Rising to the top: Project Highrise preview

As a kid, Maxis was one of my favorite studios (hell, it still is), and I owned nearly every game they released. When it was acquired by EA in 1997, it saddened me to think I might never see a sequel to the mayhem of SimAnt, a follow up to the agricultural empire I’d built in SimFarm, or have another chance to fly about cities picking up bloodied and broken patients and cramming them carelessly into my SimCopter. With the glaring exception of the deranged, murderous sadomasochism that some players have displayed with their usage of The Sims’ design tools, most Maxis games bestowed a sense of playful innocence and boundless creativity on their users. When I heard that SomaSim games had unofficially taken up the mantle of SimTower (which, ironically, was only published by Maxis, not developed) with Project Highrise, I, along with my inner child, was elated.

If you’ve read this far, even if you’re only vaguely familiar with Maxis’ titles previous to The Sims, the concept of Project Highrise ought to be pretty clear. In case you’re not (and shame on you for that), I’ll make it simple: you get to design, build, modify and maintain a high rise and everything inside of it. And, just like a modern skyscraper should, this title rises above its (in this case, spiritual) predecessor both in form and function.

PH Screen 1

I started with the tutorials, and almost immediately, I was struck with the depth of Project Highrise. To maintain and expand your tower, you’ve obviously got to make money, and primarily, that’s done through renting out space to tenants. Tenants are divided into four main categories: housing, offices, restaurants, and retail stores. The idea is simple, but it grows in complexity as you progress beyond the basic tenants like studio apartments and small insurance firms. As the tenants your tower can attract become more financially lucrative, they grow more needy, and needy tenants cost money.

For instance, a talent agency might require bottled water service, an accounting firm might require copy services, a creative design studio might ask for an office supply store (who doesn’t love a good Zebra?) and higher-end apartments may require more utilities to be installed. In many cases, these additional services must be present before more profitable tenants are even willing to move in, and, of course, none of them are free. In short order, during my first attempt, I had a copy store, courier service, bottled water service, an office supply store and five cafes. Money was flying out the door, but it wasn’t coming back in. I went bankrupt and started over.

PH Screen 2

The possibilities don’t stop there. Towers can now earn prestige to attract higher end clients and to unlock further growth options. Gaining influence allows the installation of expensive art or the hiring of various consultants like interior decorators, and even political lobbyists. As your tower accumulates Buzz (yes, it’s actually called that) you can start media campaigns to draw more visitors and tenants, or use it to benefit your bottom line with decreases in things like infrastructure upkeep costs.

What SomaSim have created is a wonderful, nostalgic tower sim that is instantly reminiscent of its spiritual predecessors, but still succeeds them in all of the right places. I can’t wait to see how this one develops.


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