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Constructor is a DOS-based, tongue-in-cheek management sim that places you in control of a construction company trying to do what construction companies do best. This means, of course, that you’ll spend most of your time building cheap houses, pacifying annoyed tenants, making deals with the mob and completely screwing over any and all rivals.

Before actually describing the game’s mechanics in any detail, one thing needs to be made absolutely clear: its dark humour and overall style may persuade people to liken it to Theme Hospital, but this would most definitely be a mistake. Theme Hospital doesn’t actively display hatred for it players: those who venture anywhere near Constructor, on the other hand, have to be prepared to be mercilessly bludgeoned with a monkey wrench over and over again. Easy mode won’t save you, and the PDF manual merely gloats at your impending doom.

Let’s explain this difficulty with a few of the game’s core concepts:

Yep, you can build your own hippy army.

Yep, you can build your own hippy army.

(1) Constructor has no campaign setting. You select a core mission, a difficulty level and a play area before tackling your work head-on. New players are presented with vast maps to build their structures on, divided into estates which they have to fill by laying down plots for an astounding array of housing, resource buildings and special structures. This means that there’s no gradual introduction of gameplay concepts, and players have to learn the game through trial and error from the deep end of the pool.

(2) You are ultimately building to appease the city council. And the council is rarely — if ever — impressed by your work. Heck, if there’s an easy way to do something in the game, you can be damn sure that the council will somehow manage to get angry about it. Failure to meet their many demands always results in a game over: plain and simple.

The button that every player will eventually learn to hate.

The button that every player will eventually learn to hate.

(3) While the council exerts pressure externally, you also have to please your own tenants with the limited resources at your disposal. Tenant complaints can result from quite a few problematic situations: maybe they’re living near a noisy factory, or have to deal with an infestation of some kind. Or maybe a mouse sneezed somwhere. Failing to meet their demands after a certain amount of time will cause them to turn to the council. Refer to point (2) above about not messing with the council.

(4) Finally, you have to deal with rival construction companies, sabotaging their work while they attempt to do the same to you. To put things in perspective: points 1 to 3 above already make for an incredibly challenging game experience, but that’s without considering what an astounding emphasis Constructor puts on playing dirty: you can hire gangs of thieves, thugs and insidious clowns to do your bidding, and an entire tab of the game is dedicated to your dealings with the local mob boss.

This is game attempt number 53. Will it yield victory this time?

This is game attempt number 53. Will it yield victory this time?

How you react to this review is pretty much up to you. If the difficulty level sounds scary and you decide to run in the opposite direction very, very quickly, nobody will judge you for it. If, on the other hand, you’re intrigued by the promise of high complexity, some pretty fine-tuned game balance and all of the fascinating ideas that this title offers … well, Constructor may just be the perfect sim for you. Sure, it’s a punishing experience. And yes, the array of tools you need to use is astounding. But if you’re the sort of person who likes a challenge and gets all twitchy whenever a new management title rears its head, then Constructor really is a must-have. Play it now, and even the council may just show you the slightest glimmer of their approval.

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