It’s not often that a game will begin with the members of a town being banished to live out the rest of their days in the wilds away from the kingdom, but, as the title would indicate, that is precisely the starting premise of Shining Rock’s Banished. You start with around 20 citizens (only half or so able-bodied adults), a supply lot, a storage barn, and a handful of supplies and you’re left to your own devices to make a new life for the people of your settlement.
The title is a bit misleading: you won’t be dealing with any political fallout from your banishment or any sorts of ideological differences among the tribe; this game is all about survival. Can you keep your tired band of exiles alive, fed, and productive enough that they can manage to start over properly and build an entirely new community complete with security and infrastructure based on your resource management?
Banished is an absolute time-sink in the best kind of way. Like many good RTS games, I had many moments of “I’m almost done... I’m almost done... I’m going to bed soon... Oh no, is that the sun?” Plus, like many good survival games, there is no 'ending'. The game is over when either your town dies out or you quit to start a new town. There is however an achievement for managing to hit the landmark goal of 300 citizens, so I decided that in order to ever be able to complete a review of the game, that I would consider that my 'ending'. It should be noted that there are also achievements for 600 citizens and for 900 citizens, so my self-imposed goal was far from the most challenging one available, but it still took me roughly 16 hours of gameplay to hit 300 citizens, with the game running at 5x speed for the first half and 10x speed for the second half of my playthrough.
In spite of Banished’s multiple tutorials (which you will need to use), there’s not a ton of hand-holding in the game proper. It took me several rough starts (Townberg, New Townberg, East Townberg, New East Townberg, and West Townberg) before I finally managed to found a town that I could sustain (New New Townberg). If you make a planning error, such as building too many houses - which incites a Baby Boom that diminishes your food supply and outruns your food creation - the game makes you pay for it. There are little yellow headstone icons that show when one of your citizens dies from either starving or freezing (or for various other reasons later in the game), and seeing 6 of those little headstones line up because you’re not cutting firewood fast enough to heat your citizens’ homes can really make you feel for your fictitious people.
One phrase that has been tossed around with Banished is "It’s like Sim City, without the City". I think that a more accurate comparison is that it’s like Kingdom for Keflings without the manual labor. The main focus of this game centers on micro-managing the tasks of your citizens to achieve a particular resource distribution. Need more wood? Make more foresters. Need more people to make foresters? Build more houses. Those new people eating more food? Make more hunters. And on and on down the rabbit hole you fall.
Banished, at the time of this writing, is a bit glitchy. My autosave timer was set to 5 minutes, but I suspect that it wasn't always functioning as intended. Sometimes the music would just start and stop at random. In my experience, somewhere between 1 hour and 2 I could usually expect the game to crash. Actually, it became a pretty fair way to combat those late-night “one more turn” moments. That being said, on the developer website, they note that they’re aware of many bugs and that they are working on getting patches out ASAP. So these glitches may not be a problem for much longer, but I definitely had my fair share of experience with them.
All in all, if you’re into games like the aforementioned Keflings games or the Harvest Moon series, there’s no reason you can’t find hours upon hours to lose in Banished. If survival games aren’t your cup of tea, there is still a lot of fun to be had on a single playthrough. At $19.99, it’s slightly pricier than other indie games of the same ilk, but given how long the game takes to make you feel any sort of success, $20 doesn’t feel like a robbery.
This review is based on a digital copy of Banished for the PC