I’m not usually a fan of either city planning or deck-building games so was slightly apprehensive about playing Concrete Jungle. However I was intrigued by the claim that it would be more accessible than most, with an extra emphasis on strategy rather than micromanagement. Oh, and it has some very pretty graphics.
And what pretty looking graphics they are – a bright and clear menu system gives way to an isometric landscape onto which you can place a varied selection of lovingly drawn 2D buildings, which are then brought to life by the animated traffic that zips around your constructions. The vehicles don’t have any impact on gameplay at all but they sure do look nice, as do the random weather effects (with a day-night cycle promised to be added soon). The presentation really is fantastic and sets the tone for the experience to come.
Once into the game itself it’s revealed that it’s actually more of a puzzle title than city planner, which is good news for me but maybe less so for those who were hoping for a new Sim City. Several modes are available but broadly speaking the aim is to build up enough points in a column (or rows depending on how you look at them) to clear it using a combination of point collecting residential buildings and support buildings that buff adjacent squares. I was actually reminded of Tetris while playing – which should give a good idea of how fun and compelling it is to play.
My first attempt playing Concrete Jungle genuinely resulted in me losing almost three hours in the blink of an eye. A well-paced tutorial introduced the gameplay mechanics and the basics of deck-building before leading seamlessly into the campaign mode which continued to introduce new cards, systems and tactics. My only minor gripe was that the difficulty did seem to ramp up quite soon, although to be fair that could be down to my own inexperience with deck-building.
The upside of the increasing difficulty in the campaign was that it led me to explore the other modes of play; Solo as the name suggests is simply playing a standard game with no other aim than high scores while Classic plays the same as solo but without having to worry about deck-building. Both modes actually helped my progression in the campaign as they gave me the freedom to practice and get to grips with the more advanced systems of play.
However it was the Versus mode that ended up getting the most of my attention as the focus of the game changed completely with the competitive aspect focusing half my attention on screwing over my opponent as much as possible. I haven’t had the opportunity to play locally against another human opponent (and unfortunately there’s no option for online play) but the AI is surprisingly fun to play against, devious and with appropriate difficulty settings. Being able to watch the AI plan and make moves during its turn is also very handy in understanding a number of advanced tactics.
Every aspect of Concrete Jungle feels extremely polished and balanced, with the implementation of a story in the campaign mode a particular highlight (how many puzzles games have a genuinely good narrative?) and a special mention goes to the voice actors who manage to be funny with going over the top. Similarly the soundtrack impressed both with the music and the ambient city noises, even if the car horns occasionally sounded too much like my front doorbell!
In fact, apart from challenging difficulty and the omission of online multiplayer, Concrete Jungle is pretty fault free. More than that it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in recent memory. Remember what I said earlier about not being a fan of deck-building games? Turns out I am when they’re this fun.