Is it worth setting out to re-establish your Peeps amongst the stars in Before We Leave on Switch? The Finger Guns Review.
Is there anything more soothing than a laid back, chilled and relaxing city builder to play on a sunny afternoon? Place your little kingdom’s buildings, watch your subjects swell around doing their jobs and gathering resources. Carefully look after their needs, ensure their happiness and appreciate your ever expanding base. Before We Leave is another comforting entry into the city building genre that brings with it a cozy atmosphere and an accessible yet surprisingly complex layer of systems to live out your inter-galactic dreams of cooperating cities.
I’d picked up on the game previously on both Steam and PS5, yet I’d never taken the plunge, unsure of its quality. Well, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy for review for Nintendo Switch. The big question then becomes whether a genre usually more suited to keyboard and mouse can translate at all effectively on a small handheld device. Well, let’s set up camp and see if Before We Leave can entice you to hang around.
Have A Peep At This
Before We Leave has you in charge of Peeps, little rotund figures who rely on you for guidance and pretty much everything needed for survival. The planet they emerge upon has been ravaged by a previous catastrophe and it’s your job to help the now fledging remnants of their people recover and thrive as a society once more. You begin on a single plot of land on your first planet, requiring you to set up food production, housing and resource collection. If you’ve been intimidated by the complex nature of some city management sims, you’ll feel much more at home here, as Before We Leave has a smooth introduction and little risk involved from the off.
It suits the style of play for something like the Switch, where you can hop in and not have to fear screwing up an entire campaign or city by a couple of bad decisions. You’ll notice as you expand your Peep’s operations you’ll need to be adding more of each element to maintain a thriving community. Initially, working with wood is enough, but then to access stone or iron you’ll need quarries, requiring more Peeps which means more housing and more food and so on, so forth. It’s a common loop of the genre and Before We Leave gets the balancing pretty spot on to make it easy to grasp but enough to keep you engrossed.
The map is laid out in a simple fashion with hex grids to guide where you place structures or set down roads. Buildings take up 1-3 hexes and it’s quick and smooth to place things down, with a prompt to help you figure out if a building doesn’t belong and why. Peeps need roads to move around efficiently and buildings must be attached to a road. Initially, your first island will have plenty of space but as you expand you’ll need to carefully consider how you place your roads and buildings. I would have liked a means of placing buildings first and then making a road to attach to it, but as it is you have to do the roads first but it’s a minor inconvenience.
Time For Expansion
Helping your Peeps establish the basics for existing is only the tip of the post-catastrophe iceberg however. The true core of Before We Leave comes when you begin expanding your civilisation and helping them modernise. On each island, you’ll set up explorer’s huts to gather ancient technologies (split into multiple colour varieties like red, blue, purple etc) which allows your Peeps to research societal improvements. You may want to learn how to start mining or establish farming for producing cotton for clothing. Eventually, you’ll even be looking towards spaceflight, housing and clean energy.
Before you can start that process of researching however, you may only have one type of technology available on your current island, or even planet. Consequently, the main campaign is really proficient at gently guiding you to venturing out to new territories to find new types of technology and resources. It’s a streamlined way of pushing you out of your comfort zone while simultaneously rewarding you with new upgrade options and opportunities.
There are a couple of bottlenecks that slow down the pace of your expansion which can be a little frustrating. Towards the middle and late-game, you’ll be expected to significantly expand your operations across multiple islands and multiple planets, requiring a lot of micro-management for resource trading. Giving the player an opportunity to consolidate is always a positive, but the requirements of a couple of the advancements can be quite demanding, requiring too much down time waiting for resources to be gathered and sent where needed.
The research tree is impressively developed though and each new improvement feels valuable. Once your populations reach certain thresholds your Peeps will start to expect more from their quality of life, meaning you’ll need to go all out to provide fountains, different food types and even entertainment through music or museums. So bougie. Having so many inter-connecting systems working so well is a key reason for why Before We Leave feels so nice to play, with just a couple of sections having too slow a pace.
Weather The Galactic Elements
You might be forgiven for thinking Before We Leave might be a bit too easy then, potentially. In a way, it is. By design it’s very accessible, easy to follow and quick to get into. On the other hand though, it’s a got a lot of factors to accommodate and account for, especially once you begin your galactic adventures via spaceflight. On each planet, different islands will have various weather factors to account for. Snow or desert covered landscapes are limited in space for farming, while a forest island may turn hostile if you cut down too many trees to make way for your blossoming empire.
More pertinently, are the space whales. These gigantic, earth-shattering creatures will appear in your mid-game and start to visit your Peep’s long-established cities, only to consume buildings and leave a trail of destruction behind. Firstly, their appearances are significant events in the game and they’re a sight to behold as they glide by your planet. Secondly, they can ravage important parts of your settlements, leaving you scrambling to recover resources to repair them.
Consequently, trade is all-important in Before We Leave. I found myself setting out certain islands or planets with certain roles – the mining island, the farming and food resource area, the modern living space and the like. You can set up trade routes via sea between islands and via spaceship between planets. The interface here does the job and while it can be a little clunky, it works fundamentally. A few times the icons for different things looked a bit too similar, meaning I was sending good fabric to my frozen Peeps on Planet 2 instead of good clothing, but that’s probably more fool me.
The one issue that does affect the enjoyment, particularly when trying to organise a massive amount of trade across a multitude of planets, is the loading times. On Switch, every time you want to switch planet or view the galactic screen, you’ll sit through a couple of loading screens. It’s nothing horrendous like say Bloodborne was, but it’s long and frequent enough by the late-game it can be off-putting when you need to quickly switch between various trade routes or manage crises facing Peeps on another world.
On Switch, I felt Before We Leave played pretty well whether docked or handheld. Aside from a problem with stick drift causing the aiming reticule to bounce wildly around quite often (which is a hardware issue, not the game), it looked homely when on the TV. It lost a slight edge to it graphically when between my hands, but it has an art style that suits Nintendo’s hardware. Buildings and peeps look nice, if a little homogenous making it difficult to discern say the library from a house, while zooming out to see the vast expanse of space around your Peeps’ fledging life is pretty cool.
There’s a calming soundtrack that plays in the background, shifting to different notes depending on what island you’re on or what you’re currently zoomed in on. It adds to the charming appeal and it never felt annoying despite it repeating, which is a real success. The noise it makes when a space whale appears is suitably unnerving too, no doubting something bad is happening when it pops up unexpectedly.
Outside of the main campaign which has 5 difficulties to tinker with, there’s also 4 separate scenarios which will test your understanding of the mechanics and ability to manage your Peeps. The complete chaos of starting with 1000 Peeps immediately or exploring the prequel scenario of what caused the galactic collapse requiring your Peeps to shelter underground help flesh out the atmosphere of the game while also providing added replayability and challenge. Of course, your mileage with a city management sim is dependent on how willing you are to start from scratch and test yourself with increasingly difficult variables.
The hours I spent building up my Peep’s civilisation and enclave however was thoroughly enjoyable and while I had a couple of occasional issues with the reticule freezing requiring a reload or having to up the game speed to 4x to wait out gathering an inordinate amount of resources, I was smiling and chilling along often. Like a bowl of good soup on a cold winter’s day, it just warms the heart.
Ready For Lift Off
Before We Leave works surprisingly well on the Nintendo Switch and it’s a game worthy of your time if you appreciate city building sims. The controls are neatly woven in and its design lends itself well to analogue sticks and button inputs. It’s the kind of experience you can enjoy lying in bed, on the couch or even on the bus in handheld mode and with its utterly serene atmosphere you’ll be able to enjoy a calming time.
As an actual city builder, it has some issues with loading times, momentum halting roadblocks that go on just a bit too long and some minor inconveniences with how you can set down structures and micro-manage burgeoning trade lines. Yet, all of these felt like issues that could be relatively overlooked for a competent and deep civilisation expansion experience.
Before We Leave isn’t the best in the genre and it’s probably still best played on a keyboard and mouse, but it has made the jump to Switch impressively well and I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to test it out. The sight of a space whale looming over my poor first planet will stick with me for quite a time, I have to say.
Before We Leave is a comforting and accessible city building simulator that will entice and equally challenge you. The momentum occasionally stutters and micro-managing your ever-expanding cities can be a pain at times, but your Peeps will never cease to entice you back in. Helping this fledging society of tiny cute figures colonise islands and planets from neanderthal to fully-developed modern society is a fundamentally lovely experience. Saving them from space whales is certainly tough, but it’s also a wholesome, worthwhile endeavour.
Before We Leave is available now on Nintendo Switch (review platform), PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Balancing Monkey Games
Publisher: Team 17
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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