When I first started playing Before We Leave, it struck me as a cute little city builder. I didn’t realize it was a little bit more than that until a few hours in. Your goal isn’t just to make one city for your little peg-like people—or Peeps, as the game calls them—but to also expand this civilization across the globe, and then the stars. Your main opposition isn’t people, however—it’s what was left behind by previous people: pollution, radiation, and land left inhospitable. Oh yeah, and there are ancient guardians that threaten to devour your worlds.
Before We Leave is a little 4X, but with more of a micro focus that makes it somewhat like a city builder or a management game. You control a group of Peeps, emerging from a bomb shelters where they waited out the effects of a devastating apocalyptic event. The world has since moved on, but the remnants of the old world remain for your Peeps to exploit—by either learning from them, or using them as resources to build their own structures or conduct their own research. It’s a charming game with heavy stylization that makes post-apocalyptic survival look almost pleasant. And while there isn’t really isn’t the exterminate part of “4X” (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) there is the threat of giant interstellar creatures destroying your colonies, which makes Before We Leave a rare non-violent 4X style game. But before you have to start dealing with any space whales, Before We Leave feels like an almost relaxing game, even if it tends to feel a tad boring at times.
The main gameplay of Before We Leave consists of building a place where you Peeps can live and be happy. That means building specific buildings, gathering resources, and upgrading your technology to make the most of what you have. Your Peeps are surprisingly easy to please, however, and tend to live successfully with few demands that aren’t easily rectified. Expansion is a huge part of Before We Leave—first from island hopping on your starting planet, to repairing (and building) wooden hulled space ships to seek out new worlds to exploit and populate with your little peeps. Eventually you’ll get the attention of a giant whale that will devastate your worlds.
I’ve had a really hard time writing about Before We Leave for a few reasons. It’s extremely charming, and leaves a great first impression—especially within the first few hours. But as the game goes on, and you get more and more settlements to manage, it begins to become a slog. A few hours in, the charm wore off, and I realized I wasn’t having fun, but just going through the motions to see the game to its end.
There are a few ways you can play Before We Leave. There’s the story mode—but instead of conveying an interesting story, it feels more like a several hour tutorial. There are also four scenarios which test your abilities in different ways, one of which is actually a prequel that has you dealing with a civilization facing imminent destruction. I would have really liked to see a sandbox mode with customizable conditions, as that would have added a ton of life to Before We Leave.
I really wanted to like Before We Leave, and in fact, enjoyed my first few hours as I familiarized myself with the Peeps and their charming little worlds. But when the charm wore off, I realized I wasn’t having any fun, and was just trying to see it through to the end. I appreciate the non-violent almost 4X meets city builder, but it didn’t have the ability to keep my attention for long.
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