Friday August 5, 2022

Our Score 8.1/10
The Good Deep simulation that leads to endless rich, weird and hilarious scenarios
The Bad Despite the UI being great, it unavoidably gets awkward at times
Release Date July 28, 2022
Developed By Ludeon Studios, Double Eleven
Available On PS4, Xbox One
Reviewed On PS4

If you’re reading this review, then chances are you’ve been Rim-curious for years. Perhaps you’ve heard tales from PC gamers of cannibal tribes who engage in mutilation rituals before raving to the break of day, of hippie cults who espouse humanity’s relationship with nature while having no qualms about slavery, or of the time half a colony got wiped out by an enraged wild guinea pig that gnawed on colonists in their sleep.

If you’re new to Rimworld, then thank you for sticking with this review past that potentially disturbing first paragraph, and understand that the weird shit you read above is par for the course here; it’s a testament to just how deep this colony survival management sim can go. 

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Starting with a small group of survivors, each with their own complex past, neuroses, pathologies, and needs, you build out your colony on a tiny corner of a planet populated with other tribes and factions. You expand your compound, prepare its defences for the inevitable raiders, and learn to use the land – be it jungle, tundra, or grasslands – to your advantage. 

Your decisions in research will dictate whether your colony becomes a technologically advanced one harnessing the latest renewable energy resources, a militarist dictatorship, or maybe just a rabble of hedonists who grow psychoactive plants in the fields, get high on them, then sell the rest to visiting traders. You’ll establish trade routes or rivalries with other factions, send expeditions out on quests for resources, and grow out your colony (mainly by capturing people from rival colonies). Eventually, you may even split off a part of your tribe to start a new colony elsewhere in the world while the rest of it remains at the original one.

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Overview of the colony in Rimworld Console EditionOverview of the colony in Rimworld Console Edition
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All the above is complicated by the fact that you’re not directly controlling your colonists, but rather establishing queues and priority lists of orders for them. You can sometimes intervene to get them to do a certain task pronto, and during combat situations you get direct control too, but for the most part your colonists are their own complex people who will generally do the things that appeal to their personalities. Failing to keep them happy is just one of the many ways in which things can go terribly and wonderfully wrong in Rimworld.

For instance, in the early stages of a new game as what was essentially a caveman faction armed with bows and knives, my naive attempts to tame a panther led to the creature tearing through my tribe and killing all five people in it. During another game, I thought it expedient to butcher the corpses left over from an attempted raid by a neighbouring faction. Unaware that one of the corpses belonged to the son of someone who was now a member of my tribe, I fed him his own son, which he (somehow) realised, leading to some kind of psychotic breakdown during which he murdered several members of my tribe before I had to ‘put him down.’ On the bright side, all those extra corpses meant more food for the cannibal tribe I was trying to nurture (‘Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!’).

That combination of tight choreographed management and emergent chaos that threatens to erupt at any moment – be it through natural disasters, human conflict, or an enraged boomalope that kamikaze-charges into your Great Hall and blows itself up – is what’s made Rimworld one of the most loved, most played games on Steam for years. Descended from the legendarily complex 2006 management sim Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld is the kind of dauntingly deep game that would’ve been unimaginable on console until a few years ago, so the big question is: does it really work on console?

The good news is that, at a fundamental level, it really does. Despite chatting with the game’s developers about bringing Rimworld to console, I still wasn’t sure how they’d pull it off, and it turned out that part of the process involved such a heavy UI redesign that the it actually uses a different technology stack to the PC game. Instead of using a mouse-like cursor, you have a large circle in the middle of the screen that you use to highlight things in the world, while the UI lives in the corners, with each corner assigned to a different shoulder button that you hold to bring up the options in that section. 

Managing things in Rimworld Console EditionManaging things in Rimworld Console Edition
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The idea is that you’re never more than three button presses away from the screen you want. That’s very impressive in a game where you can go so granular as to manage each colonist’s schedule and work priorities, choose what kinds of materials to store in a given stockpile zone, and whether to bury dead bodies in a graveyard, dump them far away from the colony, or turn them into kibble for your pet wargs.

The UI experience is smooth for the most part, and after a few hours I was already getting a few button combos into my muscle memory (LT, X, X for the all-important work priority list, d-pad down to scroll through colonists then Square to jump to them). There were still times, however, when my brain would simply stall as I tried to figure out how to carry out certain activities.

Coming to the console version as an experienced PC player, I at least had the grounding to know the depth of activities I could engage in, but must’ve spent a good three minutes trying to figure out how to ‘reduce the resistance’ of a prisoner to prep them to join my colony. There’s also something a little unintuitive about changing building materials for a given item, as well as navigating some of the building screens, like ‘Furniture,’ because the little icons don’t really signify much. 

Naturally, the density of commands in Rimworld means that certain ones end up relying on things like analog stick presses, simultaneous button presses, and touchpad presses. Despite the developer’s stellar efforts, there’s no avoiding the sense that it was a real squeeze to get all this stuff onto a gamepad. There is no option to play with mouse-and-keyboard either, apparently due to the fact that they had to rebuild much of the game to get it working.

But console play does come with its perks. Lying back on the sofa and seeing my perfectly choreographed colony in action on a 50-inch 4K screen is bliss compared to hunching over my desktop. Having played the PC version of Rimworld on a 4K screen as well, I can say that the console version UI is much bolder and more legible than its PC counterpart.

Of course there will be some friction in playing such a management-heavy game on console, but given the choice of those teething issues and having the game watered down and feature-stripped to make it more ‘gamepad-friendly’, I’ll always go for the former option. It’s to the credit of Double Eleven (who also brought the similarly styled Prison Architect to consoles) that every single thing I’d do in the PC version of Rimworld I could do here too. 

Well, apart from modding that is…

While that point on modding may just sound like typical PC elitism, there are few games that as mod-friendly and indeed dependent on mods as Rimworld. The base game is a perfect framework for mods, and its simple aesthetic and numbers-and-systems-based play lend it to modding like fewer other games. 

Work priorities screen in Rimworld Console EditionWork priorities screen in Rimworld Console Edition
RimWorld Console Edition_20220803203345

In fact, some mods have become so fundamental to my play experience on PC that it was jarring to play a version of the game without them. Being able to create your custom starting colonists, for example, or creating a ‘guest’ system whereby you could host visitors from other factions, befriend, and even recruit them. Even little mods like ‘chat bubbles’, which display the weird conversations of your colonists above their heads rather than sequestered away in a menu, add a lot of life to the aesthetically stark game. While full mod support is unlikely, it’d be wonderful if some of them could be integrated into the base game somehow.

It’s some consolation to the above that you can buy the ‘Royalty’ expansion from the outset, which adds a bunch of interesting hierarchical systems (and psychic powers!). The devs have also confirmed that the Ideology expansion will be coming at some point down the line.

As a PC player of Rimworld, I’ll be returning to the more bespoke experience I’ve turned the game into on its home platform, but I’m also delighted that games like this are coming to consoles, and being ported with this much care and attention. This is one of the best management sims and story generators around, brought to console in almost all its glory. The quality of this console implementation should be a guiding light for other games in this traditionally PC-only genre to do the same.

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