Dystopika Review (PC) – Build Runner 2049

When it comes to fantasy worlds the likes of which we can only fathom through movies, books or video games, futuristic cyberpunk dystopias have to be right at the top of the list. There’s something just so alluring about the rainswept skyscrapers, shadow shrouded streets and illuminated neon signage that oozes intrigue.

It helps that in most media, these hives of human scum and villainy typically contain all manner of corruption, violence, drug-taking and all manner of cybernetic enhancements. Dystopika, however, strips away all of that micro storytelling and focuses purely on the appeal of the cities themselves. The sole developer of the game describes this as a labour of love born of their travels across Asia, and it shows.

For the measly price of next to nothing at all, you can set upon utilising Dystopika’s relaxing sandbox of city-building tools to create any number of hyper-industrial cities. Does it lead to a compelling experience? Strap in for a destitute time and let’s find out.

You Dissing My Utopia?

Dystopika is very easy to describe, thanks to its simplistic yet wonderfully rewarding handful of systems. You’re provided with a large square plot, a lot of darkness and the ability to start creating neon cities at will. You can set down buildings and upon them, various futuristic advertisements that sci-fi conglomerates would just love. No micro-management needed, no people to worry about, no objectives, markers or even indicators.

Even placing buildings is a doddle. Pick a preset type or randomiser and hit the left button, easy. It was refreshingly easygoing, I found. Dystopika is the kind of game you can slip in-and-out of when you just want a breather from the world. Alternatively, if you’ve decided to take on a more taxing game (looking at you, Shadow of the Erdtree), this is the perfect palette cleanser.

Setting down buildings lets the procedural generation kick in, whereby the game fills out the space around them. Structures will connect via bridges, little houses will pop up next to them, that kind of thing. This allows you to just focus on the aesthetics, deciding where to plop each area to your preference. I also just went full random, combining the massive high-class skyscrapers of New Eden with the rundown depravity of Lowtown.

The way you approach Dystopika will determine a lot about how much you get from it. Expect a deep or complex city-builder and you’ll be disappointed. Treat it as an experiential, laid back, aesthetically pleasing break from reality, you’ll find it hauntingly pleasant. After an hour of tinkering with its options, you’ll have seen basically everything it has right now.

Dystopika review

No Dredd-ing This Photo

The other notable inclusions Dystopika has going for it is both the elaborate photo mode and the couple of futuristic, synth soundtracks you can select. The photo mode has all manner of filters to play around with, camera options to explore and various effects to fine-tune. Trust me when I say I’m not a very creative mind at all, but even I drafted some glorious backdrops to snap.

Kudos to the automatic camera video setting, where selecting two spots using the camera creates a live drone-like video for you. There’s nothing cooler than kitting out a city to your heart’s content and then witnessing the flyover of floating vehicles, beaming signs and towering structures. I probably spent as much time in the photo mode here as I have in every other game combined I’ve ever played.

Secondly, the music is exactly what you’d expect from this kind of visual style. It’s calming, contemplative and compelling. I wish there was more than two, but I also appreciate this is a small indie game made by just one person. We can’t have it all. Even so, it’s easy to imagine sticking Dystopika on, letting your city live freely as you sit back, close your eyes and take in the sounds.

Again, if you’re hoping for something more significant on the gameplay front, you simply won’t find it here. Dystopika is a very specific kind of game for a specific kind of niche. In a lot of ways it’s hard to explain its appeal and doubly hard to review. There’s not a whole lot of content, but the premise of Dystopika is its draw, not the mechanics themselves.

Dystopika review

We Built This City On Synths and Vibes

Much like when I reviewed Spirit City: Lofi Sessions (of which I’ve now “played” 40 hours, by the way…), Dystopika comes with all the same caveats. This isn’t so much a game as it is an interactive piece of art, in a sense. It’s very much what you make of it and its straightforward systems. There are further bits of content planned through the game’s roadmap too, offering even more into the future.

While it’s difficult to recommend to a majority of people owing to its niche target audience, I do think there’s a core concept that’s been wonderfully well-realised here. The time I spent with Dystopika was gratifying and calming, and very few games can truly do that. It’s visually arresting and the sound design is excellent. I do wish there was more, and I suspect that will be many people’s inkling also.

But, if a game can draw me into its photo mode, it’s clearly doing something right. Dystopika is for those who want a laid back, easygoing experience that lets them live out that futuristic, cyberpunk dream. Throw up some skyscrapers, adorn every surface with Corpo advertising and feast your eyes on your creations. It may be a teardrop in the rain, but damn is it a beautiful one.

Created by just a single person, Dystopika distills the essence of the visual appeal of cyberpunk worlds into a small but creative package. What’s here is simple and accessible, even if it feels a bit light in terms of content to play around with. Despite this, it’s hard to deny the inherent appeal of erecting the perfect futuristic metropolis as you kick back and take in the sights and sounds.

Dystopika is available now on PC via Steam (review platform).

Developer: Voids Within
Publisher: Voids Within, UNIKAT Label

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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