God games aren’t exactly popping up left and right nowadays, so it’s refreshing when a passion project like The Universim comes along to breathe new life into the genre. Developed over 10 years by indie studio Crytivo Games, The Universim puts you in the robes and sandals of an all-powerful deity, letting you nurture a fledgling civilization across different historical eras spanning from primitive stone tools all the way to intergalactic space travel.
It’s an addictive sandbox experience where you directly guide every little aspect of your worshippers’ lives, called Nuggets. You’ll provide for their basic needs like food, water and shelter while protecting them from disasters, all while advancing their culture through different technological ages using a straightforward research tree. It can be extremely hands-on, right down to literally picking up and moving individual Nuggets around, blessing fertile couples or smiting heathen dissidents.
There’s a refreshing charm and personality infused into the whole thing too, as every action is sardonically narrated by a snarky disembodied voice reminiscent of Portal’s GLaDOS. Prepare yourself for plenty of tongue-in-cheek poking fun at religion and the very concept of godhood. Combined with a cheery, caricatured art style, it all makes for a playfully subversive take on the well-trodden god game genre.
The Life of An Armchair Deity
Being a god in The Universim means you have near absolute control over every facet of your civilization. Once you’ve terraformed a habitable planet and designed your starting Nuggets using a genetics screen reminiscent of Spore’s Creature Creator, you’re let loose to shepherd your followers as you see fit through several distinct societal ages.
It begins in the Wild West-esque Stone Age, where resources are scarce, wildlife dangerous and needs few. You’ll start by directing your Nuggets to scavenge for basic building materials like wood and stone, hunt wild animals for food and research simple tools and housing upgrades. It’s mostly hands-off at first – just set loose priority queues for crafting and research while your Nuggets autonomously build residences.
But anytime they’re struggling or you just feel like intervening, a hotkey brings up your god powers. Here you can directly heal, bless, curse and smite Nuggets, spawn helpful items and resources, or call upon miracles like rains of fish or raging tornadoes. It’s an intoxicating power trip, amplified by the constant mocking commentary from the cynical narrator egging you on to unleash your wrath.
As eras progress, so too do available buildings, resources and god powers. Soon you’ll be managing complex production chains to transform new metals into mechanical tools, setting policies to balance religious influence vs scientific progress, or embarking on planetary excavation quests with dramatic set pieces. All while trying to maintain positive stability and happiness levels amongst your growing masses.
At a macro level, it feels more like a simplified take on stalwarts like Civilization as opposed to a dense colony sim. There’s no micromanaged job prioritization or complex economic modeling for your Nuggets. They mostly automatically build and upgrade structures while you queue up research, manage high level resources and handle the big picture.
Those hoping for intense city planning may be disappointed – there’s no grid-based building placement system, so structures plop down more randomly. You can guide expansions somewhat via zones and infrastructure, but much like the real world, suburbs have a tendency to metastasize chaotically.
It’s best embodied by disaster recovery, where you’re often left scrambling to work around the emergent cleanup instead of clinically optimizing a new planned city. Charmingly messy, just like life under most deities.
The UI here assists reasonably well in juggling tasks, though small icons can still easily get lost. And while camera controls allow smooth scrolling over your land, actually selecting and manipulating objects can get fiddly up close. There’s enough hotkeys and UI conveniences to keep you mostly focused top-down on big picture management rather than struggling against finicky controls, which is certainly for the best here.
Most will likely just embrace The Universim as the delightful sandbox of godly games it is – no complex spreadsheets required. It succeeds far better at making you feel like you’re nurturing a vibrant, bustling society rather than perfectly plotting its urban geography. There’s enough challenge across stability, resources and questing to compel without overwhelming. Let someone else handle the city planning minutiae – as a god, you’ve got disciples to lift into space.
A Charming, Colorful Creation
The Universim goes for a cheerful, caricatured art style that aptly captures its playfully irreverent tone. Environments have a crisp and vibrant palette filled with saturated primaries, simple textures and soft lighting that give everything a bright, welcoming storybook warmth.
Your civilization evolves through charmingly ramshackle settlements as lumpy clay and straw huts eventually give way to rustic timber townhouses and ornate gilded palaces brimming with colorful drapery. Pleasant particle effects like floating butterflies and flickering torch flames help breathe life into the surroundings. It’s always bustling with citizens wandering about, exotic wildlife roaming in the distance and the occasional debris-strewn disaster zone to keep things interesting.
Characters certainly aren’t pushing any graphical boundaries, as humans and animals remain fairly low detailed. But there’s still appeal to the cute and clumsy Nuggets bumbling around – they nail that clumsy toddler energy as they waddle about on their daily business. A slick day/night cycle with soft sunrises and sunsets makes your world feel organic as well.
Seeing ages progress from crude stone axes and spears to robotic factories and shining metal UFOs helps sell your technological advancement in suitably impressive fashion too. Zooming high into space reveals your entire circular planet, wrapped in glowing energy grids and space elevators ferrying goods off-world. It may lack cutting edge fidelity, but the charming style carries it through wonderfully.
Audio mostly sticks to gentle, pastoral ambient tracks that complement gameplay without distracting. Serene strings and piano melodies drift by, evoking Light Age philosophizing or Biblical creation themes. More intense moments ramp up with snare drums, angelic choruses and triumphant horns to drive home your moments of godly greatness. It’s not exactly epic, but fills its supportive role adequately enough.
The real standout is the snarky narrator, who’s sharp-tongued commentary on events is a constant delight. He occasions some absurd non-sequiturs between astute breakdowns of gameplay developments with perfect comedic timing. Add some pithy voice barks from your Nuggets as they go about their day and it becomes a surprisingly personable audio backdrop for this little world under your guidance.
There’s arguably some repetitive moments or overly familiar musical motifs here and there which may gnaw in long sessions. But for what most will likely use The Universim for – namely shorter sandbox sessions – it works great at settling you into the charming atmosphere without overstaying its welcome.
A Winding Path Through The Ages
The Universim doesn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for first-time god gamers. There’s a set of basic tutorials covering controls and interfaces, but they can be a bit spotty on clearly explaining key early game concepts around resource gathering, building placement and progress tracking. Plan to spend the first hour or two getting familiar with the numerous plates you’ll be spinning.
Once you’ve settled in, you’re largely freed up to advance at your own pace, which does lend itself nicely to more creative sandbox playthroughs. Progress between four major eras is primarily gated through research unlocks, most of which just involve selecting an advancement and waiting for its completion countdown. Certain late-game tech may be locked behind completing particular planetary excavations or achieving population milestones.
Otherwise, you’re mostly judged on stability and resource generation. As long as your little settlement keeps steadily gathering food, research samples, building materials and faith – while maintaining positive stability and population – you’re subtly encouraged to keep pushing forward to fuel more growth.
It creates an engaging loop early of trying to balance risk vs reward in expansion, sacrificing forests for farmland, journeying further afield resource hunting where more dangerous creatures lurk. Little decisions stack up in impactful ways, as a brief famine can quickly tank stability levels and send Nuggets questioning your competence as a deity. Just like real life!
What keeps things novel is events that regularly inject fresh challenges. Issues like deadly disease outbreaks, rustling groups of bandits or crashing UFOs pop up semi-randomly, keeping you on guard to direct miracle interventions. The narrator will also regularly pose multiple choice philosophical quandaries that shape your society’s culture based on your answers. And at any time, additional planetary excavation operations become available featuring their own stories and spectacles – like racing to rescue trapped spelunkers from rising lava flows.
It makes each new game unpredictably varied right out the gate before you even start altering world generation parameters. Combined with the over four billion years of simulated planetary history you can tweak, no two realms ever feel quite the same.
A mixed bag however comes after you’ve planted that flag on the moon and sent rocket ships charting across the galaxy. Once space colonization happens, gameplay doesn’t currently advance into the kinds of interstellar empire building some may expect for the late game. You’re mostly left to endlessly guide multiple planets through the same common era advancement paths without expanded endgame stakes. Significant updates here could really take things to another level.
But with the journey there already spanning dozens of hours for most, it does mostly fulfill its god simulation ambitions admirably for a reasonable asking price. It may be tough love at first, but give this little passion project some divine patience and you’ll find a charmingly unconventional world awaiting under your guidance.
An Addictive, If Flawed, Frolic As God
Considering the small team and long development journey, The Universim stands as an impressive achievement in delivering on the heady promise of putting you in godlike shoes and letting you shape life however you see fit. It truly captivates that sense of power and possibility in molding existence itself to your whims.
The freedom to tweak world parameters before launching a new reality already sets up some engrossing options for custom tales. Whether crafting a volcanic hellscape or tropical paradise, you’re enabled to roleplay whatever style of deity suits your mood, from cruel and tempestuous to caring and motherly.
Core gameplay loops are filled with difficult dilemmas that turn playthroughs into memorable emergent stories filled with hard choices and dramatic twists of fate. It pulls you into an almost tamagotchi-like relationship with your cute clumsy worshippers, keeping a watchful eye out to assist them in times of strife.
That said, finicky controls, repetitive music, frame rate drops and continuing stability issues can certainly test one’s divine patience. Questionable design decisions around unclear building rules and progression tracking mean the Tutorial Nugget often feels appropriate. Approach with some divine forgiveness for its scrappy personality and you’re likely to still find yourself eagerly returning to guide your Nuggets through the ages again and again.
Especially impressive is what a small team achieved over a long and troubled development, responding well to community feedback for meaningful improvements that have evolved The Universim into a charming entry in the oft-neglected god game genre.
Does it stand toe-to-toe with stalwarts like Civilization or recent favorites like Timberborn? Not exactly – it carves its own shaky niche that best suits casual godhood enthusiasts inclined for guiding cute populations through key events rather than intensive city planning. Approach with an open and experimental mindset and you’ll find some delightful surprises as you learn to rule your world through encouragement rather than strict direction.
Worth Meeting Your Maker
At the end of the day, The Universim delivers a fresh, subversive take on the god game genre that mostly achieves its lofty aspirations. There’s just something special about shepherding a civilization from crude stone huts to launching rockets into the cosmos, shaping their culture however you see fit along the way.
It certainly has its quirks and flaws that hold it back from being labeled a masterpiece, but they never ruin the experience. Approach without taking things too seriously and you’ll likely find it tickling that megalomaniacal power fantasy itch wonderfully.
Could late game use more features? Absolutely. Would added sandbox tools allow even deeper customization? For sure. Do the cheeky humor and personality make up for lacking polish in places? Mostly, yes. Plus the team continues working hard on improvements post-launch.
So expect a few miracles still on the way. For now, dive in and let The Universim indulge your inner deity. Keep expectations measured, embrace its scrappy charms and you’ll find a relaxing, one-of-a-kind godhood simulator awaiting. Just try not to let the power go too much to your head. No promises on that front though.
The Universim is a one-of-a-kind god game that succeeds more in the "god" aspect than the "game" part thanks to its robust power set and freedom in guiding your civilization. There's a captivating experience to be had for would-be deities despite flaws in progression and repetitive end-game content. Approach with patience and this passion project may just end up being your divine calling.
- Addictive god game power fantasy
- Charming art style and humor
- Surprising amount of content variety
- Captures the highs and lows of guiding a civilization
- Poor tutorials and unclear progression
- Fiddly controls and UI issues
- Repetitive end-game progression
- Performance and stability problems