According To The Week, a Fine Dennis publication that you really ought to be reading instead of all this childish garbage about computer games, the traditional image of the hairy-defted, wolf-whistling builder is under threat - from the building industry itself. The Construction Industry Board has recently established something called the 'Considerate Constructor's Scheme', designed to encourage labourers to keep the bum cleavage under wraps and the leery yodelling to a minimum. A spokesman said: "It would not be tolerated in any other industry, so why should it be tolerated in construction?"
Quite. Perhaps System 3 had this in mind while creating Constructor, which features hundreds of builders but, as far as we can ascertain, no arsecrack peek-a-boo or sexually indelicate hollering whatsoever. Which is a surprise, because it's got just about everything else. Welcome to a new direction in gaming: the biting social satire 'em up.
Smack my bricks up
Simulations aside, it seems every other game that passes under the Electron Microscope o' Criticism these days represents a jumble of previously unconnected genres. This is a good thing. Check out the roll-call: Hexen II. Dungeon Keeper, Tomb Raider, X-COM Apocalypse... all of them borrow elements from an array of preceding titles.
Constructor performs much the same trick: it represents a kind of head-on car crash between SimCity 2000 and Command & Conquer. Except, unlike a real-life car crash, it isn't a tragic and shocking eruption of twisted steel, flaying skin and great big gobs of bloodied flesh flying around in the air like gooey chunks of watermelon shrapnel. No. It's fun.
The basic object of the game is to create and then nurture a thriving neighbourhood. Building from scratch with a crew of knuckle-dragging workmen, the player is initially limited to constructing basic wooden shacks ready to house those at the bottom of the social ladder. But as progress is made, more complex structures (everything from police stations to Tudor houses) rapidly become available, bringing an influx of increasingly posh types with them. Sustaining a blooming, cosmopolitan community is a matter of carefully balancing the needs of your tenants and the realities of resource management, using whatever tatty organisational skills you have. So that's the SimCity side of things dealt with.
The Command & Conquer aspect is where most of the fun comes in. You're not alone on the playing field: up to four players (or computer-controlled drones) can compete at once. And it's essential that you stick it to the opposition as violently and frequently as possible. To this end, there are numerous dirty tricks waiting to be played, most of them revolving around the manipulation of 'undesirable' tenants. Build a commune, for instance, and it won't be long before a dope-addled hippy takes up residence there. The hippy can then be called upon to harass the opposition's tenants - by holding an impromptu rave in the middle of his most well-to-do district, for example. (And by the way, he is depicted skinning up in a little animation, with Rizla and tobacco in his lap - surely a videogaming first, and something that would be well worth the price of admission alone, were it possible to be 'admitted' to computer games in the first place. Which it isn't. But you see my point.)
The dirty tricks brigade becomes more deranged as the game marches on. Before long there are serial killers (two flavours: leather-masked biker or scary malevolent clown) and paranormal deviants (ghosts, poltergeists, shambling hordes of undcad zombies) at your disposal.
In no time at all, what started out as a relatively soothing exercise in urban planning inevitably descends into a surreal and ruthless all-out fight to the death, with the British suburb as its battleground. It's like a cosy sitcom re-enactment of the Vietnam war.
All human life is here
Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, it gets better. It's funny as well. Constructor's social vision is agreeably cynical and merciless. Almost every character is represented by a gross caricature that's as true to life as it is unfair. The working classes are all string vests, poor grammar, bruises and stubble (and - ho ho! - that's just the women). The middle classes are grey, parsimonious, loveless-marriage types, who read the Daily Moil and spend their days spying on the neighbours or griping about the smallest inconvenience to themselves. The fortunate few who perch atop the social minaret are depicted as being similarly selfish, although their main vices are tiresome eccentricity and high-end corruption. And let's not forget all the incidental sideswipes at skinhead yobs, bikers, burglars, eco-conscious dope-smokers, and even serial killers that crop up along the way. Even the babies are ugly - they wouldn't look out of place on the cover of a Stephen King novel. Furthermore, there's a world-weary logic to many of the game design's most integral principles. For instance, in order to receive new workmen, it's necessary to encourage the lower classes to breed. If you want a gang of skinhead bastards with which to torment your opponent(s), you'll have to erect a depressing concrete tower block or two. And so on.
There isn't enough space to jaw on about all the neat little touches, such as the good-enough-to-eat cartoon simplicity of the in-game graphics, or the inexhaustible supply of mini FMV sequences that endlessly spool into the top right corner of the screen, or the superb sound effects. There isn't even room to expand upon the barest of criticisms - such as the doggedly unintuitive interface or the somewhat ropey AI - but there is just enough time to say this: Constructor is perhaps the most quirky and original game we've seen this year, and if it didn't say System 3 on the box, you'd swear it had come from Bullfrog. Buy it.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode