I would play a quality free to play city builder game. Big City Stories is not a quality free to play city builder game. Trying to combine both city building and social activities, all Big City Stories does is make me wonder why anyone thought these stories were worth telling.
There’s actually something of a narrative in Big City Stories, but it’s terrible. You play as a mayor for a new city, elected because you saved a cat from a falling piano. I’m not convinced that saving the cat was for the best, as its entire existence from then on consisted of sitting inside town hall and staring off into the distance, its horrible glitchy model begging for death. Regardless, you now have a city to run, and it keeps running into issues. As you play, you’ll talk to advisors and random people who have problems that need solving. The game keeps trying to make these problems comedic, like a police officer who’s overly concerned with kids having access to fireworks. In the end, none of these problems make sense, none of them are funny, and the quests just serve as a way to keep getting you to build things.
The absolute basics of Big City Stories are no different from any other free to play city builder you can grab on any mobile device. You place buildings which either generate cash or energy over time, which you can then collect and store until you spend it on either constructing or upgrading new structures. You can also get houses that increase the population of your city, or special landmarks like fire departments that do nothing besides unlocking additional buildings to buy. Some of the structures you can build also have auras around them which give percentage bonuses to adjacent lots. The city building part feels shallow but harmless. The kind of thing that wouldn’t make a terrible “quick log in, manage, then log out” sort of mobile game.
It’s when Big City Stories decides it needs to break this mold that it becomes horrifying. Most city builders are played from a top-down view, but Big City Stories is instead seen from the ground level. You’ll create a mayor to play, though no matter your efforts your character will look vaguely horrifying at the best of times and like someone decided to mash a human with an eldritch horror at the worst. The random citizens don’t look much better, often having bizarre skin tones or misshapen features. Only the zombies (of course there are zombies in this game) look natural, which should really be saying something about how terrifying the character models really are. While I’m on the subject, the game also features a hilariously low-quality soundtrack that rarely fits what’s going on. Wandering around a city is met with strange whaling guitars that suggest an action scene as accompanied by a high school garage band.
As you explore the cities you make, you’ll have to accept quests. As I mentioned before, a lot of them are just some form of building or upgrading. The game sometimes gives you quests to make you search for objects, a horribly time-consuming activity that seems specifically made to waste time and little else. For example, one quest had me run around my city to find ten flowers, while another had me find fifteen Frisbees. Why? Because that’s how Big City Stories works. It just gives you stupid stuff to waste your time with.
It’s almost impressive how the game could barely even get this to work. As I ran around the city my character would suddenly come to complete stops and have to pick up momentum again because I experienced a slight change in elevation. Often I would clip through objects, or watch cars drive erratic routes because they can’t figure turns out. It was common to see cars hitting other cars and sliding under them, or turning into buildings and getting lodged into them. Buses would easily become the center of every accident, as other cars are unable to adjust to the slower vehicle in front of them. I understood their pain in a way, as driving in Big City Stories is an absolute disaster. Cars go from 0 to 100 at the slightest press of the gas pedal, but turning and breaking are a real challenge, as neither seems to actually work. As a side note, my character is apparently so tall that his head actually pokes through the top of some cars.
At ground level, there are several activities you can partake in. These are meant to give you something to do in your city to earn a quick buck, and are also occasionally assigned for you to do by quests. Ridesharing is basically a Crazy Taxi-style minigame where you have to pick up people and drop them off where they want. You’re rated on your performance, but it is completely unclear how the rating system works. One ride, I smashed into several cars and took as long as I could and still got five stars, another I perfectly drove to the spot as quickly as possible and only got two.
The second mini-game is called Zombie Splat and is a bit more complicated. Here your goal is to kill a certain number of zombies with your car before they kill a group of citizens. You can either run them over or launch fireworks at them, though the fireworks almost always fail to do anything at all. I’d attempt to launch fireworks with a stockpile of twenty-five rockets, and then watch as nothing happens on-screen. Despite these failures, you’re never really in danger of the zombies doing much other than wandering around in circles aimlessly or getting stuck on the environment. Both minigames confine you to your car, which only makes them more frustrating. The game promises more activities in the future, but if these two are the ones they decided to open with then I doubt anything in the future will be any better.
You can also visit other people’s cities if you want, but there’s really nothing to do in them. Up to eighteen players can hang out in a single city at the same time, but all you can really do is chat with each other and look around some. I ended up finding some stupid joy in using cars to push people off the map, but there’s nothing else to do besides trying to be a general nuisance. One city I visited had a soccer ball and some goals so you could “play soccer”, but in reality, all you did was run into the ball and hope the game decides you push it a little rather than phase through it this time. There’s also a public train station you can visit that shows some leaderboards and is similarly totally devoid of things to do. Every single city I visited also suffered from being massively laggy, like the game just isn’t up to handling multiplayer.
Even if you’re not visiting other people’s cities, you’re still stuck with the game’s poor Internet. You have to be online at all times to play, and I often found the servers to drop or lag when I was just trying to get basic things done. Simple tasks like collecting money took way longer than they should have, as the game would either freeze halfway through for a few moments as it tried to reestablish connection or just lose it altogether and require me to log back in. This is also assuming I didn’t run into one of many glitches on my way there. During my time with the game, I fell through the world quite a bit, audio would cut out, and vehicles, items, and objects would spawn in unreachable locations or inside of buildings.
Being a free to play game Big City Stories also has microtransactions if you want to buy money, energy, or produce workers faster. You can also buy new cities, though every city is restricted to a small area, you can’t make that area bigger, and each area looks the exact same anyway. After spending around seven hours with the game, I never felt the need to actually buy anything, but I’m not sure if this was because I didn’t actually need it or because the game was so bad that I was honestly happy when I got to set it down for a few hours to wait for my workers to recharge. Quests, as terrible as they are, usually gave enough workers that I didn’t have to wait for more to recharge that often. I usually had just enough money, energy, and workers to build what I needed to advance a quest, but not enough to experiment or build what I wanted without waiting or spending cash.
For the life of me, I can not figure out why Big City Stories exists. It has the shell of a totally average free to play mobile city builder, but this shell is thin at best. Inside of the shell is nothing but the horror that is one of the worst games released this year. Take a detour and avoid this city.
Big City Stories was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a copy freely downloaded by the reviewer. The game was reviewed without buying any in-game purchases.
Somehow not even getting the basics of a free to play city builder right, Big City Stories is easily one of the worst releases of 2016.