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28 September, 2022 - 12:58 pm by
About 8 mins to read

I think there’s something uniquely addictive about a city-builder; I think it’s inherently rewarding to watch a tiny settlement blossom into a thriving metropolis, and it’s fun to act as the omnipotent guiding hand to a simulated civilisation. The newest entry to the genre, and offering a unique visual style, is LakeSide from Massive Galaxy Studios, which has now entered Early Access on Steam. 

Key Points

We enjoyed the… 
+ Charming pixel-art styling
+ Chill soundtrack
+ Casual and free-form play style
We’d like to see more… + Sub-menus to group building types together
+ Structure and sign-posting
+ Ability to upgrade to reduce destroying & rebuilding
Release Date28/09/2022 (Early Access version)
Available OnPC

It’s important to note that I played the Alpha version of LakeSide, so there’s understandably still a lot of work to do until this is a final and polished product. It’s rough around the edges at the moment but you can certainly get a good idea of the plan for the finished article, which could well turn into something incredibly enjoyable indeed.

The premise of LakeSide is not especially new – you take on the role of the chieftain of a village, and it’s up to you to nurture your people, have them collect resources and then use them to erect various buildings to help your population flourish. What makes LakeSide unique among its peers is its fixed 2D the vantage point; where other city-builders would have you scrolling over an isometric map that sprawls out in all directions, LakeSide gives you a side view of your township and asks you to build in the fore- and backgrounds across multiple levels. LakeSide feels like playing a city sim in an ancient Greek painting, where civilisation is depicted as sprawling across and up whilst always remaining in frame. Its style certainly makes LakeSide stand out, and helps it to feel very different to other games in the genre.

The art style is particularly lovely, and LakeSide is littered with charming pixel-art buildings and eye-catching vistas. Some of the more complex buildings are especially well executed, and draw on inspiration from architectural styles from across the world to add some much needed variety to the visuals. It could be argued that LakeSide emphasises the beauty of your township almost as much as its effectiveness, and with the play style being so simple, it’s easy to deconstruct and rebuild your city in the most attractive layout without much fuss.

As your game progresses you’ll begin to see your buildings layer their way up the mountainside, with towering monuments standing in the background and overlooking the more humble structures in the foreground. While I love the visual styling, it does offer its problems, as you’ll very quickly run out of land to build upon, giving playthroughs of LakeSide a distinctly finite quality compared to the almost everlasting runs of SimCity or Civilisation. Each game currently has a shelf-life of just a couple of hours, which might turn off the hardcore city-builder crowd, but I enjoyed thechill soundtrack and  casual play style that didn’t ask me to micromanage things over a grand scale.

The formula is pretty straightforward – you’ll need to collect Wood, Stone and Metal in order to create your various buildings, and you also have Gold (used for trading), and Culture, which is used to research new structures. New building types are offered as rewards for reaching a new population milestone or for reaching 100 points of Culture, and LakeSide interestingly allows you to choose one of three new buildings each time, granting you a guiding hand in the growth of your township. 

While I enjoyed being able to eschew less helpful choices for more meaningful buildings, the ability to choose does mean that the progression in LakeSide is haphazard and has very little structure at present. The random order in which new buildings are offered to you means you can leapfrog entire portions of the building progression, and can sometimes lead to you being without a simple building that you need for quite some time. I like that Massive Galaxy Studios are trying something out of the ordinary with their progression, but I think LakeSide would benefit from having a little more mainstream branching logic added to the current format – yes, it’s more typical, but it’s also more realistic to what towns and cities need to expand over time.

After playing for a little while you’ll unlock the World Wonders – magnificent super-structures that take several years and tonnes of resources to erect, but there’s no denying that they’re incredibly impressive once they’re completed. My first playthrough yielded the Great Pyramid, and seeing that enormous structure made me want to see what other monoliths will be on offer in the final version.

As alluded to earlier, there quickly comes a time when you run out of space and will have to start demolishing structures in order to replace them with more effective ones. While this certainly gives you more to manage as a player, it might be more user-friendly to allow you to upgrade your existing buildings to their evolved versions in situ. This raises the point of the building menu, which is crying out for some streamlining – instead of buildings being listed in a single grid and in the order that you unlock them, I’d much prefer to see some simple sub-menus added to keep similar building types together and make it easier to navigate – especially between playthroughs.

In fact, there’s room for polish in several other areas too, like better signposting to what space is available to build upon and which buildings are placed in the fore- or background, which would clean up the experience and make it even more enjoyable. I have no doubt that there’s already a sturdy roadmap in place for this though, and that the Beta version will be significantly more polished than this promising, yet rough, Alpha version.

Whilst only just into Early Access, I enjoyed my short time with LakeSide and look forward to playing a more in-depth version as the game progresses. Currently missing a little bit of structure and perhaps a more meaningful end-game, Massive Galaxy Studios’ unique vision for a relaxed city builder with a casual play style and player-focused progression looks to be a very fun final experience once it’s all is said and done. 

In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with an early build of the game in order to conduct this preview. Experiences from the full game on release may vary.