It’s not often that I get to call a cyberpunk cityscape “cozy” but chill building game Dystopika describes itself as “the dark side of cozy,” if you find neon-streaked skylines to be soothing. I’ve taken this city building toy for a spin in its new demo, which you can try for yourself on Steam this week as part of the current Steam Next Fest and it is great at churning out new candidates for my desktop wallpaper.
The nearest touchstone for Dystopika is Townscaper, the lovely little building game that’s spawned a sort of micro-genre of other low-stress building games launching in the next year. Instead of water, the canvas is an ocean of tiny lights in a nighttime skyline on which you can build massive skyscrapers stretching into the atmosphere. Like the others inspired by Townscaper, Dystopika says it has “no goals, no stress, no objectives. Just your imagination.”
Dystopika is a bit less tactile than Townscaper, where I would click to plop individual blocks in or out of existence. Instead I place each to-be-skyscraper on the ground and then use an arrow to drag it upwards to my desired height. I can then rotate or move it around the area freely and use my mouse to brush on lights across the building faces, generating a mix of giant lit advertisements, signs, and logos.
So far though, it doesn’t have quite the same level of reactivity that I remember from Townscaper, or that we’ve seen in trailers for Tiny Glade. My skyscrapers don’t seem to sprout skyways or morph into new shapes based on what I build around them, and more seem to react to their own height, generating a little skirt of accessory buildings near their bases. Meanwhile antennae and helipads and flying cars all pop in around taller buildings. The cable bridges and other details I’ve spotted in my builds have all generated pretty close to the ground so that they quickly get lost in the fog or cluster of buildings rather than being a big visual feature.
Where Dystopika goes in very hard is its photo mode. This is a toy for generating an entire suite of cool desktop backgrounds. There are so many sliders and filters that I could get a dozen cool screenshots from a single build. There are controls for the roll, pitch, and FOV of the camera, intensity settings for the fog and sunlight, color of the light, time of day, and fog height. And if you don’t want that level of granular control there’s a list of filters for easy visual pizzaz instead.
It’s got some pretty slick sound design to sell the experience too. Moody ambient synths fade in and out as I build while digital blips and ticks punctuate my building and scrolling around each environment as I design.
The current demo for Dystopika gives you 15 minutes to build, at which point you can tool around in photo mode as long as you like or just start a fresh city. You can download it to start your own folder of cyberpunk-y screenshots in the Steam Next Fest demo until February 12. Dystopika hasn’t set a release date yet but plans to launch sometime in 2024.