Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
Exploring a pre-built world? Psh. Constructing your own is the way to go.
The Universim calls back to god-games like Black & White. As the all-powerful creator, it’s on you to direct humanoid “nuggets” from the birth of civilization to a modern empire. However, instead of merely managing a town, The Universim has you guiding entire planets through the ages.
You provide for nuggets by building structures, directing resources, and using powers to instill their faith in you. Heal a sick nugget, and they’ll devote their life to your worship. Inspire two to fall in love and do the dirty, they’ll give you an extra laborer to work with. As nuggets’ faith in you grows, you gain new powers to alter the world even more.
A cheeky narrator backs your actions with depressing jokes about the struggles of life and the real-world labor known as adulthood. In fact, any relation to work is made up of sarcastic quips from both the narrator and the in-game text. It’s a distinct tone that helps The Universim stand out from other god games, but the constant sarcasm could be toned down.
Nuggets are complex, with motives and actions rivaling the depth of The Sims. If not under orders, your subjects will do as they please, which can be good or bad depending on your play style. Personally, I prefer the volatility of free-willed citizens. My people run off and get themselves murdered by wild wolves, drink poisoned water (despite my reserves of delicious, fresh H2O,) and have so… many… kids. If you need, you can pause the game and direct nuggets as you please, but the unpredictability keeps the game interesting for me.
A big plus here is the quality of life improvements that prevent unnecessary micromanagement. To start, you can queue up to 5 research projects via the Civilization-like topic tree. This little touch goes a long way, as I’ve planned out entire town segments over what upgrades are in-tow. Also, citizens die often. If the death was significant, say that of a teacher or an engineer, another will automatically replace them. The Universim is full of these little touches that help you stay focused on the big picture.
The game is also gorgeous - surreal even. This version currently has all four seasons, each of which affects the gameplay appropriately. For example, you have to store up water in your reservoirs to temper nuggets’ thirst come winter. Each season has specific transition periods that see snow gathering over the grass or leaves turning orange before Fall. These segments, along with the Sea of Thieves level of water effects, do a great job showcasing the lighting and shading work.
I haven’t progressed to any of the later eras just yet. But, I’m curious to see how the building designs change over time. Right now, most of the structures are simple stones stacked on top of each other, which doesn’t do much justice to the engine. A city - nay, a planet full of sleek, modern skyscrapers sounds like eye-candy found in games like Cities: Skylines.
Also, the Steam page hints at different kinds of planets to manage. I hope for worlds that buck the status quo. I’m imagining globes of lava and ice-covered habitats that force you to adapt your survival strategies. After examining my current planet, there isn’t much aside from traditional seas and grasslands that I’ll eventually colonize. Sure, there are natural disasters to compete with on these blander spaces, but this is a game after all - let’s get ridiculous!
The Universim is still early on in its development, but what’s here has a ton of potential. I’ve only made it through some of the stone age, but I already have a thriving village with a roadmap in place to inhabit the rest of my home planet. It will be interesting to see how my nuggets manage themselves as I expand since I won’t be able to watch over this small town center forever.
However, in the game’s current state, I’m struggling to find much to do at only two-and-a-half hours in. While my village is doing well, I’m merely watching my nuggets go about their days. The quality-of-life adjustments make it so there’s too little to manage, at least for now. Other management sims still have me making small tweaks and adjustments no matter how successful my subjects are doing.
From looking at the road-map and in-game hints, Crytivo has a plan to fill these spaces out. There seems to be a bunch of new powers and buildings for the early game. But, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing the game until some more updates have come about - that is, unless you can deal with long periods of nearly nothing happening.
The Universim was previewed on Steam with a code provided by the developer.