Passport to Europe
Normally, mixing real estate with casual gaming wouldn't seem like a smart move, but HipSoft's latest release proves you can take a complex subject matter and make it fun. Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe continues the highly successful Build-a-lot series with just the right balance between familiarity and innovation to lure new and veteran players alike. Hone your real estate skills as you buy, upgrade and sell houses, collect rent, and attract new residents to neighborhoods that need your expert eye.
The third Build-a-lot game sends you across the seas to Europe where you'll help locals fix up their towns by building new properties, repairing old ones, and making the area attractive for new buyers. You'll hop across the continent and visit a handful of countries from Spain to England to Italy, encountering new people with new problems to solve at every turn.
Each level in Build-a-lot 3 features a set of goals you must meet in order to proceed. These range from meeting a certain level of rental income to fixing a number of properties, building a certain number of houses, and so on. The interface is uncluttered and feeds you only the information you need to know, allowing you to focus on your goals as well as a few basic resources (workers, materials, and blueprints). The more workers you have the more tasks you can complete at once, while materials and blueprints are necessary to do any kind of building.
The spine of Build-a-lot 3 is essentially the same as in previous installments, and HipSoft was wise to keep such a finely-tuned mechanic unchanged. As with Build-a-lot 2, though, new features have been introduced that make changes to the game that are subtle enough to keep things simple but still manage to alter your overall strategy.
The most interesting new feature are crises, random events such as fires, domestic disturbances, etc. that must be dealt with immediately so your income doesn't suffer. If an icon flashes over a house, click on it and send out the appropriate service as soon as you can, as properties under a crisis won't pay rent. This adds a slight time management feel to the otherwise calm atmosphere, but don't worry, the events aren't so frequent that your mouse hand will get tired.
Two other new features worth mentioning are weather conditions and run-down properties. Changes in the weather will alter how quickly some jobs are completed (snow makes everyone move a little slower, doesn't it?). You'll also see a number of grayed-out lots that will lower the curb appeal of your neighborhood. Buy them on the cheap, do some repairs, then upgrade and beautify at your leisure to turn a handsome profit.
Analysis: HipSoft really has done it again with a sequel that not only manages to preserve the success of previous titles but improve upon them as well. Build-a-lot 3 has more content than Build-a-lot 2 and the difficulty level seems tweaked up just a notch or two. The pacing is still brilliantly spot-on, so you'll always have something to do and will rarely feel overwhelmed by anything. If a resource management game could be calm and calculating, Build-a-lot would be that game.
The locations are more varied, the gameplay mechanics familiar yet refreshed, and the challenges are even better than before. I'm continually amazed at how the Build-a-lot series manages to improve itself with each iteration without destroying the core elements that make them such satisfying games to play.