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Urbek City Builder – Review

City Builders come in many shapes and sizes and with Cities Skyline being often the benchmark for the genre, going about things differently to emphasis a different way to build is a wise choice. Urbek City Builder does just that. It’s a voxel based builder that feels similar to a block puzzle game in the way how things work. It drip feeds lots of ideas and decisions to the player as you move from a few wooden huts to a sprawling urban metropolis. Every decision has immediate consequences.

Each grid square is growing up based on your decisions and its lovely to watch it grow infront of your eyes.

Firstly, there’s no money in Urbek. Your entire progress in this game is down to balancing resource chains to ensure that each social demographic of your town can be sustained or grow. Initially that means wood for builder, then electricity for power and the ability to have a job at some skill level. However, happiness begins to weigh heavily on your population as you expand. Want a new development to turn something from a shanty town to a downtown area, add in some green space. Need some social housing to become more comfortable? Place access to leisure, food and healthcare within a certain grid radius. This micromanagement of building type placement and resource function is the backbone of Urbek and its why it feels more puzzle like than other games in this genre.

The beauty in all of this is that so long as you keep resources in the positive, generating more than you use, you are free to shape your city how you like. This has huge socioeconomic impacts as sometimes, in order to progress to unlock the next upgrade of housing, business or industry, you’ll need to place workers into less comfortable living conditions. Pollution is a no-no for the middle class. You can’t have the uni students choking on the coal mine. Equally your coal mine housing will never produce any children that can go to university. Urbek’s social demographic work is intrinsic to city progression and so you’ll be making people rich, poor or workhorses. All of this is made clear but excellent UI that brings all your resources to your fingertips and clicking on any building shows its upgrade path and what is required.

The UI keeps you constantly updates with resources, happiness, population counts and what a selected building uses, consumes and can be upgraded to. There’s also views for terrain and hot keys for highlighting building types.

Often population count is a gate for progression to reach the big city heights. As you fill out a map, this will force you to get creative and think of new ways to be efficient with space. This reminds me of how upcoming nature creator game Terra Nil works. Each grid space has needs to be met and so building a city centre requires thought from the outset or decisive building all at once. This is because as soon as a need isn’t being met, you have a very short time before the building is abandoned. The city also adapts to how well you’ve balanced other needs like transport links. If you don’t place down enough bus stops, buildings will turn into car parks, thus limiting population growth. To run the busses, you’ll need power and workers and so there is a ying and yang to every action you take. This also carries forward to law making. Every 6 months in game you can change an edict. You can increase education at the cost of lower skilled workers and more power. You can incentivise certain businesses, residents or services but each will have an opposite effect elsewhere. It’s all about balance. The biggest balancing act is resources and efficiency. I found especially when social housing became available and citizens were moving in en mass, you could easily find yourself in a spiral of upgrading food or power that quickly gets eaten up by new tenants or upgrades. It stops you steamrolling ahead and makes you be a bit more thoughtful about your next steps.

If you’ve made your way to urban roads and tower blocks, you’ve done some amazing efficiency and placement work!

Urbek is a joy to play. You can drop down into the world and walk around it like Metropoloismania. Seeing your voxel world moving around is a great incentive to see your actions translate into Urbek world outcomes. The tutorial for the game is excellent too, constantly drip feeding new ideas and mechanics – walking you through all the progression systems. A city will take hours to develop. I was five hours in when I was laying down solar panels and wind turbines in an attempt to become a clean city and I still wasn’t close to the almighty city centre buildings you can get later down the line. It is utterly engrossing to play and with additional map sizes, biomes, level sizes, water layouts and terrain formations to be generated for each time you play, Urbek has tons to offer.

It doesn’t happen often that a game utterly captivates me from the start up of a fresh new game. I started my first go on this at the weekend, feeling under the weather with covid. I was still playing 5 hours later, into the early morning and I have zero regrets. This is an excellent game and even better – it just seems to work straight out of the box too. Highly, highly recommended.

Urbek City Builder
Final Thoughts
A top tier city builder that drip feeds tons of decisions and options for you to shape your city any way you want it. Engrossing.
Complex resource chain management instead of purely financial bottom line drives your progress.
Complex social systems playing out as a voxel city builder puzzler shows that your choices have immediate consequences.
Being able to walk around your city is cute and fun.
Lots of upgrade/downgrade trees to explore.
Map size, laws and biomes alter the difficulty curve and the problems you face, making each playthrough feel different.
The nature of voxel graphics means the game is in a grid format and that may not appeal to some (didn't bother me though).
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