Endzone: A World Apart is a survival city-builder that finds a good balance between precarious dread and satisfying expansion. It's not aiming to be bleak and your village full of ex-shelter dwellers can grow and thrive under your careful guidance, but the operative word there is careful. Drought, famine, radioactive contamination, and sickness are ever-present threats and the one thing Endzone reliably punishes is complacency. Happily, that also makes it an ideal game for micro-managers who don't like city-builders that operate too much on autopilot.
Both the premise and the aesthetics of Endzone come across as a bit generic, with the rusted-out and overgrown look of its depopulated world calling to mind any number of zombie movies or Stalker-inspired movies and games, but if you're anything like me, that vibe is as comfortable as a nice pair of slippers. Your townspeople range across an overgrown, half-radioactive landscape covered in abandoned towns and wreckage, scavenging what they can. The game's base resource of Scrap can be refined into more advanced intermediate resources like Metal, Cloth, Plastic, and Electronics, which can be crafted for more sophisticated equipment and buildings. Likewise, you can grow and gather a variety of foods, which is useful when a drought strikes and wipes out your crops for a year but you can send out more hunters or gatherers in regions of the map where the rains still fall.
All these factors are things you have to get a feel for, weighing and balancing them in your mind. Workers can carry resources pretty far and wide, but the growing distance means more time lost in these commutes. Knowing when it's time to pull up stakes and rebuild somewhere else rather than continuing to collecting around an old depot is key to running an efficient town, but so is centralizing advanced infrastructure to bring stability and comfort to the community.
The more comfortable that community, the more it will grow. Population growth is one of the most important and fraught parts of development to manage: you will need more workers to sustain a larger and more complicated settlement, but growing too fast or too slow can both leave you starved of resources. If you don't have enough workers, the inefficiencies pile up and there won't be enough food and equipment to go around. If you have too many, your ample stockpiles of resources will disappear at an alarming clip, leaving you in a scramble to stabilize.
If I had a beef with the game, it's that efficiently concentrating and distributing resources seems nigh-impossible. Which makes it even more grating when you've managed to fend off a resource pinch but somehow the necessary goods aren't getting to citizens. You can turn buildings off and on, and you can set different resource collection points to reject certain types of resources and accept others, but just trying to do something as simple as ensure that advanced goods and quality foods make it to the central depots feels like it involves a series of tricky workarounds to overcome the chaotic defaults of your workers and buildings. No matter what I did, I would seem to catch workers walking from one end of the city sometimes to get fresh tools and pick up a load of building materials before beginning an even longer voyage back to their worksite.
This all leaves me feeling more like a foreman or an accountant than the god-like mayor you play in traditional city-builders, or the powerful dictator you embody in Frostpunk. In Endzone, I'm mostly trying to build the track in front of the moving train. I'm nervously watching consumption rates, timing workers' paths from job site to depot, and trying to track whether the latest population boom is going to result in a deadly famine or overcrowding. I honestly kind of love it. It lets itself down a bit with the setting and the few subplots that unfold across a session—this isn't a rival to Frostpunk's narrative achievements—but the city itself provides more than enough tension and challenge to keep me occupied. Or even preoccupied.