Review: Project Highrise

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I’m weak to building games to begin with, but Project Highrise has turned into an addiction. Any free moment I can find, I pop in to add another floor to my tower or design a new food court or just renovate some offices. It’s hooked me harder than the games that inspired it did, to be perfectly honest, and I can think of few compliments greater than that. It doesn’t aspire to much more than Sim or Yoot Tower did either, and so it’ll be up to you where that puts Highrise within the terribly narrow genre of tower builders. But as clean and charming as it is, I imagine it’ll sit pretty high.

Project Highrise is a skyscraper building game, starting you with either a tiny foundation or nothing at all and letting you loose to build as tall and as profitable as you can. It’s entirely 2D which simplifies dragging out lobbies and floors, placing offices and apartments, and getting your utilities all wired up the way your bitsy visitors need. In addition to building for the sake of building you have contracts you can take on for extra cash, buzz and influence you can generate for additional perks, and special needs you can fulfill to get the biggest, fanciest tenants to come take up residence in your tower.

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This whole setup was mostly standardized by SimTower ages ago, so it’s helpful to focus on what fresh offerings Project Highrise brings to the table. A lot of the concerns that plagued skyscrapers in SimTower like elevator access and foot traffic have been minimized here for to allow for more freedom of design. Your main issue when laying out your floors is utility access, as every tenant is going to need some combination of electricity, water, phone lines, cable, and gas. Mains for these are placed in your basement floors and are then piped up into the tower by utility closets and wiring. Most of your budget concerns then are going to be balancing the cost of utilities against the tenants they allow you to host.

Another interesting difference is how in Project Highrise, you get to choose your tenants. Instead of placing generic offices or restaurants and letting whoever show up, you prepare a space and then sign a contract with a business to move in. So for offices, you get a choice between law firms or design studios or accounting groups. Each of these has different needs in terms of utilities but also accommodations like copy centers and catering and IT support that you’ll also have to provide. On top of that, the available contracts depend on the size of the office you’ve prepared, what other elements your tower contains (like specific shops or restaurants), and your prestige level. And then having certain populations of designers or lawyers can unlock other tenant possibilities down the line.

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Keeping inhabitants happy isn’t much more complicated than providing the right utilities and services. Larger or fancier businesses have preferences for upper or lower floors, noise/smell levels, and elevator proximity, but these aren’t make-or-break issues and can be offset by lowering their rent accordingly. Unless playing on the easiest difficulty you’ll need to fiddle with rents now and then anyway, because there are booms and recessions happening in the background that change economic dynamics. Also, your restaurants and shops might need help getting established because while you don’t have to place them in high-traffic areas, it’ll take them time to start drawing their own traffic and turning a profit.

Gaining access to larger accommodations and new kinds of tenants and services is handled through your prestige level, a star-rating system with no cap. It’s mostly based on your population but can also be influenced by special features like art installations, completing certain contracts, or keeping your tenants particularly happy. Tenants also produce influence and buzz, two additional resources that allow you to unlock new options and perks. Influence lets you place art objects, open a subway station, get new builders and maintenance staff, or raise your height limits. Buzz lets you launch 24-hour bonuses that pull in more revenue or visitors, or lower maintenance or building costs.

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There’s a lot to keep track of and a lot to play with, but its all presented in a clear, simple interface and portioned out at a comfortable pace. It’s way easier to get started with Project Highrise than the games that inspired it, either through the clever scenarios that focus on different aspects of building or the totally open (and highly customizable) sandbox mode. It might take a few tries to get a feel for how the economy works and what you can do with the different tenant types but you’ll soon be building towering skyscrapers, office parks complete with skybridges, or creative architectural marvels like arched buildings. All of these are possible with the flexible building tools that allow for overhanging floors and separated buildings.

As solid as Project Highrise is most of the time, it still stumbles now and then. A few persistent bugs plague it, like trash services occasionally ceasing to function or apartment residents moving in unreasonably slowly. I had to game one scenario to get gold because the population would not fill in correctly. A few of the building requirements might throw you off the first time, too, like having to leave space for outside plazas if you want to complete one of the influence unlock trees. There’s also a thing called “grime” that seems to represent overall age and wear of buildings that can’t be addressed by renovations and builds up over time. If you’re just doing scenarios or building lots of towers it won’t be an issue but if you like to work on one tower forever (like over a dozen hours on one), it might start to cause problems.

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Above all, Project Highrise is just plain fun. It’s simple to learn, clear in its systems, and really doesn’t put anything in the way of you doing what you want to do. Having a wide variety of pizza places and furniture stores and health clubs and executive suites and rooftop restaurants gives your towers a ton of character, and you can play it up even more with an entire menu of hallway decor that’s completely free to place. Moments of frustration with bugs or unexpected issues are rare among the hours and hours of chill building and designing. And on top of all that there’s full Workshop support so you can pull in even more tenants of all types to play with. I’m a big fan of building games but even with all the ones I’ve played, Project Highrise sits very high on my list of favorites, and is something I keep coming back to again and again.

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