20 years on, the first thing that Constructor HD made me feel was old. But I was a big fan of the original as a teenager, does this PC classic still hold up though?
Even in 1997, Constructor was pretty unusual in not offering any missions or a structured campaign. Instead, there are a number of different scenarios and win conditions available, which can be played on a number of difficulty settings across any of the potential maps. The game was always pretty complex, mixing the city building elements of SimCity with criminal elements of the original Mafia, whilst also giving you very detailed controls over the individual elements of the lives of the inhabitants of your developments. Thankfully a new tutorial has been added, which takes a pretty astonishing 40 minutes to play through (and even then it doesn’t cover every single gameplay element). It’s voiced by Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, and does a solid job of bringing you (back) up to speed with the game in a more modern way.
Once playing the game against some Easy AI (the original was rock solid), it’s easy to get into the swing of things. Build some factories to get materials, build some houses with the materials, and then get tenants in the houses. Start to breed better tenants, and you can build fancier houses. It all sounds easy, but your tenants will start to complain. Perhaps the nearest factory is too noisy, so you’ll need to research and build double glazing. Or you’ll want procreation to happen faster, so you’ll have to upgrade a bedroom or two.
Added to the complexity is the fact you may get a random zombie or cockroach infestation, and you can also screw over your opponent through the creation of undesirables. I built a Mafia HQ and got my gangster to run riot killing the hippies my opponent was using to squat in one of my properties, for example. Combined with the council missions, which can be quite varied, and there’s soon a huge amount of micromanagement required, and it’s very easy to fail, leading to you getting fired or even killed (both of which are a game over).
There’s plenty of variety, but still, a campaign would go down well. Also, even after a big patch, the game still has numerous achievements which refuse to unlock and the game also crashed to the Xbox home screen on a couple of occasions – it looks like another patch is required to iron out the last few glitches really.
Constructor does offer online play, although with individual games taking hours, it does seem like a stretch that too many matches will actually be played. Certainly I didn’t find anyone else playing across several attempts, so I’m unable to report on the quality of net connections or any matchmaking capability that the game may have.
20 years is a long time, especially in strategy games, which were still largely 2D in 1997 when the original came out. Constructor has received a decent enough makeover, but it’s clearly difficult to do too much without changing the look and feel of the game completely. The FMV scenes are much improved, and still carry some of the same humour, whilst the in-game screens have been tidied and polished as much as possible under the circumstances. You’d never mistake this for a modern game though.
The menus are generally improved, but there are still some interface niggles that are no doubt the result of trying to wrestle with 20 year old UI whilst not offending the biggest fans of the series in the process.
Luckily it’s much easier to bring the audio quality into the 21st century, and whilst some of the speech files have clearly been taken from the original and remastered as much as possible, rather than re-recorded, for the most part, the game sounds much better in 2017.