Ever since I previewed Project Highrise back in 2016 I’ve been curious about what the finished product would actually turn out like. The idea of constructing and managing a tower that can stretch both vertically and horizontally felt a bit daunting at first, but after just a few minutes of playing, it’s clear to see what developer, SomaSim, is going for. Project Highrise is a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy, removing the stressful intricacies of traditional tower building sims, while providing enough of a challenge to keep players engaged.
This game has been harshly criticised by hardcore fans of the genre in the past, with many complaints focusing on the linear limitations that Project Highrise imposes on its players. While players have some level of freedom when it comes to constructing their skyscrapers, many units are locked off at the beginning of a new playthrough with more advanced units and services requiring players to meet specific criteria before being able to place them. For the most part, these requirements seem justified. If you want a fancy Law firm operating in your building then adding a few more restaurants certainly isn’t out of the question. Likewise, if you’re charging high rent for luxurious apartments, you should have to consider building standard facilities such as laundromats and package delivery services. Starting a brand new playthrough will require you to build a similar set of offices, restaurants and basic amenities to kickstart your tower each time, which means that you’ll have to work hard for a while before you can add the units you want. Not only does this lengthen your playthrough with each skyscraper by giving you a goal to work towards, but it also prompts you to diversify your building along the way.
Speaking of goals to work towards, players looking for a little more guidance can always turn to Contracts, a quest you take on to improve your tower while generating some greatly-needed cash. These become more challenging, as you progress. Similarly, as you continue to improve and expand your tower, you’ll accumulate more ‘Buzz’ – a currency that can be used to run media campaigns that’ll boost various industries that you may have set up in your tower for short periods of time. Both Contracts and Buzz serve to remind you that while you’re in control of how your building is constructed, there are additional ways to ensure its success.
As I mentioned earlier, the UI is very clean and simple to use, making these mechanics very easy to navigate. Having played this game on PC only, I’m happy with how natural all of the controls feel, making construction quick and easy to complete. It only takes a few moments to familiarise yourself with all of the tools available and the more specialised services are exactly where you’d expect them to be. In addition, the tutorials included strike a nice balance between showing players the ropes and not being unnecessarily lengthy so I highly recommend hopping into those before starting your first playthrough.
While I haven’t played Project Highrise on console, I’d be reluctant to try it. Every control on PC is optimised perfectly for a mouse (and keyboard, if you prefer using both) and I can imagine that certain actions that you can perform very quickly on PC, would be a lot slower on a controller. That said, this game is also available on iOS and may be interesting to try using touchscreen controls.
Despite how rewarding it is to build up a skyscraper from scratch, juggling various industries and services along the way, there’s one aspect of Project Highrise that stopped it from demanding my full attention when playing. Near the beginning of each playthrough, or even just times when I was strapped for cash, I found myself hitting the fast forward button and wishing the rest of the day away so that I could collect rent and continue making improvements to my building. There are three time settings (Standard Speed, High Speed and Pause) but I found that I spent the majority of my time on High Speed mode.
While a number of problems can arise as a result of tenants demands, maintenance issues or lack of resources, (including random events that can be enabled before you begin a new save) the Standard speed felt a bit too slow considering how much of the game is automated. Maintenance workers spring to action as soon as lifts break without any need for direction and once you unlock the larger maintenance room, you can also automate repairs. This saves you having to continuously click on individual spaces, meaning that the only time you really have to pay attention is when a red, angry face pops up, signalling tenant dissatisfaction. In these cases, the amount of time you’re given to rectify a situation seems slightly too short. While rent adjustments take a few seconds (with you dragging a slider between a few set amounts), building new facilities takes considerably longer. In a number of instances, I found that my construction staff took too long to install the services requested by tenants, which often resulted in them vacating the building just before it was ready. This can take a real toll on your financial situation if it occurs too many times, ruining your run.
The most challenging aspect of Project Highrise is keeping yourself afloat in the early game, when the population of your tower is low. Borrowing money from the bank or signing up for a credit card make this a lot easier to handle and as long as you don’t extend yourself too far, you’ll be able to repay those loans relatively quickly. From my experience, once your building is established, financial stability becomes less of a worry as your income will greatly exceed your outgoings. Bearing this in mind, Easy and Normal mode are manageable, leaving a large margin for error that you can easily recover from. Medium ramps up the difficulty significantly, whereas Hard mode will punish you for every minuscule mistake. If you’re not particularly excited about creating something from scratch, you can also head into the Scenario mode, which will place you in a less than ideal situation and ask you to reach a specific goal. Again, these range from Easy to Hard difficulty so you can work your way up as you learn more about the game.
Overall Project Highrise is a solid tower-building sim that thankfully isn’t too complicated. It’s something that’s accessible to everyone, while still feeling detailed enough to make you feel as though that you’ve personally accomplished something. Parts of the game may feel a bit slow where you may just be hanging around waiting for the next day’s rent however, with so many units and services to unlock, if you’re serious about playing you’ll be spending a fair few hours in this game.