May 20, 2024
A Zen-like experience, Model Builder recreates much of what is pleasant about building a model but the content isn’t there to maintain its longevity. The Finger Guns Review.

A Zen-like experience, Model Builder recreates much of what is pleasant about building a model but the content isn’t there to maintain its longevity. The Finger Guns Review.

“I’d love to spend more time making models” I always tell myself whenever I wonder around a model shop or the Games Workshop. This is always followed by a lie I like to tell myself – “…If only I had the time”. It’s not time I’m short of when it comes to model building. It’s money and talent. I don’t have the cash to splash on air brushes, paints of every colour, the models themselves and the wealth of tools that some folks have. Even if I did have all of this to hand, I doubt my creations would be very good. My last Warhammer 40K Space Marine army looked like it had been painted by my 4 year old. I’m always a little too heavy handed with the paint, losing that fine detail. It’s my issue and I’ve made peace with it.

These issues are some of the reasons I was so enamoured by Model Builder when I played it at EGX 2021. For people like me who lack the time (lie), skill or cash to make model building a hobby, this game felt like a godsend. Instead of having to put down sheets of newspaper, get all the paints out, Stanley Knife the bits out of the spurs, make a mess with the glue, stick it all together while attempting to not stick your hands together and finally paint your model, probably poorly, I can boot up the PC and do it all virtually. If I make a mess of the model – no problem. I can simply start again.

Having finally got my hands on the release version of Model Builder, I can confirm that it’s exactly what I hoped it would be – only not as vast as I dreamed it could have been.

The Glue That Binds

Model Builder is made possible by a pretty incredible toolset. This series of tools can either allow you to follow instructions to the letter to make the most accurate recreation of the intended model or unchain your creativity to let you go wild with your construction.

No matter which game mode you’re playing in, the process begins by choosing a model. These range of 30+ models in the game swing from those with just a few pieces that can be pieced together in seconds right through to 150+ piece models that are incredibly intricate and time consuming. The challenge of these models is not necessarily in the construction – to put pieces together, you simply have to move the correct piece from your inventory over the coloured silhouette of where they should be. So long as you’re looking at the surface you need to glue, it’s always relatively simple to build a model.

Instead, the difficulty of building comes in the detail of their instructions. The larger the number of pieces, the more the game infers within the instructions without displaying it explicitly. For example, to build a ship, the first instruction is about the colour you’re supposed to apply to a cannon, made out of 2 pieces that the game expects you to put together yourself without instruction.

Painting The Town Red… and Black and Green

Either at the end of, and often during your build, you’ll get the opportunity to paint your model. The painting tools in Model Builder are its biggest strength. They’re incredible. Whether you’re attempting to create an exact replica of what the instructions say to do or colour your own way, these painting tools allow you to do almost anything you can do in real life but with half as much effort.

This begins with a base coat. You can apply this yourself using a paint brush fill tool that’ll paint a whole section instantly but Model Builder will often give you the option to complete this with a click of a button for the whole model. To add finer detail, there’s then a suite of other painting tools to use. The airbrush is the most useful. You can use this to spray a colour on to your model with different sized nozzles with whatever opacity you decide to use. There’s also a dry brush and wash option to highlight details. Unlike in real life, if you make a mistake, you’re not going to lose detail by painting over your creation multiple times here. You can even use a solvent rub to remove the paint you’ve already applied.

With practice and progress, there’s some more advance tools you can use to really nail the look of your model. To make those joins invisible, you can use plastic putty alongside sandpaper and nail files to make the join totally smooth. There’s effects and patterns you can apply directly to your model and you can even polish matt paints to make them shiny. Want to give that cloak on your warrior model a wet look? That’s how you do it.

As a suite of creation tools, Model Builder makes a lot of the model building steps intuitive to use with very little effort. Almost everything is point and click to use – point there, click to airbrush for example – and the results can be really impressive.  While the tools are simple to use however, many of the models feel like an investment. Many of the models will take hours to put together and paint properly. Following the instructions and ensuring everything is as designed can result in some beautiful models that feel like something to be proud of.

A Career In Modelling

Model Builder has 2 main game modes – A Sandbox mode and a Career mode. The former is exactly what it sounds like. Here you get to choose any of the models from the range and let your creativity go wild. There’s no requirement to stick to the instructions here – you can paint your chosen model in whatever hue you like. You can get as garish as you like with all of the tools in the game right from the off. I certainly did.

The Career mode is at the centre of the Model Builder experience. Here you take the role of a novice model maker who’s been left his Grandfathers model workshop after his death. A structured mode that guides you through the use of the many tools in this game one by one, the Career mode acts as both a tutorial to the whole gamut the game has to offer and a loose progression system and story to follow. As you progress through the Career mode of Model Builder, you’ll receive emails from prospective clients asking you to build things for them as well as breadcrumbs that lead you through your Grandfathers movie prop modelling history. It’s a cool hook that keeps you engaged between models.

In both of these modes, you get the opportunity to show off your creations once you’re finished. If you’re particularly happy with one of you models, you can put them in display cabinets for prosperities sake. There’s also posing and photo abilities where you can take a snap of your model in front of an appropriate background. Made yourself a dragon warrior? Pop it on a cool background and take a photo to share on social media. It’s these kinds of elements that make you want to really try with these models.

In the career mode, that goes a step further. Here you’re judged out of 5 stars on the quality of your model building. The building element is judged out of 5 and the painting is judged out of 5 too. If you’ve followed all of the steps and have painted every elements that’s required, you’ll get a perfect score and likely a model you can be proud of. This judgement isn’t entirely accurate – if you slop the paint on wildly, it’s still possible to get a near perfect score – but it is another motivating factor within the Career mode that encourages you to do your best.

Some Assembly Required

It’s during the Career mode where the biggest shortcoming of Model Builder starts to become apparent. There’s not enough content. Unless you’re building an army for a table top game, there’s little to no fun in building and painting the same model over and over. Repetition starts to set in within the Career mode after a few hours and you’ll find yourself redoing the same models for different clients that have emailed you. In one example, I painted a female warrior figure in order to submit to an auction and then the very next email I opened asked me to build a female warrior again. I’d say there’s at least 15 hours’ worth of content here if you’re building each model from scratch and take the time to complete the finer detail. The game attempts to stretch that out further during the campaign mode and it doesn’t work out as well as it does simply creating fresh, uncompleted models one after another.

Since release, Model Builder has expanded its library of models significantly. New models from Titan Forge Games have been added and now there are exclusive figures from Frostpunk available as free DLC. If this stream of content continues, as has been promised by the small Polish team at Moonlit, there’s real potential that this game could rival the best in the “… Simulator” genre.

That potential doesn’t feel fully tapped right now though. The tools and systems in place within Model Builder are undoubtedly fantastic but it feels like there’s plenty more scope for models and model themes. I imagine it’s a licencing and trademark minefield for Moonlit, trying to dance around the likes of Airfix, Tamiya, Italeri and the rest of the modelling market who might see this game as a threat. If they can team up with one of these manufacturers or craft their own versions of models not here right now – rockets, classic cars, etc – I can see Model Builder becoming a really incredible game. It’s just not there right now.

Right now, Model Builder is still compelling with Zen, almost therapeutic game play in the same vein as Power Wash Simulator and House Flipper. It just lacks longevity. There’s every chance that’ll change moving into the future and new content is added. For now though, there’s a good chunk of content to keep you going that more than makes up the asking price.

Model Builder’s powerful suite of building and painting tools enable calming and creative game play that makes a potentially tricky hobby very accessible. There’s oodles of potential here but some of that remains untapped as of yet. Future DLC and updates will hopefully tap into that and extend the game’s longevity.

Model Builder is available now on PC via Steam.

Developer: Moonlit
Publisher: Green Man Gaming

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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