FreeMind’s House Builder is a fun, interesting take on a construction simulator. You play as a one-man construction crew traveling worldwide, taking on construction projects. With each project, you follow the mission steps to build various houses successfully. Along the way, you get snippets of information on why you are doing what you are doing, giving you insight into local traditional construction techniques. Slowly, over 45 minutes to an hour and a half per construction project, you build, forage, or buy construction resources to slowly assemble a house. It’s a surprisingly massive game with more construction projects than I was expecting.
Great Construction Leads To A Comfy House
On the whole, the game is an extremely well-designed and enjoyable experience. One of the most significant tripping points for most simulation games is the balance between the number of tasks a player needs to take on, the difficulty curve, and the added details. House Builder nails that. You start the game by carving ice blocks to build an igloo. Just as it gets annoying, you gain an upgrade on the skill tree and can now harvest multiple at a time.
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Then you get stronger, enough to carry an entire palette of bricks, and then you get faster. With these little gameplay tweaks, House Builder helps alleviate the monotony of the repetition, allowing the game to become meditative and addictive instead. There is just enough detail so that you feel like you are accomplishing something, even if you follow a literal blueprint.
All that detail is also amazingly rendered into a gorgeous game. The game features a lot of different projects around the world, and each project showcases a decent amount of the country/locality in question. Whether it accurately represents a neighborhood in Saudi Arabia, Mount Fukushima in the distance, or the rainforest, each location is alive and immersive. Even better is how the construction techniques of each area are represented. You have to complete either as a manual task or a finished piece you have to install. You get to see the basics of how Japan uses wood joining rather than nails in their construction while also using the latter to create strong foundations in the West. Once you get into the game, it’s these little details that got me opening the next project and trying new things,
There Are Cracks In The Woodwork
Despite so many different projects (levels) at full release, it’s clear which might have been the original. They were the levels with the most tasks and challenges and custom elements like location-specific music. For instance, it took me an hour and a half to build the early-level Trapper log house, as compared to the 45-minute Arab house much later. The tasks I had to do with the first were way more interesting and challenging than those at the latter level. Even though the latter had additional elements like a swimming pool and a bower. That being said, this doesn’t detract from the game. Most of my thoughts in this section are nitpicky, looking for perfection in an indie title because I want them to improve.
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I mention it because some features were very distracting, especially with how organized the construction is. A silly one was the dimensions of the houses we were building. Since I was spending so much time building the structure, I was thrown off by how ‘unplanned,’ the buildings seemed to be. The dimensions of the rooms, especially when compared to the character, were all very small. Additionally, as much as I was glad that I did not have to grout tiles and that my concrete dried instantaneously, I was thrown off by any lack of mention of other key elements of construction. These are the elements that make a house livable, like electrical, plumbing, or even fixture installment. I do know that the skill tree has some, yet unlocked, upgrades related to painting, so I am holding out hope that the structures will eventually get finished with a coat of paint.
Some Foundational Issues Need Some Reworking
Any task that engages the game’s collision outside of construction is an immediate annoyance. When you can’t add something to your inventory, you must grab it and manually move it. I don’t expect them to pass through items, but I wasn’t expecting them to fly out of my hands, either. In one instance, the beam just ceased to exist. Let’s not even get into the hard-to-drive vehicles. One particularly memorable moment with the backhoe had me spinning through the world. Then, there was the time that the tractor reset itself onto the roof. Every time I had to use the mower, there was an earthquake. Thankfully, everything could be reset, and nothing so far has been a game-breaking glitch.
This brings me to my second concern. This game has some camera instability. For most players, it might not ping on their radar. However, as a person who gets motion sick, I had to walk away a few times before I could finally find the camera sensitivity setting that did not give me a headache to accompany my nausea. So, every moment of collision issues was made all the more dramatic for me as they were nauseating.
The biggest issue is that mission tasks aren’t clear, a surprising twist in a game all about detail. None of the construction or foraging resources are named outside the shop. Even then, sitting on pallets, they look very different from the icons in the store. So, if you need to buy something or figure out what a resource is, you will need to pick it up to see the icon in your inventory.
Additionally, some tasks come with wording or names that you haven’t encountered in the game before. If you try to consider the help screen, all you get are generic help videos that aren’t always helpful. Where some of their tutorial elements are a win, the rest is just difficult to figure out, requiring you to do a fair amount of trial and error.
This vagueness also infects the UI. The skill tree is kind of insane to look at, but you don’t need to since upgrades are automatic. It does get confusing with other screens where elements aren’t always a standard size or color. I still get confused between the prices and the amounts to be purchased within the store.
Building A Decent World
Despite the annoyances with the game, it is still a lot of fun to play. It hooked me in, and I can’t deny that I am so curious to see what other levels I can unlock. It is a great thing that the missteps are more of an annoyance than game-breaking. This is a sim game that is worth trying out. Just remember, you don’t have to worry about the fauna, and you can sell all those excess accidental purchases by dumping them in the bin.
|Amazing levels with beautiful art
|A lot of annoying and nauseating collision issues
|Well-balanced projects (levels) and tasks that provide a detailed and meditative experience
|Sub-par tutorial and mission briefing system
|Enough information to be educational while still being fun
|Hyper sensitive camera
|Task variety based on the location of the house and local construction techniques
|Inconsistent UI system that makes it hard to get needed information
|Well-crafted skill level-up structure that reduces the tedium
|Wide variety of projects
GamesHorizon received a Review Copy for Steam.