Virtual Villagers 3:
The Secret City
Virtual Villagers is back, and we're so excited we couldn't wait until the weekend to tell you! With Virtual Villagers 3: The Secret City, the surprisingly addictive real-time simulation game sticks with its proven formula and makes a few minor tweaks to freshen up gameplay. With new secrets to uncover, new technologies, real-time weather effects and a whole new island to explore, Virtual Villagers 3 has all the ingredients that made the first games so compelling, plus more.
The people of Isola have prospered over the years, but they're quickly outgrowing their villages. A small group sets out over the sea to find a new part of the island to inhabit. A mighty storm hits and blows the raft off course, setting your people in the ruins of a once-great city. Explore the new corner of Isola, rebuild the structures rotting on the land, and unravel the mysteries within.
If you're unfamiliar with the Virtual Villagers series, here's the scoop. Your goal is to help the village thrive by keeping its occupants fed, healthy, happy, and busy. Train villagers to perform tasks by dragging and dropping them onto different areas on the map. Placing a character over berries, for example, sets him or her to harvest food, while dropping someone on an unfinished structure puts them to work building. As each villager performs a task, his or her skill in that area increases, creating a faster, more efficient worker than before. Technologies can also be researched to give your villagers more powerful skills that make your job easier to accomplish. They're also the key to uncovering over a dozen hidden secrets of the ancient ruins...
Virtual Villagers takes place in real-time, meaning even when you aren't playing the game your villagers are eating, drinking, gathering food and carrying out other assigned tasks. If you leave them alone for too long, you'll return to find starving villagers or worse, a town full of skeletons. This creates a wonderful virtual pet kind of feeling and makes you want to hop on and check your villagers' progress several times a day. It's great for short spurts of gaming and has loads of replay value.
The third game in the series doesn't mess with the established formula, keeping the drag and drop interface and basic tasks unchanged. The technologies are tweaked slightly, and new Nature and Magic factions allow you to increase food production or scientific research, altering the flow of the game. One fun new feature in Virtual Villagers 3 is real-time weather effects such as rain, clouds, fog, thunder and sunshine. These play a role in uncovering the game's secrets and can cause your villagers to change their behavior, such as scampering for cover when it begins to rain. There's even an in-game achievement system that rewards you for hitting certain milestones.
Analysis: It's no secret that Virtual Villagers is one of the most entertaining and loved casual game series around. The combination of simple but rewarding village management tasks, real-time gameplay and long-term mysteries to be solved creates a strong bond between player, game, and villagers. The result is something you can't wait to check up on a dozen or more times throughout the day and keep playing week after week. The down side to this consistent gameplay is that many times you'll run out of things to do. Often you'll set a few villagers to work and run out of tasks, forcing you to take a break even though you just got started.
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Virtual Villagers 3 shows some improvements over previous games in the series, but I feel it's evolving a bit too slowly. Some crucial villager management tools — like the ability to zoom or group multiple people to assign tasks — are still missing, and when compared to the first two games the engine is practically identical. The series could use a little stirring up at this point, though the third installment doesn't show any signs of going stale. Graphical refinement is by far the most needed upgrade, as the tired visuals and jerky animations are showing their age the third time around.
Virtual Villagers 3: The Secret City is more of the same casual strategy from previous games, which is definitely a good thing. Whether you're a Virtual Villagers veteran or a new player looking for something unique, engaging and fun, this game is sure to captivate you for weeks on end.