Imagine Earth Review

August 5, 2021
Xbox Series
Also on: PC
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if corporations were able to buy licenses to planets? What would you do if you were able to start your own company and take over any licensable planet? Imagine Earth from German developers Serious Brothers wants to put you in that situation. From there it’s a question of whether you’ll exploit the natural resources for profit or work in harmony with the environment. Which way you go will, to some degree, dictate your difficulty and like any world-building strategy game it’s a question of balance. 

The campaign mode is where most of the meat is and sees you starting off as a newly hired member of the Imagine Earth Ltd. team. The first planet you’re asked to manage is effectively the tutorial solely there to teach you the basics. From there, each new planet you take ownership of will present you with new problems and some new abilities. They will also challenge your ability to micromanage your colonies. It’s pretty standard fare as each colony needs power and food as well as goods to produce that you can sell. Like many strategy games you don’t start with everything and to unlock upgrades you’ll need to research them or, if you’re feeling flush with money you can buy tokens from passing traders to license the technology.

The planet isn’t on fire, honest!

This licensing concept also extends to the types of buildings you can create. Before you start colonising a new planet you will need to license at least one of each type of building. Some are pre-selected allowing you to use some of the excess tokens on other areas but every colony must have a colony type (where people live), infrastructure (like warehouses), food production, goods production and power. Each sub-item will have different attributes and effects on not just your colony but the planetary environment at large. For example, oil power plants can produce a lot of power but, if unmaintained, can lead to oil slicks that can damage the local waters and, if you use fishing for food, reduce the yields. They will also produce pollution which can cause environmental catastrophes such as tornados or desertification. 

On the other hand you could put your tokens into greener technologies such as wind power, organic farms and recycling plants. These can have less effect on the environment and, if balanced with other more environmentally friendly building types, actually yield a net-positive environmental impact. Both gameplay strategies have their positive and negative attributes. If you mine your planet for everything that it’s worth you can earn lots of credits which can allow you to buy shares and even take over rival factions. This is less important during the campaign mode, as it’s more challenge-based, but becomes another point of control that you have to be aware of. You can sell these shares to generate revenue but once you do you have to pay your shareholders dividends. It’s an easy way to make money but can be quite risky if things start to go awry.

The building animations are quite nice to watch

The campaign mode takes you through six different planets and along the way you’re battling against other corporations who have profit in their sights. You and your team on the other hand still want to make money but not at the expense of the planets you land on or their inhabitants. This environmental and sustainability message runs deep within the narrative. Using gaming as a medium to open the discussion is compelling though it’s a little light on the details. Given our own impending battle with environmental changes caused through human intervention it’s important that those wishing to combat climate change use what tools and mediums at their disposal to highlight the consequences of profit and progress at the expense of everything else. Imagine Earth highlights the basics in the hope that the player can fill in the gaps and start asking the questions. It’s commendable and whilst it may rub some gamers the wrong way Serious Brothers are doing their part and we very much respect that.

With the campaign taking around twelve hours or so to crunch through you’ll likely head towards competition next. Here, like in many civilization building games, you’ll take on AI players in an effort to meet the win conditions with the first corporation getting there being declared victorious. It’s here that the economic strategy really comes into play as, if you can manage the capital, taking shares in rival corporations can not only lead to taking them over but dividends from their profits. More money in your kitty allows you to research new technology but also to buy licenses and, if you want to be sneaky, technologies that can help you sabotage your rivals.

Zoomed in, colonies and biomes look unique and varied

If, however, you just want to kick back and chill — and Imagine Earth can be great for relaxing gaming sessions — you can kick off the endless mode and just see where things go. You can still run your planet into the ground if you want to but we found things were peak Zen if you worked towards a green and sustainable colonisation. If we were to nitpick it would be nice to see the ability to change building types or themes depending on the type of planet or reflecting some of the more advanced technologies you research along the way. The sound could also do with some bug fixing as we often had the dialogue cut out and then not return and at one point had a sound clip bug out and repeatedly play until we restarted the game. 

Aside from those minor issues and a campaign that might be too short for some, Imagine Earth is a solid civilization builder with well thought out mechanics and solid controls for the console. It also has a message that underpins its entire campaign mode which, while a little light, touches on things just enough that one hopes it will spark just a few gamers to take it seriously. We live in interesting and challenging times with much of what is going on in the world predicted years ago by those with uninteresting sounding job titles. Whether or not a gaming title such as Imagine Earth can do anything to aid the battle against climate change is debatable but the fact that Serious Brothers is willing to try is fantastic to see and lends much to the argument that games are much more than just a distraction.

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Whilst you can argue Imagine Earth doesn’t necessarily do anything new, its use of its campaign to send out a message of sustainability with one’s own environment sets it apart. It may not scratch the itch of hardcore Anno style players but if you’re in the market for a relaxing world builder with a solid art style and gameplay mechanics, Imagine Earth fits the bill comfortably.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.