icon Author: Zipakna
House Builder Review

In House Builder, developed by FreeMind S.A., you take on the role of a one-man construction crew. Your goal is to travel around the world and build houses in many unique styles and from many different eras. The main strength of this game is in variety. You can build everything from mud huts in Africa to bamboo houses in a rainforest, construct a medieval castle, renovate a farm in America, or build an ecological house in Europe, that is powered by solar panels. Often your task is not only to build houses but also to procure building materials with a wide variety of tools. To build a straw house, you first need to drive a straw baler machine, to decorate an Aztec pyramid you will mine gems and pan for gold, and to finish a hunter's house on a tree, you even have to catch a bear and process its fur.

Definitely not a simulator

When you first launch the game, you will see a globe with a couple of tutorial houses in different parts of the world. The game teaches you the basics on very simple shelters like an igloo or a mud hut in a rainforest. Gradually you unlock various houses across the whole world, though in no particular order, so you will be jumping between different eras of human development, once in the modern day, another time in the era of Vikings. While the design of each level feels new and creative, often offering some new mechanic, the building part is sadly almost always the same, rather shallow and with no options to change the outcome. If you have some experience in construction, or if you expect a simulation where you could learn something about construction, this game will not satisfy you. The whole building process is very simplified, to the point where you only put predetermined materials in a specified slot. Each level shows you a mold of a house that you are supposed to fill with provided materials. But the mold usually only involves walls, windows, roof, and floor, no plumbing, no wiring, no interior or exterior decoration. It's truly a mold because if you build something with a blueprint, there is still a way to change something, to deviate from the blueprint. But in House Builder, there are no options to change anything. Each element simply slaps onto the previous one with a single click. And rarely do you have to deal with something that would hold these elements in place... no isolation for windows, no mortar between bricks, only a couple of screws here and there. This approach also makes it almost impossible to be creative in the game. Sometimes you can choose between two colors of the same roof tile, but that's about it. So the whole process made me feel like I was putting together a big 3D puzzle, rather than building a house.

There is a sandbox mode, that in theory would allow you to create your own blueprint for a house and there are even some decorations available. But it suffers from the same issue as the campaign mode. It's very clunky and not well explained, so after spending 10 minutes trying to figure out how to edit the blueprint or rotate a roof position, I simply gave up on the sandbox. And considering how empty is the Steam workshop for this game, I was apparently not the only one. Also, it seems that the sandbox only allows you to build modern concrete or brick houses, there was no access to materials from different eras, which would certainly be more interesting and allow for more creativity.

Skills and resources

Another thing that makes the game more casual, rather than aimed at simulator fans, is the skill tree. Right from the start your character is basically a superhero, able to carry tons of construction materials, jump with a wheelbarrow full of concrete, or place building blocks mid-jump. And the skill tree makes your powers even more ridiculous. There are abilities that multiply materials when you cut them, so if you cut down a tree using a chainsaw, the tree trunk suddenly multiplies in the air and you get four trunks out of one tree. Another skill allows you to use shorter materials than what the blueprint requires, so if the plan shows that you need 2m long plank, you just slap 1m in there and the plank magically stretches to the correct size. All skills unlock very early in the game so it does not feel like you earned any of those superpowers and after a few levels there are no more upgrades to unlock. As a bonus, the whole UI is made in a way that it is really hard to read the description of the skills.

The authors of the game obviously wanted to implement some sort of resource management into the game, but skills completely break that idea in certain levels. For every placed material you get points, that you use to purchase another level, after you finish building a house. The same points are also used to purchase building materials. The game gives you most of the materials for building at the start of the level, but sometimes you need to use a shop to order more materials, especially when building modern houses, because you can't craft solar panels or roof isolation on site. If you buy bulk and finish with excess materials, you can sell them back to the shop. And here comes the part where skills can completely break the economy of the game. There is for example a level, where you are building a wooden house and you are supposed to cut and process wood from the forest around you. With the multiplicative skill you can make an insane amount of planks out of a single tree and sell it all. And since trees regrow, you have an infinite amount of money.

Sadly the game is full of such mechanics, that are implemented in one level and in the next one they are broken and useless. In one of the first levels, the game gives you a tape measure and shows you how to measure and cut materials, but after that level, you never use it because the game starts measuring everything for you and lets you use materials at 50% of the required length, so why even bother measuring. But the game regularly pauses to show you video tutorials for all those features that you will never use again. And at the end of the build, you will get a 5-star rating as if you had a chance to influence something.

But is it any fun?

Any1:1 simulation game is in danger of becoming boring and tedious very quickly, so I did not expect an ultra-realistic building process. As long as I'm having fun, I'm willing to ignore some oversimplifications and inconsistencies in the gameplay. However, in House Builder, the more I got into the game, the less fun I was having with it. Physics in this game is basically non-existent, and once you get to modern buildings, things get really crazy. Building materials are weightless and they are flippling around at high speed if you just slightly nudge them. Your car gets permanently stuck on a tiny terrain increase. The crane has rubber bands instead of wire ropes so if you pick up a concrete block that should weigh several tonnes, it instead jumps around and then flies off the edge of the map. A lift for building materials pushes you from the platform at the top of the rock and instead of taking fall damage, your funds get reduced. And on levels where you have to destroy something with a hammer, you will spend several minutes swinging the hammer with no effect, because you did not find the one correct pixel that hides a hitbox for the whole section of a building. The authors obviously know about a lot of these issues, but rather than fixing them, they implemented stuff to get around it. So you can reset the position of your machinery, or buy blocks that flew away from the map, but even after the release from early access, the issues are still present in the game and hit you every time you think you are starting to have at least a bit of fun.

The final nail in the house-building coffin is the controls. I dreaded every level with a construction crane, not just because of the crazy physics, but also because it is controlled only by a mouse and constantly slowly scrolling up and down with a mouse wheel was extremely uncomfortable. Other controls are not great either. The tools that you use are bound to hotkeys, but materials can only be selected by a mouse wheel, which also scrolls through the tools, not just materials. There is a maximum of five tools and five types of materials that your character can carry and that is a lot of scrolling if you have a full inventory. Combined with an army of bugs that become more and more prominent in later levels, where the house designs get more complex, the game becomes dull and sometimes frustrating rather than fun. And there are no cloud saves so if you lose your save files or want to play from another device, you have to start all over.


With a similar theme and similar name as the House Flipper, I expected a similar game, but with more variety (given the fact that the game takes you to exotic places and shows you many different styles of buildings). But my expectations could not be further from the truth. House Builder makes for a decent 3D puzzle with a wide variety of objects to build, but there is no place for creativity. I loved the idea of traveling through human history and exploring different building styles and if the game wasn't plagued by so many bugs and issues with controls, I would probably find assembling of various houses relaxing. But in its current state, the game feels more like a chore and makes you struggle with even the simplest tasks.

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