iPad Game Review: The Golden Years: Way Out West HD for iPad Review (iPhone version also available)
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
The Golden Years is a new time management/ building sim from Alawar. Over the course of 48 individual levels you will build your tiny settlement into a booming frontier town; that is, if you've got what it takes.
The Golden Years: Way Out West HD brings a western theme to the time management/city building genre. Gameplay revolves around completing a set of tasks within the allotted time. These tasks are fairly typical for this genre: clear roads, collect resources, build residences/infrastructure; upgrade/rinse/repeat. While The Golden Years doesn't bring anything new to the table, it succeeds anyway due to its fully fleshed-out story, and well-balanced levels. That last part is extremely important as most players of this type of game will eventually be going for all three stars. In order for this to work, however, that coveted third star must attainable, but only just. Too easy and the victory is unsatisfying; too difficult, and obsessive completionists are likely to get frustrated and move onto something else. Thankfully, Alawar spent the time to make sure that each level falls within this sweet spot, making every victory screen nicely satisfying. That being said, each level can also be completed at the player's own pace with no in-game consequences (other than a less ornate train). This makes the game ideal from younger players and those who are looking for a more relaxed, puzzle-like experience.
The Golden Years begins simply enough, with you building a water tower and a few covered wagons for your folks to cower in. It won't take long, however, for gold to be discovered, which will drive your community to grow at a spectacular rate. Each level will present you with a number of goals. These goals are nicely displayed at the top of the screen, as is your progress toward them. If you've ever played one of these games and wondered why you can't complete the level, you're REALLY going to appreciate this handy little feature. Another nice feature is how the narration also serves as a running tutorial. Every time a new feature/structure/upgrade is added, the game pauses while it is clearly explained. Even veteran players will appreciate the opportunity to learn the interface, and it is in no way cumbersome or clunky (although it can be turned off in the options screen). I have only one complaint with the gameplay, and that is the lack of task queuing. For example, you can't give orders to build a structure if the road is blocked; even if the very same road is actively being cleared at the time. This means you will have to hover over the workers clearing the road if you want to begin the new construction as soon as possible. In fact, you can't give any new orders at all until at least one of your workers has returned to the town hall. Now, I'm sure some of you will cry foul over this complaint, as it's clearly a design decision and not an oversight or a bug. The end result, however, is that the game is less fun for me without the ability to queue tasks. Your mileage, of course, may vary. The Golden Years does not support Game Center.
The Golden Years: Way Out West lacks the highly detailed graphical punch of some other titles in this genre. However, it makes up nicely for this with bright, colorful, and cheerful graphics. The soul of The Golden Years is light and peppy, and the graphics reflect this. Additionally, the levels are not cluttered or overly busy, and you will never stare at something wondering what it is.
I found the music of The Golden Years to enhance gameplay nicely. It pleasantly complements the western theme of the game, and is varied enough that it never felt repetitive. The audio effects are equally solid, consisting of a wide variety of building/activity sounds that really give the game that polished, high quality feel. Lastly, The Golden Years is smart enough to know when you are playing your own music, and automatically disables in-game music when it senses it. Nice touch!
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
The Golden Years: Way Out West is free to download and try out. $3.99 to fully unlock the game and contains no IAPs of any kind.
The Golden Years: Way Out West HD is a high quality addition to the time management/building genre. It's bright and cheerful, completely accessible to all levels of ability, and provides a lot of variety in its gameplay due to the well-crafted storyline.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Good graphics, but not retina-enabled for the new iPad. Sound: - 5 - High quality sound effects and soundtrack. Also supports the ability to play your own music during gameplay. Controls: - 5 - The interface is organized, clean, responsive, and accurate. Gameplay: - 4 - Not groundbreaking, but a solid time management/building game with a great story. No Game Center support.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Homes MUST be placed in close proximity to a water tower so build that first and don't put it on the edge of the map or you'll only get half of its output. Many municipal buildings can only be places next to other municipal buildings so learn their quirks and plan ahead! You can't queue tasks but don't let that vapor-lock you. Ignoring the rest of the map so you can start a particular task at a particular time will cost you stars.