It was the late-nineties and tactical construction simulators were all the rage. Iconic titles such as Sim City, Age of Empires, Theme Park and Civilisation II had shaped the genre for PC gamers, ensuring that there was no shortage in “god sims” on the shelves. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Constructor came onto the scene and offered something that those other games didn’t – a very British sense of humour. Straight out of the warped minds of video game developer System 3, the game’s dark sense of humour was visible from the very start as the opening full-motion-video credits depicted a hapless builder being drowned in liquid cement by a ruthless gangster, all the while set to the game’s jaunty theme song. Constructor wasn’t like any building-sim that had come before – there was a gleefully malicious heart beating behind the isometric view that subverted the genre in a similar manner to fellow god-sim, Dungeon Keeper. Sticking two fingers up at political correctness, the game poked fun at working-class stereotypes and actively encouraged the player to be corrupt in their business handlings.
While you could choose to play a single-player game, the biggest fun came from Constructor’s multiplayer mode. Pitted against a computer AI or enemy players, you had the ability to sabotage each other’s communities, and the options were endless. You could build a flat full of football hooligans to cause chaos, send gangsters to collect protection money, and even send hippies into empty properties to become squatters. It’s gloriously chaotic and System 3’s cast of undesirables were absolutely hilarious and perfectly realised on-screen. The short animated sequences that appeared when you click on a character were brilliant, and after hours playing the game you would find yourself replicating the voices, such as the Foreman’s long drawn-out “helllooooo” down the phone, or the "do be do" tune that the builders hum whilst redecorating rooms.
The distinctive sound and graphic visuals go a long way towards cultivating Constructor’s unique sense of humour. Each character is voiced by some of the most exaggerated accents ever seen in a video game, which adds to the charm. While the early stages of the game mock the working class quite mercilessly, once the player reaches a level of professionalism, the middle and upper class soon become fodder for ridicule. As a fourteen year-old playing this game, I remember having great fun with the game’s mechanics and the funny voices but returning to it almost twenty years later, I can appreciate it on a whole different level. Despite the over-populated genre, the game remained one of the most original examples of the constructor-sim and it represents that anarchic, spirit of rebellion that was present in the late nineties as smaller developers took chances and brought passion projects to life, rather than releasing sequel after sequel.
While the learning curve was a bit tough, especially against any of the computer AI difficulties, this game was pure FUN from start to finish. Sure, there’s some nostalgia bias at play here as this game did come out at the height of my MS-DOS gaming obsession and sits proudly alongside my love for classic point-and-click adventures, but its sense of humour and willingness to poke fun at council estate stereotypes is what set this game apart from the crowd and still makes me remember it fondly over twenty years after its release. If you’ve never played Constructor before, you should do yourself a favour and take a look at this hidden gem – even twenty years later, the game holds up well.