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Townsmen VR

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: HandyGames
Release Date: March 24, 2022

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PC Preview - 'Townsmen VR'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 24, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Townsmen VR uses the exciting possibilities of virtual reality to further enhance the classic city-building game with entirely new gameplay experiences and interactive mechanics.

Immersion is a key element of video games. No matter the genre or subject, players want to get lost in a concept, story or world to enjoy the experience. Virtual reality has made advancements in recent years to provide experiences that are beyond what we considered to be "immersive" just a few years ago. While we have certainly seen a number of VR horror titles, some genres are very underrepresented. City-building, simulation and strategy games have not seen a convincing outing on the VR platform, but Townsmen VR may change that.

Technically, Townsmen VR is already "out" as a Steam Early Access title. Developed by HandyGames, the titleis a moderately deep city-building title similar to the Anno and Settler games. We had a chance to check it out at Gamescom, and the game manages to add in a surprising amount of interactivity through a larger-than-life player entity.

Townsmen VR is not (yet) a sandbox game where you build for the sake of building, but rather, it's a mission-driven game with increasingly large islands on which to build civilizations. Stripped of its VR capabilities, the title would still hold up as a well-executed simulation game with simple production chains and buildings. There are farmers, military facilities, stone masons and wood choppers. Your town grows with your ability to meet its basic needs and create supply chains to power its expansion. It's more than a solid representation of the formula, but it excels in letting you play it through a VR headset.

Once you strap yourself in, you tower over the island. From there, your role is to progress, but you don't have to. Townsmen VR is built to be a playground as well as a basic simulation. In this world, you are practically a god, similar to Black & White and other god games of the day. You can build structures and pick up and interact with anything in the world as you please. Assign your townsmen by picking them up and dropping them onto a building. Speed things up by micromanaging your citizen's life and carrying them where they need to go. Put a fish on the grill and roast it yourself. Pet the local town cat. If you want to waterboard your citizens in the local village pond, that's also an option.

You can freely move around the island by resizing yourself using the controllers in a zoom motion, similar to conventional touch-screens, and grabbing/pulling yourself to where you would like to go or spin around. It takes a few minutes to get used to, but it can work very effectively by facilitating game controls while keeping motion sickness to a minimum.

If you're a halfway decent and mentally stable citizen of society, you will pass half of your time in Townsmen VR by throwing people to their certain deaths, and there's no punishment for doing so. I think this would be an excellent way for the game world to recognize your status as a deity, and you can use the power to instill terror or goodness in your townspeople.

There are other ways to interact with the world. For example, turning the wheel of a windmill increases its production. There's also stuff that doesn't serve a purpose (outside of entertainment), like pushing clouds together to create a massive thunderous cloud that emits thunder or diving beneath the island to watch townsmen drown.

VR experiences can feel tacked-on or underutilized, but sometimes, they make sense and bring along a fair amount of fun. Townsmen VR is such a game with a lighthearted character that won't give Anno a run for its money, but it can provide players with a fun experience. Since it's still in Early Access, there will be more structures to build — possibly two to three times more, according to designer Philipp Nägelsbach — and perhaps even a level editor. There's potential depth here that may be added and additional opportunities to mess with a sandbox environment that you literally created with your bare hands. Like building sandcastles and crushing them after a long day at the beach, Townsmen VR is shaping up to be a very exciting gem for VR headset owners.

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