When most people think of the video game industry they mostly think of games that fit into one of just a couple predefined genres. In the world of indie video games not all games fit into these preconceived genres. What if I were to say that there is a video game that is built around controlling traffic lights? Well that is the premise behind the game that I am taking a look at today. Urban Flow is a game about controlling a city’s traffic lights to get citizens to their destinations while limiting accidents. A lot of people might think this doesn’t sound all that interesting, but I was intrigued as soon as I saw the game. This is because the game looked like an interesting take on the puzzle game genre that was also built around a cooperative mechanic which I generally love. Controlling traffic might not sound all that interesting, but Urban Flow turns it into a compelling and surprisingly tense cooperative puzzle experience that fans of the genre should love.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Baltoro Games for the review copy of Urban Flow used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Urban Flow You and up to three other people are put in charge of a city’s traffic lights. In each level the objective is to get a number of vehicles safely to their destination. To do this you will control all of the traffic lights in the area. Each traffic light has two settings, go and stop. As the vehicle’s paths intersect one another you need to wisely use the lights to direct the flow of traffic to prevent crashes. In each level you are allowed a couple of crashes (usually 1-3) before the level ends. The objective is to try and get enough vehicles to their destination in order to earn three stars.
At first this is pretty easy as you alternate the lights between stop and go to let cars move forward without hitting one another. Things become more complicated though. Your citizens aren’t particularly patient so they won’t wait at a traffic light forever. If you don’t let them through quick enough they will activate the traffic light themselves (I am not sure how they accomplish this) which will mess with your plans as cars could drive straight into one another. As you progress through the game you will also have to deal with lanes that merge into one another so you have to space out the cars evenly. There are even roads where there are no traffic lights so vehicles won’t stop forcing you to time when you let other cars merge onto these roads.
On top of this there are various distractions and other obstacles that you have to deal with. When an ambulance arrives you need to get it moving quickly because if it doesn’t reach its destination in time you will lose a life. Then there are the tanks that won’t stop for a red light and will just drive straight into any vehicle in front of them. Other vehicles include damaged cars and garbage trucks that require you to occasionally deal with them or they will cause accidents. There are even obstacles like foggy days and blurry cameras that get in the way of you doing your job.
Urban Flow is not your typical video game. A game about controlling traffic was never going to be as it doesn’t really fit into any traditional video game genres. I would say that its closest comparison would probably be the puzzle game genre. In some ways the game actually reminds me quite a bit of Train Valley except that you are controlling stop lights and cars instead of trains. The gameplay in Urban Flow mostly revolves around timing and managing various sources of traffic. Basically you have to watch a number of different traffic lights and manage them so traffic flows smoothly between them. As many of the traffic lights lead to cars crossing lanes that other traffic lights rely on, you need to come up with a good plan on how to let cars through so they don’t run into one another.
In addition to managing the different sources of traffic, timing is a large component in the game. In the early levels you aren’t in a big time crunch so you don’t have to make risky moves. As you progress through the game though there is a much greater time crunch as you have to deal with considerably more cars. This means that you have to make riskier moves where you have to let traffic cut through areas where other cars are moving in the opposite direction. This requires good timing as you try to fit cars into open gaps in the traffic. You need good timing at times as you sometimes need to allow cars to get really close to crashing into one another in order to get through all of the waiting cars in time. This can lead to some tense moments as cars barely avoid crashing into one another.
I will readily admit that Urban Flow is not going to be for everyone. Basically if you are to this point in the review and you don’t think the game sounds all that interesting to you, it probably won’t be. The game is about controlling traffic lights after all. This sounds like such a strange premise where you wonder how it could possibly lead to an enjoyable video game. Yet for some reason it works really well. I know I really enjoyed playing it. The game’s mechanics are quite simple and yet they are quite compelling. There is genuine strategy and skill to the game as you can’t switch the lights all willy nilly. You need to plan how you are going to let the cars through so none have to wait too long or crash into one another. This can be quite tense at times especially when two cars just barely avoid crashing into one another. Urban Flow is an overall satisfying puzzle experience.
What makes the game even more enjoyable is the fact that the entire game can be played cooperatively. You can play the game by yourself and it is still fun. The game is even better when you team up with one to three other players though. When you play the game cooperatively the traffic lights are split as evenly as they can be between the players. This allows each player to focus on a couple traffic lights instead of all of them at the same time. At the same time though the players have to communicate so they don’t send two groups of cars at the same time that will inevitability crash into one another. Without good communication skills players are likely to cause a lot of crashes. This leads to a really fun cooperative experience that fans of this genre should enjoy.
Supporting the gameplay is the game’s visuals and audio. The game’s visual style utilizes a low polygonal style that works really well for the game. This style creates a good mixture between a realistic and cartoony look. The various city locations look good and bring a certain charm to the game. Adding to this is the game’s audio which does a really good job supporting the game’s overall laid back feeling. I am far from a music expert but I would say that the game’s style kind of reminds me of vaporwave and synthwave music. I generally found the game’s soundtrack to be really good.
I really enjoyed my time with Urban Flow. The premise might seem kind of silly at first, but it works really well. Anyone who likes these type of puzzle games or thinks the premise sounds interesting should really enjoy the game. There are two things that I wish the game did a little better though.
I would probably say that the biggest issue I had with Urban Flow had to deal with its difficulty. The difficulty in the game is quite inconsistent. Particularly early in the game a lot of the levels are really easy. Unless you don’t pay attention at all you should easily be able to pass many of the levels with three stars. In some ways this is to be expected as it obviously wants to ease you into the mechanics. The problem is that it lasts too long as at least the first half of the game is quite easy. Towards the later levels you start to encounter some more challenging levels, but there are still some of these easy levels thrown in as well. I would still say that you can three star a majority of the levels within just a couple attempts. When you encounter one of the truly difficult levels though you are in for a challenge. You will fail these levels quite a few times before you finally succeed. These levels require you to have really good timing as well as some luck on your side. You could do everything right and fail because the random generation of vehicles didn’t work in your favor. Losing due to luck is kind of frustrating, but it doesn’t happen often and there isn’t really anything else that the game could do as it needs random vehicle generation.
In general I found Urban Flow to be on the easier side, but I think this is partially due to two factors. First I played the entire game cooperatively with another player. As I mentioned before this does force the players to utilize good communication to succeed which might be challenging for some groups. I do think it makes the game quite a bit easier though. As each player has less things to focus on the players are less likely to make mistakes as long as they communicate well with their teammates. The single player game is likely to be considerably more difficult. You don’t have to worry about communication, but you also have much more to keep track of.
The other thing that made the game easier to play is the fact that we played it with controllers instead of with the touch screen. The entire game can be played with touchscreen controls where you have to just touch the lights to switch them between stop and go. This isn’t a problem as it is intuitive. The reason this should make the game considerably more difficult though is due to the obstacles. It is quite easy to deal with most of the obstacles with a controller because you handle most of them by pushing the analog stick in a particular way. The catch is that you can just keep spamming this action as there is no punishment for doing so. Therefore most of the obstacles disappear immediately causing you no trouble. In some ways this kind of feels like cheating. This won’t be so easy with the touch controls as you can’t spam the action. To make the game more difficult you could just try not to do this with a controller, but it is hard not to do it as it makes the game considerably easier as you have less to worry about.
My other issue with Urban Flow is considerably more minor and it has to deal with the length. The overall length of the game is actually pretty good. The game has a little over 100 levels in total. The levels themselves are usually on the shorter side. I would say that most levels only take 1-3 minutes to complete without failures. There are levels that you will complete on your first attempt. Many of the levels will take a couple attempts to complete and some will take a lot of attempts if you want to three star them. At this point we have played through over 80 levels and it has taken around 6-8 hours. Unless there is an unexpected number of additional levels I would say that the remaining levels will probably take around two hours or so. Then you have to factor in the two additional modes that the game has. The game includes an endless mode and a chill mode. The title of both modes are pretty self explanatory as you just keep directing traffic until you reach a certain number of crashes. The objective is to try and safely move as many vehicles as you can until this happens. I was genuinely surprised by Urban Flow’s length.
The issue I had with the game’s length is that Urban Flow is the type of game that is better in shorter doses. I played the game in two hour and one hour sessions. Generally speaking I think the game was more enjoyable in the hour play sessions. I personally think most people will get more out of the game playing it in short doses. With how short the levels are you could easily play the game for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time. I would pace the game a little since if you play the game for long stretches of time it does become a little repetitive as the gameplay never really changes after you are introduced to all of the mechanics.
Heading into Urban Flow I had pretty high expectations for the game as I am generally a huge fan of these type of games. The basic premise of the game is that you need to operate all of the city’s traffic lights in order to get the cars to their destinations while limiting the number of crashes. This premise might seem kind of silly, but it works really well. The game feels like a puzzle game mixed with timing mechanics as you need to quickly figure out how you should send the cars out into traffic. This leads to really satisfying gameplay that can also be kind of tense. Playing the game with friends and family makes it even more enjoyable. Urban Flow can be a little easy at times and it is better in shorter doses. It is a great game that fans of these type of puzzle games should really enjoy though.
My recommendation for Urban Flow comes down to your opinion on these type of puzzle games in general as well as your opinion of the premise. If you don’t care for the premise or these type of puzzle games Urban Flow probably won’t be for you. Those who have enjoyed similar games in the past though or think the idea behind the game sounds fun should really enjoy Urban Flow. I would recommend these people pick up the game as they should get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it like I did.
Buy Urban Flow online: Nintendo Switch (Digital)