Anno 1701

And another thing: I hate the way the sun always gets in my eyes in winter. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against me; it did last night when I glided unaware through some dog mess. Got right in the tread. Will probably need a toothbrush to get that out - I hope my flatmate doesn't mind. Still, when you run yourself a hot bath and sink into a cosy bed you can almost forgive the biting cold and animals - escaping the winter is what makes it memorable.

Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery

Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery

Pilgrim Fandango.

There's something mildly unsettling about Anno 1701's premise. Unlike, say, The Darkness or Manhunt or Silent Hill which promote and delight in their distastefulness, this Sim City-like DS game hides its dark under a well-lit bushel. It's difficult to put a finger on at first. As you disembark your galleon onto a sunny, yellow shore and set about levelling the land, building houses, churches, pubs, quarries and profits your conscience remains unpricked by the comfortable plod of capitalism.

But, when the first Red Indian chief enters your growing settlement and requests politely that you get the hell out of his country the mask slips. Although it never explicitly says so, this is a game about dark imperialist history in which you mastermind a defiant invasion by stealing land from the indigenous people groups who already call it home.

The game drives you through its excellent and seamless tutorials, and you develop vigour and purpose. These are lands to settle and histories to write, a feeling which presumably mirrors that of those historical European pioneers for whom survival and the establishment of community was of greater importance than appeasement or integration with the natives. The bright presentation, friendly pilgrim-esque character portraits and well-to-do dialogue promote an atmosphere so innocent and orderly that you barely notice the shaky ethical ground upon which you build.

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Anno 1701

Anno 1701

Rum and cocoa on the rocks.

"You've been playing for two hours without a break. Don't you want to stretch your legs for a bit?"

Mums will approve of the way this classy settle-and-trade strategy game watches for signs of chronic addiction then dispenses subtle health warnings via in-game characters. Me, I'd usually condemn this kind of presumptuous nannying, but in Anno 1701's case I think it's actually a sensible precaution. This is dangerously absorbing entertainment - DVT in a DVD case.

Here's how Related Designs keeps you superglued to your seat. First they supply a cute little galleon and a big randomly-generated map veiled in fog. You guide the ship around the map until you find an island that looks suitable for settlement. Using the contents of your sloshing hold, you erect a coastal warehouse, along with some fishermen's cottages and woodsmen's huts. A few minutes later there are enough gathered materials to construct a settlement centre and a huddle of thatched hovels. The latter structures quickly fill with pioneers - the lowliest of the game's five social classes. Eventually these villagers begin to grumble about the lack of churches and cosy clothes so you plonk down a chapel, a couple of sheep farms and a weaver's house.

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ANNO 1701 demo

Play for 90 minutes.

Sunflowers and Related Designs have released a playable demo of the latest in the ANNO series of strategic exploration and building sims.