With SimCity leaving such a bad taste in the collective mouths of gamers, it's hard to say whether we're longing for a sim that lives up to its promises, or sick to death of the notion entirely. Gaslamp Games aims to find out with Clockwork Empires, slated for a Spring 2014 release, which, while not all that impressive graphically, offers a ton of depth, and makes promises of even more hidden below the surface.
Clockwork Empires is, at its core, a SimCity-like colony building game. You're managing a colony of The Empire, building industrial buildings, housing, farms, and the like, in order to grow your colony. There are elements of The Incredible Machine, which is in part where it picks up the steampunk motif, with the example offered during the demo being a lumber mill's power saw being connected and driven by an axle hooked up to the nearby windmill. As you advance in technology, your machines will get more complex, and your productivity will increase.
Increased productivity doesn't necessarily mean they'll be happy, though. Alcohol is present from the beginning of the game, and is the first commodity to run dry in most cases. Your colonists are unhappy little lushes, and the booze mechanic lets them forget a recent problem or happy memory - alcohol is an indiscriminate killer of memories - affecting their mood.
Moods are important in Clockwork Empires, because a disgruntled colonist might have to turn elsewhere for satisfaction in life. Unfortunately, in this world, "elsewhere" might just include a not-quite-Lovecraftian Elder God. The team at Gaslamp has assembled its own Elder God mythology, and cults are a very real thing in the game. If you have too many unhappy colonists they might just form a cult, and start spreading their discontent to others.
Here's where it gets interesting. As a sandbox game, you aren't required to stop them. You can foster the cults if you so choose, intentionally making more citizens upset in order to drive them towards the occult.
There is no win condition per se, so it truly is just a simulation game, although there will be optional objectives for those players who prefer a more structured environment. Despite an expected Spring release, the demo build was still quite rough around the edges. Assuming the team can smooth out the roughness, though, Clockwork Empires is definitely a game to look out for. From the modular building design - you can custom create each building you create, both in layout and internal modules, like the power saw mentioned above - to the deep character histories for each individual colonist, Clockwork Empires is more than just a fun occult twist on sim games. But it does that, too.
The game will be available on PC, Mac and Linux when it makes it debuted this Spring.