Welcome to your chance to making your mark on the city. Project Highrise gives you the opportunity to grow your highrise building up into the sky, from a humble multi-story building into a skyscraper that is the talk of the town.
I don't know exactly how to describe the artwork in Project Highrise. The game has a retro/Jazzy feel, but that has more to do with the music, which is instrumental, relaxing and very pleasant to have in the background. The artwork is two-dimensional, but the artwork is very "graphic-art" and looks almost like the type of artwork seen in flight safety manuals. Well, that's if you're looking at them close-up, which you shouldn't be during most of the game. Once you get your building up and growing strong, you'll need to stay zoomed out most of the time, to give you a better overall picture of how things are doing. Although, until you can get the automated renovation crew, it is useful to take a close look from time to time; when units start looking run-down, you can fix them up to keep your renters happy.
The apartments don't have the variety in decor that you might expect, but their same colored wallpaper helps you to find them quickly and identify them as residents, which is great if it keeps you from placing a restaurant right next door (on account of the smells, you see). There is a certain simplicity to the graphics, but they work well with the game, overall.
As for the sound effects, you get nice city sound in appropriate places, without overpowering the calming background music, which makes the game pleasant to play. Possibly the most grating sound effects, however, are actually some of my favorites. When running lines for utilities, a sound effect is generated for each square that you run the line. When running phone lines, this sounds like touch-tone numbers being dialed while you're running the lines and ends with a dial tone when you're done. Electricity has an appropriate static sound, plumbing has a blurbing water sound and gas has a hiss. The cable lines sound like rapidly spinning a television knob through different channels, I guess. I would have expected short blurbs of television shows as someone changed through them ("now back to... operators are standing... the letter 'A'"), but it's not overly distracting, especially since cable television isn't overly used, being more of a luxury item reserved for the highest-tier units.
Your main focus in Project Highrise is building. You're not going to try to make your building smaller; you're trying to make it bigger at every turn. Your "quests" or "missions" come in the form of Contracts you can enter into, each with some requirement that the city government wants to see you achieve: more workers, more residents, more of a certain type of apartment, achieving a certain daily income... that sort of thing. As I said, all of these are geared towards expanding your building, adding more offices, restaurants, cafes, apartments, support services or what-have-you.
As is generally true in business, your development plans need to focus on selecting the units that are more profitable, but the more profitable units are larger, and have many more requirements than smaller units, from requiring more utilities provided, to having prerequisites that have to be met before anyone would actually rent space for that type of unit. Corporate Headquarters pay pretty well, but you'll need to have an adequate selection of restaurants, offices of a certain type, a certain level of prestige and, perhaps, some other prerequisite. Additionally, higher-end units also have more services they expect to be provided, such as Copy Services, Courier Services... even Limousine Services. These services require utilities, but they don't pay rent. Meanwhile, a lowly insurance or accountant office takes up very little space, and may only need electricity. You'll have to start with these more basic renters until you build up the infrastructure, bankroll, prestige and clout to attract the higher-end units. And, when trying to fulfill certain contracts, I find that those small, simple offices continue to make themselves useful.
As you progress and people talk about your building, you'll earn two types of currency: Buzz and Influence. Buzz can be used to activate different types of advertisement campaigns, which can temporarily reduce certain costs or increase happiness of certain types of units or increase traffic, in general. Influence is spent to unlock different types of consultants, which provide you with boons that range from increasing the number of floors you can have, to allowing access to a metro station or large outdoor art. Pick and choose wisely; you may eventually purchase all of the consultant perks, but the costs keep going up on the Buzz Campaigns, so those won't be nearly as frequently accessible.
There are two modes of gameplay: the standard Game or Scenario. Game gives you a lot size and a starting amount of funds and lets you work toward your own goals. You'll need to increase your daily income or you'll be headed for bankruptcy, but how you build your success is really up to you. There are contracts to take, if you like, but you can choose to ignore them, if you prefer. On the other hand, Scenario Mode puts you in a predefined situation and gives you specific goals to try to accomplish in that scenario. For example, "The Merchandise Mart" gives you an enormous lot and the start of a building... in a recession. Did I say recession? Actually, this scenario is based on a successful development from the Great Depression. Consider Scenario Mode as a way to challenge yourself. There are ten Scenarios to try, but only the first three are playable at first. You'll have to earn your way to unlocking the rest.
In the early stages of Project Highrise, you'll need to keep an eye on your expenses. Build too much unused floor space too fast, and you'll find yourself running low on funds (or out of money, altogether). You can take out loans, but only so much and you'll have to pay them back... with interest.
I found that I would often build a unit and choose a tenant and then wonder if I needed to add utilities for them. (That information is in the popup when selecting a tenant, but that goes away once you select them.) You can click on a unit and then hover over the little (i) icon, which provides information about that unit, such as the needed utilities.
Speaking of utilities, you want to make sure that your tenants have access to the utilities they need, but it costs money for every length of infrastructure (wire, cable or pipe) that you add, so you'll do better if you plan your infrastructure so that you're not unnecessarily running extra utilities. For example, if all of the units on a floor need electricity, you'll have to run electricity from the electrical box out so that you at least enter every unit on the floor, but if you put really wide units on the outside, you can avoid some wiring costs, since you only have to get electricity to the unit, not all the way across it. Furthermore, if you place any units that need water or gas closer to the water maintenance closet, then you can get away with short runs that just reach those units. When you have three stories, this may not be a big deal, but when you're adding on to the top of an eighty story tower... those infrastructure costs add up. You can always go back and add additional infrastructure when it's needed later (after you've earned more money and you can more easily afford the costs).
If you make it past the early stages and build your building into a large, thriving commerce center, you'll find that the old adage is true: money breeds money. Once you have a lot of sources of income streaming in daily, it won't hurt as much if someone becomes unhappy and moves out or if you find you really need to repurpose a space that you had previously rented, breaking their lease (which costs you) and building something else in that area. Money might lessen a bit during rainy days or unexpected events, but at a certain point, it's just easier to keep cruising along, as your money builds. Specifically, I would say that once you make it to the point that you can add the automated service to renovate units, you can start breathing easier.
In addition to doing a great job of simulating small details, such as the utilities needed for the different types of leasable units, the garbage and recycling bins, elevators and stairs to access them, Project Highrise also considers the fact that, while stairs are cheap, people tend to really dislike them when you have to travel several floors. Some units, such as restaurants, enjoy being in high traffic areas, while residential units want to be away from smells and high traffic, but close to elevators. Doctors offices prefer lower floors, while some larger business units prefer upper floors. You'll have to juggle these things to keep your tenants happy.
One nice feature of Project Highrise is that they have used Steam's Workshop feature to allow players to add new pieces of content. I've seen a bank of payphones, some custom decorations and underground parking, which, like the metro station, brings more people into your building. This allows for a continued stream of user-created content. Just check out the available items and then subscribe to add those items to a Workshop Menu item that appears on your Construction Menu and looks like an asterisk.
If you like simulation games of this type and you're interested in the idea of developing your own thriving metropolitan hub, you might want to give Project Highrise a shot.