particularly wrong, like the lumber yard next door being very loud, or having the wrong type of fence (they care a lot about fences). You can stop the lumber yard or install some double glazing in the house to sort it noise, just replace the fence if they are being picky, upgrade rooms to increase overall happiness, that kind of thing.
However, there are ten different types of tenant in five classes, poorest at the bottom, richest at the top, and they each have their own personalities. The Slobs, for example, are the lowest class and are very well suited to breeding like rabbits, which in turn is excellent for creating new workers so you can increase your work force. Student tenants, however, are picky about their fences – they demand a nice, natural hedge so birds can live in it, whereas the Punks won’t be happy at all if you put trees in their garden because punks hate nature (obviously).
Juggling the different tenants’ needs is one of two main aspects of gameplay. Some of them do not enjoy living next to each other, though this can usually be offset by just upgrading all the rooms in their house a few times and they will learn to live with it. It can get frustrating though, particularly when they demand trees, so you comply, and they complain that one of the trees is the wrong type of tree despite not having specified.
The second aspect of gameplay ties into Constructor’s tagline: “construction meets corruption.” In addition to building houses and looking after tenants, you will also be competing with and sabotaging other builders, whether AI on via online multiplayer. You can send your work teams, each one led by a foreman, to enemy territory and take over , then sell them for some quick cash. Of course, their work teams will fight you off, but there a ways of dealing with that.
Undesirables are utility buildings that can be used to distract or otherwise bother your competitors. As you can imagine, they involve the type of people that the tenants do not like to be around. Build the commune (away from your houses) and you can send hippies to picket enemy resource buildings to stop production, start a street party that compels any enemy units nearby to start dancing while a trusty foreman takes over a building. A pawn shop can send thieves to steal resources, items, even last month’s rent from the opposition. It’s an interesting mechanic that facilitates competition in what is basically a small city builder, or a town builder, if you will.
Unfortunately there are a few undesirable quirks to Constructor, as well. The options menu holds a few things that feel like they don’t need to be options, such as tutorial hints that keep playing even in normal games until you go into the options to disable them, even after finishing the actual tutorial. When playing against multiple AI, they will not fight each other (a quirk of the original release) unless you turn it on in the options, where you can also turn up build speed for some reason.
When building, your work team needs to be manually called to each area, which is fiddly, to say the least. Particularly early in a game where the initial limited number of work teams translates this to simply being unable to queue things up without a meticulous memory for where they are and when each will be finished so you can move your workers along manually. It is especially awkward having to call them into a garden to build a fence, then having to call them into the building separately to upgrade its rooms.
Graphically the game looks…muddy. It is sharp and HD, sure, but the art style hasn’t held up well on the main view when playing, though the cutscenes and little character windows when selecting a unit are much better. It is certainly in-keeping with the original, but I’m not sure the nostalgia is enough to overlook some of the more dated aspects of the game. The UI leaves a lot to be desired, with inconsistency and odd design throughout. Not enough to be indiscernible, but enough to grate on your nerves more the longer you play.
The sense of humour is still here though, complete with all the same voice acting and updated cutscenes. It is still a bit hit and miss, and by the time you’ve heard a tenant’s complaint four times it ceases to be amusing regardless of the voice acting’s quality. It is still a charming style and though it stops being funny due to repetition, it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the game.
Unfortunately the rest of the game was released unfinished. Missions, for example, which is an option on the main menu below the map designer are simply not there yet, replaced with a “coming soon!” sign that belies the frankly extortionate asking price of £34.99 (though it is on sale at the time of writing for £19.99, even that seems a tiny bit steep). Mixed with how the publishers have apparently treated customers on Steam’s community forum, for example, makes Constructor less of a tempting prospect.
Constructor HD was actually delayed multiple times, so System 3 presumably encountered some difficulties in development. Whether that is the explanation for the result, which just barely toes the line of average but gets pulled back down by its price and its launch day DLC, or if it was a bit of a cash grab is anyone’s guess. As it is, this is not worth purchasing.