Review: The Settlers HD
Gameloft continue with an impressive run of mobile games, and our commenters can continue their impressive run by pointing out that, just like most games from the console developers, it’s been available on other platforms before. I’ll trump them on that, because Settlers has had a long life on the desktop before Gameloft bought its current incarnation to any of the smartphone platforms. But was it a good decision to bring it to Symbian?
It’s a relatively honest transition to the portable platforms, but that’s not without issue. This is an isometric based strategy game with a huge dependence on managing resources. You’ll need to manage the building that creates the raw material (wood and stone), which is then used to build more buildings and tools, which in turn allow you to train and equip your people with more new skills (such as geology).
Then you can build mines and get more exotic materials that can be used to fashion better tools, buildings and weapons! Because it’s not just you on all these levels, you’ll find occupied islands to invade, territory to claim and flags to capture. That’s going to involve violence.
Set over a number of scenarios (build a statue to the glory of Rome, explore the island without getting killed, etc) with those scenarios over historical periods (Roman, Viking, Mayan and the ominous “Dark Tribe”) there’s a lot to get to grips with. Even though the initial levels are tutorials, giving you a helping hand as to how the game works, and an explanation of what all the icons are for, this is a game that not only has a huge learning curve to understand what’s going on with all the interlocking elements of the game, but also to take all this information and put it together to make a coherent strategy that gives you a fighting (sic) chance of winning.
Because of the complexity, the computer AI seems to be pretty smart on first approaching the game. I suspect this is less to do with clever programming, but more that the computer player already understands the holistic nature of each element of the game and can put them together. As the amount of time played goes up, and you get more used to the world and how to control it, the AI challenge reduces, although it is in part compensated for by more difficult goals and missions in the levels.
What continues to be a bit of a problem is the controlling of the game. There is a lot of detail here, and even with the zoom function, the screen of Settlers HD can get very crowded. That the villagers go about their business without too much interference from you (you set them the tasks and they go away and do them) means you can set the goals and leave them to it – which also means less on-screen interaction.
But come to command the armed forces, which requires a tighter control of your forces to make the best use of them in battle, and issues of selection, targeting and setting goals appear. The screen can become cluttered and needs a number of button presses to get anything done – so don't have a battle plan that needs you to react quickly and change strategy in an instant!
Being a real time strategy game, there’s no real rhythm to the game other than what you develop yourself. Unlike a turn-based game, things will continue to happen no matter what you do. Your only concession is a pause button which also brings up the app menu (so you can exit or restart a game) and a fast forward button, for those periods when things are being built and you just want the wait to be over.
I have two concerns about Settlers HD as a game – the first is that learning curve. There is a lot going on here, and even after the tutorial levels you need to be fiddling and practicing before you know how everything works. The second is that even once you understand, it takes a long time to have the game “click” into place and become something fun, rather than a learning exercise. That might be suitable on a PC, but I’m not so sure it's suited for a smartphone.
Still, this will appeal to RTS fans out there, it hits all the required marks in a game like this, provides a challenge, and has multiple potential winning strategies to choose from. Not sure you could ask for more!
-- Ewan Spence, Feb 2011.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at