Of all the things to bring a civilisation to a grinding halt, it'd have to be truffles. My fisheries, oil refineries, pig farms and distilleries operate with total efficiency. My surplus goods are loaded into cargo haulers and sold at a premium to the hippies across the waves. Yet I can grow no further. If I want to expand to the rest of my island home, I need to meet a sudden and unexpected demand for lobster dinners.
Anno 2070 is a real-time management sim that tasks you with creating the biggest and happiest empire you can in a future where resources are scarce as a result of climate change. It's a shift from the historical foundations of the previous games in the series in favour of something socially-minded and forward-looking.
The core mechanics are the same as previous games. If I'm going to solve my lobster problem, I'll need to establish a second settlement on a whole new island, and establish the shipping routes to bring that lobster across the ocean. The difference is that your rival territories aren't Belgian settlers, but islands exploited by independent contractors. The population is split between smogand- profit megacorp Global Trust and the environmentalist Eden Initiative, with scientists providing technology to both. “Wait a second,” you might say. “Isn't this world visibly displaying the impact of heavy industry? Why would you choose to be an industrialist?”
It's a fair question. Anno 2070 squanders the topicality of its subject matter with factions that are cartoonishly good and evil. Eden Initiative workers are soft-spoken and demand only tea, vegetables and a concert hall. Global Trust, meanwhile, fill their workers with booze, fast food, casinos and aspirational TV programmes. It's Eco-Jesus going up against Scrooge McDuck in Ayn Rand cosplay.
You'll work for both factions in singleplayer, making choices about which to support. I found myself going with Global Trust to see what hilarious mishaps their terrible decision-making would inflict on the world next - which, if nothing else, added a little life to an otherwise drab campaign.
You're lead by the hand almost all of the way, as the game (very slowly) imparts the techniques you'll need to succeed. There's a story, but it's a bit of a non-starter and Anno 2070's voice-acting can't carry it.
The single mission and free play modes are much more successful. At its heart, Anno 2070 is a game of creative engineering: building a big, interconnected machine that looks like a city but purrs like an engine. You're free to problem-solve as you see fit, answering demand for resources with trade, research and expansion. You're also constantly being given additional objectives ranging, such as headhunting a certain number of employees.
Should competition demand it, there's also combat: mostly naval, with aircraft and base defences for spice. It's far from the main event, but the need for military protection adds an additional dimension.
Playable and polished, Anno 2070 is a steady improvement on what has come before. If anything, it plays things too safe, with innovations like online elections and undersea bases making little impact. Worth your time, but lacking the resources to become a management great.