At the risk of sounding cliched, HipSoft has done it again with Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe. Not only does the game offer a fresh set of challenges the third time around, but it continues to succeed in its unlikely quest of making real estate both accessible and fun.
As the name implies, this time around you're stamping your passport and heading across the pond to Europe, where you'll spend time in countries like England, Spain and Switzerland helping the locals to spruce up their towns by building new properties like Spanish haciendas, English cottages and Swiss chalets.
Through an intuitive point-and-click interface, accompanied by informative menus that don't bog you down with too much information at once, you'll complete the goals laid out by each town liaison to complete the level. These might include building a certain number of houses, raising the town's curb appeal, and earning a certain amount of total cash or rental income.
Unlike previous games, in Build-a-lot 3 you don't just spend a chunk of time in one location before moving on to the next. Instead, you really do get your money's worth out of that passport, using it to jet-set back and forth between countries one level at a time. It certainly helps to keep things interesting.
Some of the most fun features of Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year are back in Build-a-lot 3, including the ability to paint your house different colors and landscape the yard, both of which add positive curb appeal. You can also build landmarks like hedge mazes that positively affect the curb appeal of the houses around them. Industrial buildings, on the other hand, lower curb appeal, so you have to be careful about where they go.
Curb appeal is taken a step further in Build-a-lot 3 with the introduction of run-down lots. These derelict buildings generate no rental income and have negative curb appeal -- in short, they're what you'd call "fixer uppers." However, buy one cheap, renovate it, and slap on a new coat of paint and you can sell it at a tidy profit.
Another new feature worth mentioning are the new weather conditions like snow and rain. These not only make the game more interesting from a visual standpoint, but actually affect the speed at which you can do certain outdoor jobs like repairs and painting.
Build-a-lot 3 also introduces various crises that pop up from time to time. When you see a particular icon urgently flashing above a building, it means something's wrong, and you have to click on it to dispatch the appropriate service to take care of it. If your house is on fire, as is indicated by a flashing smoke alarm, then you'd better send the fire truck out right away. Inconsiderate neighbors playing their music too loudly can be persuaded to turn the volume down by a visit from the police.
If a house is in crisis, you can't collect rent on it. There's no way to guard against these random occurrences, although if you build service stations like a hospital or Fire Station at least you won't have to pay every time you send one out. This adds a nice random element of surprise to the game, and ups the click factor significantly so that at times it's almost like playing a time management game.
If there's one thing that can be said about Build-a-lot 3, if you're waiting around even for three or four seconds, you aren't playing the game properly. Like its predecessors, Build-a-lot 3 has great pacing that keeps you on your toes and always planning ahead. If it gets too hectic, though, you can always pause the game to collect your thoughts until you've worked out a strategy for tackling the level.
At 43 levels, the game is longer than its predecessors, and it seems significantly more challenging as well. Unless you're a strategy game buff, it's safe to say that you won't be getting Expert on every level the first time around. The passport makes it easy to skip to any level you wish to replay, and if you want a break from campaign mode you can head into casual mode. Here, you can play around and take as long as you need, or try to beat the clock and record the fastest completion time.
If there's a complaint it's that I miss some of the more colorful mayors and their crazy requests from the previous Build-a-lot games. The characters in Build-a-lot 3 didn't strike me as being quite so memorable or unique, and seemed there mainly to just introduce the level goals. I guess it's a case of "you can't have everything," because the rest of the game is completely enjoyable.
Many games have tried, with varying degrees of success, to duplicate the real estate/construction strategy gameplay that the original Build-a-lot so deftly pioneered, however none of the imitators have yet to come close to nailing the superb pacing and deep layers of strategy that continue to be hallmarks of this excellent series. Build-a-lot 3 included.
- Run-down lots and other new features. Intuitive interface. Superb challenge and pacing. Deep strategy with many ways to approach level goals. Great replay value. Two modes of play, plus expert rating to strive for. Weather conditions and new building types.
- Characters don't seem as memorable. Due to bigger challenge, expect to repeat levels frequently until you figure out what strategy works.