By – Jarrett Riddle

Concrete Jungle Review 4

The life of a city planner is never dull. Daily struggles can involve dealing with dimwit mayors, competing for land with aggressive fast food restaurant owners, and battling it out with jerks who think they know your job better than you do. With all of these quirks, one may wonder what Concrete Jungle from ColePowered Games aims to prove in this original title. Taking a chance by combining a competitive card game with urban development, this is quite an ambitious investment of time that could either end up a sprawling metropolis, or simply a downtrodden ghetto. So which one is it closer to being?

Meet Laney Thompson, Caribou City’s spunky go-getter and advisor to the stars. Well, that’s actually only true if the man-child mayor Rick Selfridge could be considered a star in any universe. Ms. Thompson lays out the basics of gameplay for you in the first few levels, just before nearly ripping her hair out from witnessing the counterproductive antics of the mayor. After sternly lecturing him about the importance of not building circles of waste dumps around gated communities, the two join forces to protect the city from aggressors like Miranda the burger joint tyrant and sports fanatic Horace Murray. Many of these characters can eventually be unlocked to be used by the player.

Though there is much building to be done, don’t be fooled by screenshots; Concrete Jungle is a straight-up strategy game. It may be easy to dream up assumptions of a Sim City clone when gazing at the traffic-packed blocks and impossibly tall skyscrapers on display, but the simulation aspect is skipped in favor of offering an in-depth deck building mechanic. Construction cards are your bread and butter, as they’re the creative source for the land development you’ll need to complete the various stages spread across Caribou City. As more building cards are collected, the better landscapes you’ll be able to forge, all the while keeping opponents from impeding on your territory.

Concrete Jungle Review 4

With every stage comes a new playing field. This is presented as a tile-based, board game-looking area that will serve as home to the populace you’ll surely generate. Bars to the side of each row of land indicate how many points that particular strip is generating. There are many different types of gameplay modes, so the level’s goal isn’t always the same. However, these score bars are always massively important and should be paid attention to constantly.

Concrete Jungle switches up game modes often, with each new level unlocked almost always having a different scenario or landscape than the last. Solo mode simply requires the player to fill a city meter by eliminating rows of land. This is done by acquiring the necessary amount of points for that strip, filling it completely with buildings and objects, or manually clearing it out via a convenient button on the HUD. Watch out, though, as clearing a row before it has enough points will result in a loss of one of your lives; once these are all gone it’s game over for that stage. Versus mode pits the player against another would-be city planner in a turn-based point collecting battle. Both sides have designated tiles that only they can place buildings in, while neutral spots take up the bottom row of the game board and usually columns inbetween the opposing teams. These battles can be quite frantic, especially in double matches where the player teams with a computer controlled partner to play against adversaries.

But how are you supposed to build to gain points and ultimately win? The answer is simple: hit the deck! Cards are drawn randomly from your deck on the left side of the screen, with the first two being immediately selectable. Cards come in various types; there’s value raising buildings that increase the point potential of land on or near where it’s placed, value reducers that do just the opposite, point collectors that gobble up the worth of tiles and add them to your row total, and several special actions that can really turn the tables in a play session. These rare and valuable trump cards can pull off some amazing feats, such as inverting a tile’s point value or allow you to draw extra cards from your deck. These often help considerably when trying to complete a zone.

Concrete Jungle Review 4

You may be wondering how value reducing buildings could ever come in handy. This is an area Concrete Jungle does wonderfully in; balance. Marked in two distinct colors on each card are two important values. The yellow value represents how much will be added to your purchase meter once used. When the meter reaches maximum, you gain an opportunity to enter the shop. Here there’s a choice between picking between four random cards to add to your deck or using a character-specific skill. Bigger and better abilities are unlocked as cards and purchased. Skills can be of great benefit to you and should be actively sought out when given the chance.

But that still doesn’t answer how negative buildings can be positive, does it? Well, it just so happens that bad cards usually have a high yellow number. This means that you may not be scoring as much but you’re increasing your potential to expand your deck or access skills. Another bonus is that while their purchase point-earning capabilities are great, their expenditure costs, or red values, are incredibly low. Like the purchase meter, the expenditure bar fills up as cards are played. Unlike the purchase meter, however, when this reaches maximum the results are devastating; the point requirement for your land rows increases, requiring you to earn more points per strip to clear them. So as the game puts it: yellow good, red bad! And hey, if you’re on a versus stage, no one ever said you couldn’t maneuver the negative effects of buildings onto the opponent’s side.

Concrete Jungle continually amazes me with its remarkably intelligent AI. Not only will adversaries anticipate and counter your moves, but they can also be downright evil. One foe in particular apparently just loves misery, as she spends most of her time filling the board with negative values, even if it’s to her own detriment. Each character has their own set of cards and strategy for taking you down, and you’ll need to constantly adjust your play style from one level to the next to outdo them.

Concrete Jungle Review 3

One way to do this is by customizing your starting deck. Before starting a competition, you’ll have the opportunity to switch cards out for others that you think will be beneficial against that opponent. Better cards gradually become available for starting with after you earn enough experience by doing well in stages. Choosing the right character to play with can give you an edge over the other team as well, since each one has a different skill tree and may prove to be more effective against certain enemies than others. As for me, I almost exclusively use mayor Selfridge; that inversion card skill is just too good to pass up!

Difficulty is an issue in Concrete Jungle for me. After playing one Easy ranked level and then one with Normal difficulty, you’re suddenly thrust into nothing but Hard and Very Hard challenges after barely learning the mechanics. Sure, this spike in toughness teaches you to be smarter and more aggressive with your play style, but a few more weaning areas definitely wouldn’t have hurt; this also would’ve had the advantage of earning you more experience to unlock better starter cards.

The game has a sharp, professional graphics style. People are drawn in a cartoony, caricatural way while city blocks display incredible detail. From factories to bus stations, every different building type is easily distinguishable from one another and an impressive sight when clustered. As you place similar structures beside one another, roads grow ever longer and the amount of tiny cards driving around noticeably increases. Video options include numerous mainstream resolutions, such as my 1920×1080 setting. Windowed and full-screen modes are available, along with some interesting optional choices like v-sync, traffic amount, and a shader effect that nicely enhances the game’s appearance.

Concrete Jungle Review 4

Music is unfortunately one of the low points of Concrete Jungle. While it never really gets irritating, the unmemorable, carefree tunes feel out of place most of the time. This is particularly apparent during heated battles against the computer when I feel like a much more frantic soundtrack would be more appropriate. Something is to be said about the dialogues that play at the beginning of each stage as well. In an innocent seeming, fun for all ages kind of game like this, the writing quite often comes off as crude and awkward. The game never regales you with what it thinks of your mother, but it did surprise me to hear Laney exclaim “What the F-!” just a few levels in. Voice acting is universally well performed, but the writing makes them come off as trying too hard to be funny. The result is that the dialogues are lame and don’t really add anything to the game.

While some might say the only true way to place a tile-based strategy game is with a mouse, the developers included full gamepad support as well. While the former can perform every action smoothly and efficiently, my Xbox 360 controller works just as well. The A button replaces a mouse click while X sifts through your available cards, and the cursor reacts to the left thumbstick without a hitch. The camera can be adjusted using rebindable keys and a few shortcut bindings are available, too. Overall, the game controls fabulously no matter what input device you choose to play with.

Every aspect of the game is put together professionally and thus, I encountered next to no bugs during my playthrough. The only nitpick I have here is that the resolution doesn’t like to stay put, defaulting back to an oddly sized window upon every boot-up. Once, when I was engaged in a lengthy bout of versus mode I decided to play a different stage, only to become confused when an option for returning to the level overview didn’t seem to exist. I almost wrote it off as a bug or mistake in design when I figured out that selecting Campaign instead of Continue from the main menu allowed me to do exactly what I wanted, and so all was well.

Concrete Jungle Review 4

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Sure, I may have come off as pretty darn negative about certain aspects of the game. Honestly though, the few things that could use improvement never interrupted all the fun I was having. Concrete Jungle is a thinking man’s game with brutal AI and constant decision making. I, for one, appreciate the challenge. $15.99 is a bit steep for a game that seems more casual than it actually is, but surely worth it for fans of neuron-firing strategy games.

Concrete Jungle Technical Summary:

Concrete Jungle Review 4

  • Time Played – 10 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Very Few
  • DRM – Steam, None if purchased through Humble Store
  • System Specs – 3.7 GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB, Gamepad
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Concrete Jungle\Data
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, Humble Store
  • Demo – No
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