We were not fortunate enough to play the first two Virtual Villagers titles. However, we recently got a chance to play the third installment: Virtual Villagers – The Secret City. This time around, you start on the shoreline near some ancient ruins and build into them (the ‘secret’ city mentioned in the title). Your villagers consist of all manner of persons. There are men and women, skilled and unskilled people, pregnant folk and otherwise, the list goes on. Your duty is to get their new home established and prospering before the food runs out.
In fact, your first order of business in the game is to gather more good eats for your people. Villagers move around with their own agendas but that usually doesn’t get you very far. They need a guiding hand to get them to where they need to be and that hand is you! Simply click-and-drag a villager to place them where you like. When you hover them over something useful to them, a message will appear at the bottom of the screen. In the first area of Isola (the island you inhabit), you have to hover a villager over a torch near a bee hive and drop him there. The villager will grab the torch, walk over to a fire and light it – then return to the bees and smoke them calm so you can extract the honey, increasing your tribe’s food supply.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that if you do not click on ‘pause’ before leaving, when you return you will find your village has changed (and is possible dead completely) as the game will continue evolving when you are not there! This came as quite a shock to me originally, as I had plenty of people when I left the game and only two upon my return.
Villagers will also need to procreate in order to increase their numbers. Just click-and-drag one person over another and, if they are compatible they will mate and create another little mouth to feed. Fortunately, those larval humans grow in size and gain experience until one day they too can be useful, contributing members of the tribe. This, of course, is the goal as villagers get old and die. This can have a surprisingly rough impact as you watch a villager grow from a baby to a geriatric before you eyes. Watch their successes and failures, loves and losts as it were, all turned to shadows and dust after their passing. There is a strange realism to it, which is odd as the game is not that visually attractive.
Overall, the game is alot of fun but way more in-depth than one assumes it will be when you first sit down to it. The graphics are 2D and, while vibrant, are not exceptionally clear or high resolution. Playing in full screen mode on my 1920×1200 LCD just looks horrible, so I played it mostly in windowed mode. Sound is minimal and there is an average score to the game which sounds like a royalty free track. Even with these shortcomings however, the gameplay is a lot of fun and makes for an interesting puzzler as you try to help your villagers thrive.
You can check out an hour-long demo of Virtual Villagers – The Secret City here.