There’s a fine art to making a city-builder, especially one with a post-apocalyptic survival motif. Frostpunk is a stellar example, blending resource management and moral dilemmas into a somber package that isn’t afraid to push you to the limit. It’s hard not to think about it when considering New Cycle, Core Engage’s survival city-builder, especially with their set-ups. Instead of a global freeze, it’s a solar flare wiping out most of humanity, and you’re left to pick up the pieces. Rather than the generator – and outright survival of New London – being a focal point, your job is to improve life for those left behind, re-establish some degree of order and carefully balance everything.
As such, it’s more like a traditional city-builder than one would initially believe. You start with shacks to house people, take in survivors, set up Gathering Camps and Field Camps to harvest resources like meat, mushrooms, wood, iron and stone, and feed the populace – it just keeps spiralling from there.
"New Cycle offers three types of experiences – Sandbox, Campaign and Sanity. Sandbox is supposedly a more chill experience (even though it’s not – more on that in a bit), while Campaign injects more story."
Your people will have more demands, like clothes and access to medicine, and different milestones can pop up, such as storing a certain amount of water and food. However, they can also come forward with dilemmas, whether it’s to provide a day off every week or so, or asking you to keep satisfaction above a certain threshold. Fail, and their morale is affected, which can occur even if you’re not holding to their promises.
Of course, their morale will be affected anyway when a lightning strike destroys a building, a fire breaks out, a sandstorm rolls in, or even when the dreaded solar flares show signs of returning. If they fall sick without access to health facilities, they die off. Survive for long enough, and eventually, a new cycle is unlocked, opening up new technologies and buildings to research and build.
It all sounds typical and would be solid for its early access launch. Unfortunately, several aspects drag the experience of New Cycle down when they’re not adding to the overall frustration. Also, beyond the current premise of simply expanding and advancing your settlement, the game’s scope offers very little that’s fresh or noteworthy. Again, this is an early access release, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re hoping for something more to the experience.
New Cycle offers three types of experiences – Sandbox, Campaign and Sanity. Sandbox is supposedly a more chill experience (even though it’s not – more on that in a bit), while Campaign injects more story. Sanity is a completely different scenario, where you lead a more advanced settlement and have to contend with the appearance of a strange illness. It’s a race against time as you struggle to save the city. Unfortunately, Sanity is locked, presumably until you beat the Campaign.
"I can understand having to make such decisions under duress after a few people die, but being forced into it and giving up resources regardless is annoying."
When jumping into a playthrough, you can also choose different map types. Meadow is the cheery start, with 40 percent increased Morale whenever Spring rolls around, while Steppe has infertile lands that discourage agriculture, high temperatures and scarce water. Regardless of the map type, resources will inevitably dry up, and you need to rely on the stockpile or alternatives to get you through the long Winter. Sickness can also start spreading if your people don’t have access to housing, clean water or clothes, and by the time Spring arrives, you may find yourself dealing with several dead. But don’t worry, as strangers will come by, and more adults will join the ranks. At least, in theory.
People are your main resource, as you assign them to various tasks. Sure, they have needs and are the main backbone of the economy, but you don’t feel particularly attached to them. It also doesn’t help that most decisions don’t incentivize the other choice when it comes to making them happy. Of course, you’re going to select “take more time to train workers into craftsmen” if it means higher chances of the latter being made. Except when you don’t get any craftsmen, and it feels just as worthwhile as taking less time with more risk of the training failing.
Then there are the decisions with the illusion of choice. A destroyer may suddenly pull up into your harbor – a sight thought impossible in this post-apocalyptic landscape. However, not only do they have nothing to offer you, but insist that you help them. Refuse, and they’ll attack an empty space as a warning – understandable, but then you must cede to their demands, regardless.
I can understand having to make such decisions under duress after a few people die, but being forced into it and giving up resources regardless is annoying. It’s even worse when some random person with slaves shows up, and you’re forced to pay him off in materials to set them free. Why couldn’t the entire settlement take him down? Why am I pretty much forced into the transaction?
"Perhaps the most underwhelming part of New Cycle is that even when you get into the groove of building and planning ahead for any possible disaster, it doesn’t offer much to shake up the formula."
The difficulty and tuning, even in Sandbox mode, is also skewed. Despite touting a more chill atmosphere, I still witnessed freshly made mines destroyed by a lightning strike within seconds of being built, high temperatures affecting morale, and a sandstorm further impeding the town’s hope. Don’t even get me started on dozens of citizens dying in one fell swoop due to sickness.
The fact that medicine is so far down the research tree makes some sense from a historical perspective, but the occurrence and scale of sickness to this degree feels completely off-balance. I understand resources like mushroom collecting drying up in the Winter and reassigning workers to other tasks or giving them time off.
However, when people start dropping like flies anyway, the micromanagement feels pointless. The same goes for when fires break out. Even on Sandbox, the buildings are reduced to wreckage nine times out of ten. What’s the point of a full response then and wasting so much water?
Perhaps the most underwhelming part of New Cycle is that even when you get into the groove of building and planning ahead for any possible disaster, it doesn’t offer much to shake up the formula. Lack of content is one thing due to its early access state – it feels like there isn’t a unique hook behind developing the city. Even sending scouts out into the countryside to examine other locations for other resources and trading feels lackluster. Shout out to resetting my trade with a merchant, only to get the same items but with more in stock.
"New Cycle isn’t the worst city-builder out there, but it’s got a ways to go, especially when seamlessly incorporating its survival elements."
Presentation-wise, New Cycle is decent. Viewing most of your available resources at a glance is simple. Even if it doesn’t show everything at once, there are extensive progress reports to check each material. Even if structures tend to blend into the world, you can swap between different views to see which items are being produced where, how many workers are engaged in the activity and more.
It’s also easy to switch between multiple structures of the same type. It isn’t to say the visuals are superior to the genre’s best, but there’s some attention to detail, especially when stopping to observe your people at work. The music, as generic as it can be with its foreboding tones, also isn’t too shabby. The performance is also mostly well done without any major glitches.
New Cycle isn’t the worst city-builder out there, but it’s got a ways to go, especially when seamlessly incorporating its survival elements. Based on the roadmap revealed thus far, interesting features are in the works, though how significantly they affect the gameplay loop remains to be seen. For now it scraps by with its gameplay and little else.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Optimization is good for the most part, with a decent aesthetic and significant attention to detail. Random events and depleting resources keep you on your toes, and once you get into the city-building rhythm, it can be addictive. Interesting premise. The interface is well put together, and allows for seeing active workers, resources and more at a glance.
Disasters and the impact of sickness feel skewed towards overtly punishing the player. Extensive micromanagement and keeping morale up does little to help in that regard. Moral dilemmas feel completely one-sided with regards to the choices. Illusion of choice in some events. Doesn't do enough with its premise (yet) to shake up the standard city-building formula.