Earlier this year, I took a look at Plethora Project’s Common’hood in early access, a ‘city builder’ which follows the story of Nikki, who becomes homeless after her father dies. Common’hood has the foundations of a touching economy and community management game about homelessness and the struggles of building a life from the ground up when you have nothing. It has an in-depth system laid out for building shelters and growing a community that can thrive despite the hardships handed to them. Unfortunately, my playthrough Common’hood in early access did not go well at all, in fact, my progress ended up being blocked by not one, but two game-breaking bugs which forced me to quit. Unfortunately, seven months down the line and a few weeks after the game’s launch, although I could move past the first few missions this time, Common’hood was simply not ready to be released, even after five years in development.
Common’hood has three different gameplay modes: story mode, sandbox mode and co-op. For this review, I tried out story mode. With nowhere to go after being forced out of her home, Nikki ends up taking a visit to an abandoned factory where her parents once worked, which abruptly closed down after a sinkhole developed right in the centre of it. To Nikki’s surprise, the factory isn’t entirely abandoned and has become a home for a community of squatters that call themselves The Hood. Although some members of the community aren’t happy with another desolate soul and mouth to feed turning up at their door, Nikki doesn’t come empty-handed, and brings with her a workbench and her father’s books on carpentry and engineering. Seeing an opportunity in this deserted building, Nikki sets to work on making a home for The Hood.
With the number of problems present in the early access version of Common’hood back in May, it comes as no surprise that the game still isn’t up to scratch as, even back then, I was scrutinous about whether half a year would be nearly enough time to fix this severely broken game. But it’s not even the bugs that make Common’hood so disappointing, there are design flaws which, when compiled together, make for a very tepid experience. In fact, I believe every aspect of Common’hood has some kind of problem or awkward design quirk. I found that the more I played it, the more problems arose and my hope of eventually enjoying it quickly fizzled out.
When you arrive at the factory, the majority of the settlers are lost, endlessly wandering around the factory with little energy to pick themselves up. Some express interest in Nikki’s plans, but are wary about getting their hopes up. As you complete missions and build certain items, you’ll pique the interest of the rest of the community, and more will decide to join you and offer their hand in some work. Your aim is to create a home within the factory and keep The Hood happy by ensuring the food storage is well-stocked, they are warm and have something that will motivate them.
You start by clearing the area out: picking up the rubbish that you can interact with such as bits of rubble, piles of leaves and scrap metal, which can be added to your crafting resources or sold for extra cash. Again, this is usually my favourite part in games that feature refurbishment, but Common’hood even manages to find a way to dampen this. You can only clear away rubbish which is specifically interactable. And, once you have a spade and axe, you can only clear the large piles of rubble and debris in the designated building areas. The rest of the factory remains the same. This means that you could build a mansion (out of plain wood, I’ll get to that later), yet you’ll still be looking out of the window at a pile of rubble that you’re unable to shift. The same goes for bits of rubbish left behind by the rest of the community; things such as scattered burnt books or looted containers cannot be removed. You’re stuck with this rubbish throughout the game.
As you gain more tools and the ability to fix certain machines within the building, you’ll open up new areas. This means more building space, more crafting materials to loot and more NPCs to join your community. Once you have members in your community, you can assign them tasks to do throughout the day such as ‘farming’ or ‘building’, which they will complete during the scheduled time slots as long as they have enough materials and equipment to do so in the community storage crates.
To build, you put down a blueprint and have the choice to either build it yourself or order it for someone else to do (someone who has ‘building’ scheduled in their day planner). The building mechanism is detailed, allowing you to physically draw out the materials within the blueprint. For example, if you’re making a chair out of 4 x 4 wooden beams, you need to individually drag each beam across the blueprint layout. This is satisfying for a short while until you realise that you have to do this multiple times unless you get someone else to take it up. It would have been far easier and less time-consuming to just build the object at a workbench and then put it down. Not only this, but the building mechanic is also severely glitchy; often, whatever material you’re trying to draw out in the blueprint won’t appear, and I found myself often having to go back a step and try again to make it work. And don’t get me started on the mystery of my disappearing table saw. I had thousands of uncut logs stored in this table saw which I was using to make beams for a planter. At one point, I turned around to craft something else and realised that my table saw and the thousands of logs stored inside it had vanished.
A problem that I highlighted in my preview is that you can’t cancel a blueprint and then come back to it later. You can lay the blueprint down, start working on it and then go look for some more materials if you run out. But you can’t get bored of what you’re making and come back to it another time without cancelling it. This is just one of many really weird design choices in Common’hood that have been highlighted by other players in the game’s community before its release but never worked on.
In my preview of Common’hood, I described the building mechanic as ‘incredibly detailed and opens up numerous design possibilities for your shelter’. I was wrong. Of course, in my preview, I couldn’t get very far after the game glitched out with two game-breaking bugs. This time around, these bugs have been fixed and I could fully explore the building mechanics. Which isn’t a lot. Your design options for a house are wooden floors and walls, a bed, and maybe a potted plant or a chair here and there. For a game that has a focus on building, design and community management, these really should have been nailed and they absolutely haven’t. You can actually see this in the designs created for Common’hood’s marketing material. Most of the screenshots are from outside the buildings, at a distance. Sure, the strange wooden structures look impressive from the outside, but inside they’re not exactly homely.
There’s also no snapping when you’re putting together objects when building, which makes it really fiddly and difficult to manage. It’s also hard to see where exactly something is going when you lay out the blueprint, as it’s just white lines against whatever you’re building it on. So, I often found myself having to constantly move things around to make them look right.
For more advanced builds and community management, you’ll need to do some research to unlock the right skills. The research aspect of Common’hood just consists of sitting down and reading a book for a few hours. There’s a skill tree to manage and you’ll unlock new skills to research by finding manuals while exploring the factory. Then you just hold down a button and wait… In fact, there’s a lot of holding down buttons and waiting in Common’hood. When crafting multiple items, you’ve just got to hold down the ‘build’ button and wait until you have enough, this can sometimes take minutes. The same goes for clearing debris, this can take ages and you’re just sitting there holding down the right mouse button. When it gets to a point where I can just scroll through my phone or read a book while ‘playing’ the game, there’s something wrong. This isn’t fun.
Do you know what else isn’t fun? Going to bed early. Common’hood acts like a mother on a school night when it comes to bedtimes. The moment the clock reaches 9pm, you’ve got to immediately drop what you’re doing and go and sleep. It doesn’t matter if you were in the middle of building something complicated or creating a cure for cancer, nothing is more important than an early bedtime apparently. You then have to sit through a random cutscene of the community sitting around a campfire, which has a skip button that doesn’t work, and then you get a summary of what you’ve done during the day, which is not only unhelpful but also unreadable because you’ll have crafted 300 4 x 4 beams and the ‘crafted’ section will just be flooded with this. Skipping the night aspect of Common’hood also means that you’ll never be able to see what your creations look like in the dark or experiment with different lighting.
The inventory management is also a pain, and nothing has changed from the difficulties found in my preview. Common’hood still has the same overly complicated stack sorting buttons: it’s [LMB] to move the whole stack, [RMB] to extract one unit, [RMB] + ctrl to take ten units, and [RMB] + shift to take half the stack. And the fact that your blueprints also end up in your rucksack makes it difficult to look for what you need. What’s wrong with a simple building menu?
Crafting in general is honestly just a chore. With the addition of having to sit there holding down a button as you craft enough items for your build and the absolute mess of the inventory management menu, you also have the issue of needing to craft certain items and having no clue how to do that. There are different workbenches for different items, so it’s a case of needing to make all of these and then checking each one to see if it can craft the required item. You also need a notepad and pen beside you, because there are a lot of numbers to remember between each bench and you can’t pin a blueprint to the HUD. Once you’ve placed down the blueprint, a little menu will appear to indicate what material you need next. However, if you order someone to build the blueprint for you, there’s no way to check back on the recipe to see what materials the NPC will need.
Another thing that I highlighted in my preview was how small the text size was on a laptop screen. I’m now on a desktop computer with a larger screen, but I downloaded Common’hood on my old laptop again just to check that this problem had been fixed. The text size seems readable now, so it may have increased in size a tad, but it’s still tiny on a smaller screen. As pointed out in my preview, this game should be fairly playable on any device that it can run on – not being able to read the text properly because it’s so tiny is not fair on people playing on laptops, I don’t even want to know what this is like on the Steam Deck! Not to mention that this is an accessibility issue.
Another issue noted in my preview was the mouse pointer. It’s so difficult to know what’s a button and what’s just text in the menu because neither the text nor your mouse pointer change when you hover over a button. This is a very small thing that just makes a huge difference when you’re stuck on something and don’t know how to work the menu.
Speaking of being stuck on something, the mission descriptions really aren’t accurate enough. You’ll often be given a mission by an NPC and this will then become readable in your mission log – but this will often leave out vital information that you need to complete the mission. A small example would be when Mo asks you to plant a variety of vegetables, which is highlighted in the mission log. What the mission log doesn’t tell you is that you also have to water the vegetables to complete this segment. It’s just small, missed details such as this that can leave the player wondering if their game is glitching, or if they need to do something else – because the missions do glitch in Common’hood.
I also found the in-game economy to be severely underdeveloped. The only way to make money is to sell things. This can consist of either materials, junk or crafted objects. There’s not much junk to be found within the factory that can’t be saved for crafting; only some old computers. So, if you don’t want to give up precious resources, your only way to generate income is to craft things and sell them. Once you have the resources, you’ll be able to develop your own manufacturing facility. But until then, you’ll probably have to designate an unfortunate member of the community to craft an endless amount of chairs, tables, or motors as a way to make money in the early stages of the game. I’d also like to point out the oddity of a homeless community saving up so much money and resources to spend it all on refurbishing a dangerously unstable factory that has a sinkhole in the centre. “Oh neat, we have £20,000, shall we use it for some warm shelter?” “Nah, we’ll use it to buy a truck so that we can bring in more items from the flea market for our abandoned factory.”
Common’hood’s Steam page also alluded to a story behind the factory, promising the player an experience of slowly picking up pieces of the puzzle behind the factory’s history as you explore each room. This doesn’t exist. You walk into a new room, loot it and then leave. There are no notes left behind, no newspaper clippings, just the occasional NPC telling you a bit about the area. There’s hardly a story to unfold at all.
Despite all of this, Common’hood isn’t all bad; the music is good. It’s beautiful, soothing and perfect for building to – though even that gets repetitive after you’ve listened to the same track for five hours straight. I also liked the graphics. Despite being quite blocky, I think this suited the game’s style well and I wouldn’t ask for more. But that’s about it.
In my preview, although I noted any technical issues found during my playthrough, these were to be expected from an early version of the game. This no longer applies as Common’hood has launched and is currently worth around $20 on Steam. But it’s unfinished, buggy and has some really strange design flaws which have been noted for months now by others who tried the demo but have been left unaddressed. I really think the story mode and sandbox mode should have been sharpened up before Plethora Project attempted to launch a multiplayer mode. Plethora Project have since apologised for this on the game’s community page on Steam, stressing that they are looking into the game’s issues. Though, they have pointed out that they are currently working to fix the bugs, and changing some of the core game mechanics will only introduce more. But the fact is that Common’hood should not have been released yet when these problems have been pointed out by players for over half a year now. I cannot recommend that anyone buy this game.
Jess reviewed Common’hood on PC with a review code.