City planning games are undeniably addictive if done right, but the steep learning curves and abundance of micro-management in some of these games tend to deter a lot of players. However, Concrete Jungle takes a whole new approach to the genre by not only making everything turn-based, but by also incorporating puzzle elements as well. You still have to grow your city while balancing the placement of residential, commercial and industrial buildings, but in a neat twist you have to use a deck of cards to do so.
Instead of presenting you with a large track of empty land, Concrete Jungle focusses on a 6×7 grid. Your goal is to clear the rows by building up the residential point value. For example, if a row requires four points to clear, then two houses worth two points each or four houses worth a single point each will do the trick. However, most buildings affect their surroundings, so putting a factory next to a house can drop the total value of the row instead of raising it. Every structure in the game only takes up a single spot on the grid, but you still have limited space in which to build. Some blocks also feature pre-existing structures, which can make your job even more difficult.
Mastering the basics of Concrete Jungle is straightforward enough, but the game is definitely not as simple as it first appears. It is like the developer threw SimCity, Tetris, Magic The Gathering and Chess in a blender and then added another dollop of addictiveness to the mix just for good measure. Playing the campaign mode, which features a tutorial and plenty of humor, is a must to get the hang of the game. Basically, you construct a deck of cards, which determines which buildings you will have access to during levels. With more than 200 cards, there is plenty of room for strategy, but you don’t have access to everything right off the bat. Instead, you’ll unlock cards as you level up your character and as an added bonus, you’ll also gain access to new characters along the way. That is if you can beat them of course. Don’t think it is going to be a way in the park though, as the AI in this game is actually quite formidable!
Some levels are played solo and your only goal is to reach the point value for each row. Only the first row on the grid disappears when its point value is reached, so it should always be your top priority when playing solo. The row can be forcibly cleared by sacrificing the health of your character, but this can cost you the level if done too much and should only be used as a last resort. When playing against the AI it is not such a big deal as the row will automatically disappear if there are no more empty spots to build on it. This means that in versus matches the emphasis shifts from just reaching the point value, to gaining a higher point value than your opponent. Doing so rewards you with not only your own points, but also whatever points your opponent had in the row.
Although you start out with five cards in your “hand” during each round, only the top two can be used. During versus modes you have to play three cards per turn, which means you have to make each one count. The grid is divided into color coded zones, so you can only place cards in your own zone or in the neutral ones. To keep things fair the first row is always neutral, even if it belonged to you or your opponent before it reached the front. Playing against an opponent, be it human or AI also requires a bit more strategy as you need to decide whether you are going to focus on building up your own zones or disrupt those of your opponent. There is not enough space in this review to describe all the devious tactics that can be employed to mess with your opponents, which just makes things even more addictive.
While each of the 8 playable characters in the game uses the same cards, they all have their own unique skill trees. These skills, as well as additional cards for your deck, are unlocked during levels by placing cards and earning economic points. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword though as cards that generate more economic points also come at a higher “cost.” As the “cost” adds up, so does the point value needed to clear each row, which obviously makes things a lot tougher on the solo levels.
It all sounds very complicated, but the game is addictive enough that even after losing repeatedly you’ll want to get back in and try a new strategy. In addition to the campaign mode you can also set up custom competitive or co-op matches against up to four opponents, human or AI. Unfortunately, the multi-player is local only and not online, but offers a tremendous amount of fun if you can round up enough friends. Quick solo matches enable you to practice your skills and you can also play in “classic” mode, which is like solo, but without the deck building, which means you have to rely on luck instead.
Visually, Concrete Jungle is quite a good looking game with some nicely detailed isometric graphics. There’s plenty of variety when it comes to all the different structures and the game even features different weather effects as well as neat touches like the little cars zipping about in the streets. You can even zoom in for a better look at the buildings, but up close things get a little fuzzy. Concrete Jungle features a great soundtrack with the likes of Saad Ali, D.P. Kaufman, Xerxes and Mokhov providing the tunes. Another unexpected highlight is the fully voiced characters in the campaign mode. The actors did a great job bringing the rather silly characters to life and definitely made playing through the campaign more enjoyable. The controls are intuitive for the most part and the interface very straightforward, but it took me a while to discover that the dialogue can be skipped by holding down the arrow button for a second. (Note: this has been made more obvious after the 1.0.4 update.) In addition to Steam Achievements, Concrete Jungle also features trading cards and leaderboards.
There is no denying that Concrete Jungle is a very addictive game and beneath its cute exterior lies plenty of strategic depth. Some of the opponents in the campaign mode, especially on the “extreme” difficulty levels, wiped the floor with me, but there was always one more strategy to try and this kept me going back for more. Overall, there is very little that can be faulted about Concrete Jungle and it is a must-have title for anyone with even a passing interest in the genre.
- OS: Windows XP or newer
- Processor: Intel Core 2 2.0Ghz or AMD Phenom CPU
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: Direct 3D 9 Compatible Graphics
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Hard Drive: 250 MB available space
- OS: Windows 7 or newer
- Processor: Intel i3 or AMD Phenom II CPU
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: Direct 3D 9 Compatible Graphics
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Hard Drive: 300 MB available space