Most of us have seen it. And if we haven’t, then we have seen it parodied on the likes of the Simpsons. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic. It was revolutionary in a number of ways that I am neither knowledgeable nor smart enough to describe. But all viewers are left with some vivid imagery and themes that remain with us.
At the forefront for me, beyond that amazing score, is the black monolith at the beginning of the movie, appearing before a group of monkeys. The dawn of man. The moment it all changed. The inspiration and cause of all that was to come.
The game “Dawn of Man” is none of those things. But that does not mean that it is not a perfectly OK game to play.
The game’s premise is pretty straight forward; You start with a few villagers and you need to build them a home and help them to survive. This is a resource management game and brings up memories of Banished and even Age of Empires. New technologies are discovered. New resources are exploited. But what is ultimate important is survival.
In reading previews, I felt this game’s main selling points were 2-fold. First, the setting was somewhat unique. You are starting from scratch, from the dawn of man (hence the name) and can build your group through numerous technological advances to something closer resembling our own world. All whilst fighting off saber tooth tigers and who doesn’t like the sound of that?
Sadly, the game never really lives up to this. It has all the moving parts and they are in what feels like the right places but it just never felt important. I constantly felt I was in a rush to get the right resources in place to get the next building or the next technology, without feeling like the tribe had actually discovered something. It was unearned and meaningless. This is supposed to be the dawn of man, not production line simulator.
The second was that this game looked like it was going to be a more personal affair. Those who have read my previous reviews know how important this is to me. Where Age of Empires has nameless drones, static through the ages, Dawn of Man has individuals with names, a family and a potentially bloody future ahead of them. Banished had attempted also this but the cities you create become too large too quickly for you to truly care about a particular person or family.
Dawn of Man should not have had that problem. With fewer people to care for, I should have cared more. But I didn’t. I wish I did. In some respects, a game like this should have been closer to The Sims than to Age of Empires. To Rimworld rather than Banished. It should have had more personal interaction and control than a point and click adventure without a story. Dawn of Man basically leaves you in the position of finding a resource and telling a villager to go and get it. Not exactly inspiring stuff.
And that is not to say that this or those games are not good games. Dawn of Man does give you a sense of achievement as your village continues to survive and develop. It is also certainly a pretty game which makes it a nice way to pass some time. But as with so many others, and especially those that set themselves at the very beginnings of our existence (I’m looking at you Spore), Dawn of Man promised so much but didn’t quite have the complete picture of what these times meant and what they mean to gamers like me.
It is at times like these that the philosopher in me takes hold. I’m not being melodramatic; I actually have a degree in philosophy. Games set at the dawn of man excite me because they allow me to scratch an itch of wonder at what made it all happen. Could I survive? Could I have been a great thinker of the time or a Picasso of the ancient world (finger painting on walls was about as far as I got artistically so who knows).
Dawn of Man could have been that monolith. It could have challenged the genre and brought about a new age. An interesting age that allowed us to look back and ask “what if?”. Instead, it is just another black rock, albeit very pretty, that could be lifted and placed into another era, past, present or future, without much needing changed. And that’s OK. But Dawn of Man will not be one for the ages, and the opportunity for inspiration may have passed for another time.